Art Day Out (March 2016), Gillman Barracks Singapore (Part 1)

Art Day Out 2016, Gillman Barracks, Alexandra, Singapore

ShanghART Gallery (9 Lock Road, facebook): Xue Song 薛松 – The Mountain Echoes:

The ShanghART Gallery was, by default, almost everyone’s first stop at Gillman Barrack’s Art Day Out (March 2016 edition). We didn’t know anything about Xue Song being “one of the most influential and representative artists of Chinese Contemporary Art, and China’s pioneer “Pop Art” artists” at that point, but had great fun scrutinising the cutouts and figuring how they fit into the whole artpiece.

This made me think, first of the complexity of history and how short-sighted we are in thinking that we can exhaustively ascribe causes to any event in human history, and second, of the complexity of the Bible so that while it is simple enough for any literate person to read, there are depths to it unknown elsewhere in the corpus of human writing.

Xue Song 薛松 - The Mountain Echoes, SHANGArt Gallery. Art Day Out 2016, Gillman Barracks, Alexandra, Singapore

Xue Song 薛松 - The Mountain Echoes, SHANGArt Gallery. Art Day Out 2016, Gillman Barracks, Alexandra, Singapore

Xue Song 薛松 - The Mountain Echoes, SHANGArt Gallery.  Art Day Out 2016, Gillman Barracks, Alexandra, Singapore

Xue Song 薛松 - The Mountain Echoes, SHANGArt Gallery.  Art Day Out 2016, Gillman Barracks, Alexandra, Singapore

Xue Song 薛松 - The Mountain Echoes, SHANGArt Gallery.  Art Day Out 2016, Gillman Barracks, Alexandra, Singapore

Up the stairs…
Art Day Out 2016, Gillman Barracks, Alexandra, Singapore

in the Pearl Lam Galleries (facebook)Art Day Out 2016, Gillman Barracks, Alexandra, Singapore

there were beanbags on the floor to sink into and watch Yinka Shonibare‘s Odile and Odette.
Yinka Shonibare's "Odile and Odette".  Art Day Out 2016, Gillman Barracks, Alexandra, Singapore
In Swan Lake, the same dancer portrays both Odile and Odette, the characters being distinguished by her black or white costumes. In Shonibare’s version, Odile and Odette are portrayed by one black and one white ballerina, set against each other across a gilt frame. Mirror images, their identities are ambiguous.

I liked that this wasn’t another post-colonial rant about racial victimisation (only to be undone by Chris Brown at the 2016 Academy Awards) but that even racial boundaries aren’t quite clear-cut: classical ballet and contemporary art; “authentically African” Dutch wax cloth tutus, etc.

Thence to ARDNT Fine Art (facebook), where Heinz Mack was being exhibited, and art books were on sale:

ARDNT Fine Art. Art Day Out 2016, Gillman Barracks, Alexandra, Singapore

ARDNT Fine Art - Heinz Mack. Art Day Out 2016, Gillman Barracks, Alexandra, Singapore

ARDNT Fine Art - Heinz Mack. Art Day Out 2016, Gillman Barracks, Alexandra, Singapore

ARDNT Fine Art - Heinz Mack. Art Day Out 2016, Gillman Barracks, Alexandra, Singapore

to be continued… "I'm Following You" grafitti. Art Day Out 2016, Gillman Barracks, Alexandra, Singapore

"Art is not always high" grafitti. Art Day Out 2016, Gillman Barracks, Alexandra, Singapore

Rubbishy Reductionism; Sovereign’s Superiority; Tolstoy’s Tension

Having an hour or two between meetings today, I popped by the National Library to read Isaiah Berlin’s The Hedgehog and The Fox (amazon). The copy was well-kept and had once belonged to Lee Kuan Yew. I wondered, if he’d read it, and if he’d agreed with Berlin’s take on Tolstoy’s philosophy of history. After all, even while he lived, many sought his advice on replicating the (economic) success of Singapore in their own countries. But advice can only be properly given if the causes that effected such prosperity can be adequately identified (and, indeed, repeated to similar efficacy).

National Library of SingaporeAccording to Berlin, Tolstoy was uniquely tormented by ultimate problems – of good and evil, origin and purpose of the universe and its inhabitants, causes of all that happens: what is to be done? How should one live? Why are we here? What must we be and do?

The answers provided by the theologians and metaphysicans struck him as absurd, says Berlin.

History was only the sum of the concrete events in time and space – the sum of actual experience of actual men and women in their relation to one another and to an actual three-dimensional, empirically experienced, physical environment. This alone contained the truth.

Metaphysical philosophy and history:

  • pretends to be something it is not – a science capable of arriving at conclusions which are certain. As if it must be possible to discover and formulate a set of true laws of history which, in conjunction with data of empirical observation, would make prediction of the future (and “retrodiction” of the past) as feasible as it had become say, in geology or astronomy;
  • is arbitrarily selective in deciding which factors determine the life of mankind. These are various, but historians select from them only some single aspect;
  • represent only “political” public events, while the spiritual inner events are largely forgotten. Yet prima facie, they are most real, the most immediate experience of human beings.

First Thai, 23 Purvis Street, Bugis, SingaporeTherefore Tolstoy set himself to:

  • do what historians were failing to do – to describe the ultimate data of subjective experience – personal lives lived by men, the thoughts, knowledge, poetry, music, love, friendship, hates, passions of real life. For only the individual’s experience is genuine – of colours, smells, tastes, sounds and movements, jealousies, loves, hatreds, passions, rare flashes of insight, transforming moments, the ordinary day-to-day succession of private data that constitutes all there is to reality;
  • expose the great illusion that (great) individuals can, by the use of their own resources, understand and control the course of events. This self-deception affects almost all mankind. Men are unable to bear the fact that their lives are no less than what natural law has determined. They seek to represent it as a succession of free choices, and seek to fix responsibility for what occurs upon persons endowed by them with heroic virtues or vices – the “great men”. But this is hollow, self-deluded, and fraudulent – an elaborate machinery for concealing the spectacle of human impotence and irrelevance and blindness;
  • reject the notion that any historical movement is directly connected to the “power” exercised by some men over others. Or that these events were under the dominant influence or “force” of great men or ideas. What occurs is the result of a thick, opaque, inextricably complex web of events, objects, characteristics, connected, and divided by literally innumerable unidentifiable links, and gaps, and sudden discontinuities, visible and invisible;
  • demonstrate that while man’s freedom is real and there is free will and responsibility and the real experience of a private life, we are all victims of inexorable historical determinism. Omniscience belongs only to God. Our historical reasoning is an effort to substitute our own arbitrary rules for divine wisdom.

In other words, not much different from what God had already caused Nebuchadnezzar to realise in Daniel 4.
pad thai, thai iced milk tea. First Thai, 23 Purvis Street, Bugis, Singapore*so it was with some bemusement that I spotted Project South East Asia‘s Thum Ping Tjin at the back of SG Magazine with some mention of his The History of Singapore podcast.

**of course, there was also time for a quick pad thai at First Thai (23 Purvis Street). Wok hei, infused fish sauce, a little on the sweet side.