Sarah Choo Jing | Singaporeans making their mark at the 2017 Venice Biennale

Genevieve Sarah Loh, Channel News Asia, May 10, 2017

VENICE: The Singapore Pavilion at the 57th edition of the Venice Biennale was launched at the historic Arsenale on Wednesday (May 10), with multidisciplinary artist Zai Kuning and his 17m-long ship made of rattan, beeswax and string leading the charge.


Based on his 20-year-long research on the forgotten Malay culture and histories in Southeast Asia, Zai’s ambitious installation Dapunta Hyang: Transmission of Knowledge impressed the pavilion’s visitors with its thoughtfulness and enormity.


But 52-year-old Zai is not the only Singaporean artist making his presence felt at what is arguably the world’s most prestigious and important contemporary arts platform. Other Singaporean artists and curators are also flying the flag proudly elsewhere in the Biennale, which runs till Nov 26.


Next month, London-based Singaporean curator and producer Annie Kwan, who is one of 10 curators selected for the International Curators Forum, will be bringing together the performance works of Singaporean artists Boedi Widjaja and Lynn Lu as part of a performance programme called MAP (Moving x Archive x Performance) Waterways in Venice, in partnership with the “Diaspora Pavilion”.


Singaporean Yeo Chee Kiong will be showing his outdoor sculptures at the Giardini Marinaressa, while London-based Erika Tan is presenting her video installation The Forgotten Weaver, also at the “Diaspora Pavilion”.


Sarah Choo Jing, a 27-year-old multidisciplinary artist and art teacher at Nanyang Girls High School, is staging an immersive video installation called Art of the Rehearsal at the “Personal Structures” showcase, which is hosted by the European Cultural Centre and organised by the GAA Foundation, a Dutch non-profit organisation.


Choo told Channel NewsAsia it was always a dream of hers to show at the Venice Biennale. She attended the Biennale two years ago as a young wide-eyed artist armed with 50 catalogues to give out. She said it was then that she gave herself a five-year plan to eventually exhibit here.


Choo managed it in two.


Her work, which depicts various traditional dancers performing in the back alleys of various cultural districts of Singapore, was first launched earlier this year at the National Museum of Singapore.


“Showcasing your work both within and outside of Singapore is important. Yes, locally you create different kind of dialogues, but when you show it outside of Singapore, you invite a different kind of conversation,” she said. “You are interacting with different artists, reaching out to different curators, writers, connectors … and that’s very important. If you’re constantly staying inside (the hub), I don’t think it’s very healthy. Looking out is good.”


Speaking at the official opening of the Singapore Pavilion, Singapore's Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu acknowledged the strides all Singaporean artists have been making globally.


“We are proud to see our artists representing Singapore on the international stage and doing very well for themselves,” said Ms Fu about the other Singaporean artists showing at the Biennale. “The inroads that our artists have made internationally reflect the growth of Singapore’s contemporary art scene … Singapore has made much progress towards arts excellence. As a young, vibrant nation with a rich multi-cultural heritage, I am confident that our artists will continue to practise and innovate, to take our arts scene to new heights.”