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Blog Posted in avatar   Jason Li's Blog

Finding My Way at Singapore Biennale 2008

By Jason Li
Posted Oct 1, 2008 in
I feel like I am sneaking into the old Supreme Court just to view one of Singapore Biennale 2008's three exhibitions, thanks to the F1 racing track blocking the main entrance.
I enter a side door, to a narrow doorway attended by volunteers eager to register me. I wonder what criminals or lawyers or judges have walked through this passageway before...
"Welcome to Bee-Na-Lei!" Oh, so that's how it's pronounced. Not "by-ien-alle".
After parting with 10 bucks, I am led towards a dinky lift, stamped ticket and exhibit guide in hand, and am ushered in. The nice volunteer abandons me, and I'm left to figure how to get to the exhibition. Thank god for small mercies. The post-it stuck labelled "Biennale 2008" to level 3 tells me which number to press.
I get out the lift and navigate my way left according to the signages, then right, through the corridors of rooms with imposing names like "judge chambers" and "court number 12" and arrive at the venerable sounding "City Hall Chamber".
Herein is the first of many artworks to come. This installation piece is Singapore as captured by Google Earth, spread out over the expense of the chamber's floor. The challenge is to find my home, so I head north. After 5 minutes, I finally find it and paste a post-it (again!). More interesting than my "I live here" tag are the post-it ERP (Electronic Road Pricing) gantries plastered on the weirdest areas, evidently by smart-alecky satirists.
After some photosnaps, I head out and take 5 mins to map my way to the next exhibit, which I spend 3 mins trying to understand. And after that, reach my next checkpoint in similar fashion. In fact, that sums up how I spend the next 3 hours at the old Supreme Court.
The artworks are mainly either installation, video, or picture housed in former courtrooms or judges' chambers.
Artists from the world over, from Singapore to the Netherlands to Bolivia, are represented. Some are provocative, and I still remember the meditative serenity of Nijensohn's El Naufragio de los Hombres (The wreck of men) and Zadok's pretty Blackfield, which is really only half true because the other half is a vibrant splash of colours. Much of the work displayed is also pretty fun.
Others I can't care less for, like giant toy maggots getting the red carpet treatment. Some exhibits try too hard to be deeper than it really is. For example, what's the big deal about a sun's erratic waltz on a shan-sui hua (Chinese scenic painting)? Maybe I'm not deep enough to appreciate long video clips of inactivity, but I feel that for some of the video exhibits I was wasting time.
After three hours, it is my stomach that rings the end of my art-tour-cum-navigation-exercise around the old Supreme Court. After some dead ends, I finally find the registration counter, complete a survey, get a complimentary ticket, and quickly retreat to nearby Raffles City for dinner.
All that figuring out of art and directions sure work up an appetite!