My visit to the National Museum of Singapore to view the exhibition What Is Not Visible Is Not Invisible was undeniably an enriching and memorable one. The exhibition, which presents selected pieces from the French Regional Collections of Contemporary Art (FRAC), embodies the theme of intangible synergy and provides visitors with a unique journey into personal introspection through vivid sensory engagement. Though the gallery route was specified and straightforward, these artworks weaved in an inconsistent pattern in my mind, igniting a thought-provoking post-appreciation experience.
Source: National Museum of Singapore website
Sleeptalking 1998 (Source: artforum.com)
There was an array of artworks that impressed upon me certain thoughts. Amongst them is the video entitled Sleeptalking 1998, by Pierre Huyghe, the first exhibit that greeted me. This seemingly mundane video presents interchanging images of a young and aged John Giorno fast asleep, whilst a voice muses about his personal experiences. The notion of sleep-talking presents a metaphysical exploration of life, as one ages. What fascinated me was how as the voice mused over past dinner conversations of chance and wisdom, the image on the screen intermittently alternated between the young and aged Giorno, juxtaposing the consistency of the dialogue’s time frame. It occurred to me how although the concepts of wisdom and chance might be universal in all stages of life, our interpretations of them may change as we age and may sporadically jerk us back to the past. Perhaps, our metaphysical growth need not be linear, and as we discover more, we may be brought back to our initial stand, with greater assurance and clarity.
Freak Star No 2 (Source: Singapore Art & Gallery Guide)
The next two exhibits struck me as they elicited visceral feelings about our interaction with the environment. I remember Freak Star No. 2, 2005 by Ann Veronica Janssens to be especially mesmerising, as it enabled visitors to intercept the artwork itself. By standing in the beam of the lights, you become part of the star. Yet, despite your fascination and bewilderment, the unmistakable imprint of your shadow has in fact distorted the artwork. This is perhaps why Janssens coined the term "freak star”, capturing the aftereffects of our manipulations on an otherwise flawless structure.
Work No 262, Half The Air In A Given Space (Source: Singapore Art & Gallery Guide)
Work No. 262, Half The Air In A Given Space, 2001 by Martin Creed was also strikingly popular among visitors, possibly due to its resemblance to a ball pit. However, outside the visible possibilities of fun, many fail to notice the not so visible connotations behind it. Walking through a room of balloons filled to your waist level, coupled with the friction of balloons constantly rubbing against you, along with the constant fear of a balloon-popping hazard, can certainly create an overall feeling of unease. This triggered in me comparisons to how Mother Nature could be experiencing a similar feeling of unease during instances of human interference, which has been considered unwelcomed and detrimental.
La Tempête (Source: http://www.huguesreip.com/)
The invasive nature of human on the environment is further emphasized in La Tempête, 2005 by Hugues Reip and Pulmo Marina, 2010 by Aurélien Froment. In La Tempête, 2005, Reip explores the pronounced influence humans have on the environment, through the senses of sight and sound. Images of human architecture were paired with background sounds indicating human presence: noise of feet shuffling on granite and mechanical work were juxtaposed against the chirping of birds. As the picture evolves, you start to realise that almost every aspect of the environment presented has been modified by humans. It made me wonder if, in our quest to conquer and leave our mark on everything we encounter, we have evaded something that would have been more beautiful if left alone.
Pulmo Marina (Source: Initiartmagazine)
Similarly, in Pulmo Marina, the ongoing dialogue describing the magnificence of jellyfish, and its mythical relation to Medusa, is contrasted against the visual simulation of it being confined in an aquarium. The nullification of the verbal descriptions illustrates the paradox of humanity’s various conquests: our very action of deciphering or creating significance in our environment distorts and diminishes its true significance. While the repercussions of our actions may not be directly visible to us, it does not mean that they are non-existent.
Other than an introspection into the human psyche, this exhibition also presents an important note that is captured in a quote from The Painting in Question, by the Havre Museum: that art “is a fact in itself and it is on his land that one must pose the problems.” To understand it, we need to immerse ourselves fully into its context, for a fair examination of its purpose and content and ask questions. Hence, instead of focusing on the tangible and visible, we should divert our minds from Snapchat or good photo opportunities, and truly appreciate the art in front of us.
What Is Not Visible Is Not Invisible will be exhibited at the National Museum of Singapore till 19 February 2017.