Arts & Culture
Culture Hit List: The Singapore Biennale
A great way to cap off the year and start the next: Immerse in the best Southeast Asian art at the Singapore Biennale.


WHEN TO GO: Ongoing until February 26, 2017; venues include the Singapore Art Museum (including SAM at 8Q), Asian Civilisations Museum, National Museum of Singapore, The Peranakan Museum, and Singapore Management University;

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: Because of its role in pulling together and highlighting current developments in Southeast Asian art, the Singapore Biennale has featured a good number of Philippine art’s more significant moments. In its 2006 inaugural edition, Jose Legaspi’s eerie autobiographical pastel drawings took over a darkened, closed off space at the city’s National Museum, an exposition that necessitated warning signs due to the mature content of the work on view. For “Flight,” the biennale’s second outing in 2008, Alfredo and Isabel Aquilizan’s installation of 4,000 clear rubber slippers perched on bamboo poles, spread out across a promontory adjacent to the then still-undeveloped Marina Bay Sands complex. In that same year, Ronald Ventura first unveiled his anime-inspired sculpture for “Mapping the Corporeal.” While in 2011, Louie Cordero had museumgoers belting out Frank Sinatra for the morbidly hilarious “My We.”

WHAT TO CHECK OUT: Patricia Eustaquio’s The Hunters Enter the Woods, a diptych of shaped paintings, welcomes visitors the museum. The device has become something of a signature for her. For the biennale however, she uses aluminum sheets rather than canvas as her ground, imbuing her images with a sharpness of detail. The two paintings are of orchids, one of them, a breed specially commissioned from the Singapore Botanic Gardens. The facility has a center that propagates orchids, naming them after dignitaries. Eustaquio obtained permission for the production of an orchid hybrid that she captured in one of the paintings. She has juxtaposed this against an image of another orchid, this second one found through her wanderings around the city-state. Nothing differentiates the engineered blossom from the wildflower: the viewer will find both equally exquisite, equally beautiful.

Details from Eustaquio's The Hunters Enter The Woods

Ryan Villamael also takes inspiration from Singapore’s reputation as a garden city, but has explored this alongside his recent contemplations of our history through cartography. He reproduced old maps from the archives of Ateneo de Manila, and through the innovative technique of cutting paper that has characterized his work, he has transformed them into intricate flora. Locus Amoenus turns a terrace of the museum into a veritable conservatory of paper foliage.


Studies for Villamael's installation

Details from Villamael's Locus Amoenus

Karagatan: An Ocean’s Breadth is Gregory Halili’s homage to the Filipino seafarer. He traversed communities alongside bodies of water, places like Bolinao in Pangasinan, Palawan, and Tawi-Tawi, and exchanged stories with those who make their living through the sea. He preserves 50 of these encounters by painting his subjects’ eyes, miniature portraits rendered onto seashells and pearls.

Halili's An Ocean's Breadth

Martha Atienza reprises Endless Hours at Sea, exhibited at the Cultural Center of the Philippines when she received the Thirteen Artists award in 2015. She tweaks the immersive installation with the help of a technical team and has perfected the simulation of traveling through the oceans.

A still from Atienza's Endless Hours at Sea video

For two months, Dex Fernandez injects a bit of fun for biennale visitors. He takes center stage at the museum’s courtyard, working daily, in full view, to complete one of his gigantic murals. This comes as the latest in a series of large-scale projects that Fernandez has undertaken through the course of almost two years of residency grants that has brought him to Paris, New York, Tokyo, and Seoul.

The team behind the Singapore Biennale 2016 asked 60 artists throughout Southeast, North, and South Asia how they picture the world and themselves through an atlas of mirrors. For the Filipino contingent, their answers result in ever more compelling reflections on Philippine contemporary art. 

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Pierre A. Calasanz
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