Cristina NualART

Tag: Sculpture

Vietnam’s 2013 art scene ends with a bang: Tiffany Chung

This article was published in Word Vietnam magazine, January 2014, p.16.


In Vietnam, it is rare to see exhibitions of the most prominent Vietnamese artists. The stars of the country’s artworld are in high demand in art fairs, biennials and museums of other parts of the globe. In her career spanning little over a decade, Tiffany has, on average, exhibited 1 solo show and 2 groups shows every year, and participated in 1 biennial or triennial every 2 years. Her art has travelled from cities across the US, to Asia, Australia, Europe, and the Middle East.

The last time Tiffany’s paintings and sculptures were shown in Vietnam was 5 years ago, at Galerie Quynh, HCMC, where her new show An Archeology Project for Future Remembrance can be seen until 10 January 2014.


This exhibition is possibly the first in Vietnam that shows the type of interdisciplinary research that is making waves in intellectual circles. At some point in the second half of the 20th century, the modernist admiration for the instinctual genius of the artist gave way to a trend for intelligent artworks that demonstrated the artist’s ability to articulate theories and illustrate concepts. Saigon resident Tiffany Chung’s brainpower seems to be switched onto hyperactive all the time.

Tiffany speaks with energy and sharp insight. Her research is a solid back up for her unapologetic opinions. For a long time, she has been a good friend of Erik Harms, assistant professor of Anthropoly at Yale. In the Dong Khoi space, the collaboration between the artist and the anthropologist is presented linearly. Excerpts from Erik Harms next book are glossy art objects. Selected passages of colonialist propaganda and historical descriptions of Saigon are also readable art. But the research is not just text, it is drawn into the maps and crafted into the sculptures.



The drawings on vellum paper, velvety and translucent, are based on historical maps or futuristic maps projecting urban plans of areas yet to be built. The gleeful layers of the drawing, minute doodley patterns in pretty colours, deceive us into thinking they are imaginative fabrications. Their hidden research tells other stories. The maps – a trademark of her art practice – critique the political decisions that shape borders, lead to wars, construct artificial communities or displace people. The six map drawings in this show are specifically about areas in South Vietnam, mostly referencing the forced evictions of people who lived on land the government wants to turn into a fancy financial district. The 3 channel video art also comments on that issue.


 The gem of the exhibition is the hanging installation Stored in a jar: monsoon, drowning fish, color of water, and the floating world. The piece was commissioned by the Singapore Biennale in 2011. On glass puddles, dozens of miniature houses, houseboats and boats are aligned with neat gardens reminiscent of a middle-class American suburb.


Detailed architectural models are inspired by traditional Asian design and materials. Rather than glorifying colonial architecture, Tiffany’s art admires older vernacular architecture. Not for sentimental reasons, however. The design of her mini housing project is informed by in depth research, adapting ideas from all over the region, from Japan to Thailand as well as Vietnam, and crafting the models with cutting-edge technology. The modern and the traditional coexist.

The overall magical appearance of this calming and poised artwork is a plan for a portable model of sustainable urbanism. Wooden houses, some on stilts, have solar panels and rainwater collectors. One of Tiffany’s pet topics is climate change. The evidence, she illustrates, is that the Mekong region will be in knee-deep trouble in coming decades. Floods will increase their devastating capacity, so we should prepare for it. Perhaps creating floating communities.


Artist Himiko Nguyen comes back from the dark.

This article was published in Word Vietnam magazine, December 2013, pp. 98-99.


Himiko working in her Old Dreams studio. Photo by Cristina Nualart 2013

Himiko working in her Old Dreams studio. Photo by Cristina Nualart 2013

Himiko working in her Old Dreams studio. Photo by Cristina Nualart 2013

Himiko's artwork in her Old Dreams studio. Photo by Cristina Nualart 2013


‘What are you doing?’ asked elder sister.
‘I’m looking for hell’, answered Be Chinh, the little girl who was digging up the earth with a knife. In My Tho, her hometown in the Mekong Delta, her family called the youngest sibling Baby Nine. Hoang, her real name, found hell much later, in Saigon, but she is climbing out of it admirably well.

Last year, a friend called me with bad news. A local newspaper had reported that Hoang, popularly known as Himiko, was in a coma following a road accident. The cause of the accident varies with the source. Depending on the newspaper, the friend, or the day you ask Himiko herself, it either involved alcohol (although several of her friends report that she doesn’t drink), or someone who drove into her while she stood on a pavement, or that she lost control of a friend’s powerful motorbike that she’d borrowed.

Whatever happened, it led to grave head injuries. Surgeons cut out a piece of her cranium to minimise the damage of brain swelling. She was in a very dangerous coma for days. Weeks later, conscious again, she started a visual diary on Facebook. The unflinching photos of stitches and scars are not for the faint hearted. They are testament to the highly skilled medical team, who grafted back the part of the skull bone they had frozen.

Himiko says her life turned into a Korean film: following a dramatic accident, the protagonist breaks up with their lover, and it all ends in tears.

Storms of tears flowed. Not from pain. ‘After the accident I was always crying loudly and having tantrums, like a 5 year old child,’ she laughs. ‘People who are broken in the head come back as children.’ The thirtysomething artist chuckles, ‘I think now I’m 13.’

Himiko’s grin turns into an intense expression. She explains that researching brain injuries has helped her understand the changes caused by the accident, the recovery process, and the split from her former partner. She raves about Jill Bolte Taylor’s TED talk on brain science.

In less than a year, her recovery has been remarkable. ‘I didn’t die because before I had done yoga training 3 or 4 days a week,’ she says beaming. Himiko tackled her rehabilitation like a steamroller, but acknowledges the care she received. She’s particularly grateful to the free acupuncture treatment a volunteer gave her, to reduce the facial paralysis.

Concussion can affect language skills. The first time I saw Himiko after the accident she told me she wanted to practice English, because her Vietnamese had become childish. This is coming from someone who studied Russian, and who worked as a translator in Japan to save money to study art.

‘My family do not understand about art. My family is very poor, we couldn’t all study at university,’ says the ninth sibling who started making origami art for friends’ birthdays, since she could not afford to buy gifts. She put herself through university and saw her art prices rise to the top of her cohort. ‘5 years and beginning’ was Himiko’s university thesis, finished in 2005 after 5 years at art school. She’s now onto another beginning, one in which she wears hats more than she used to. But inside her head, I imagine fireworks. Her ambitions and artistic ideas must flash around at strobe speed.

Himiko continues to make art from her ‘Old Dreams’ studio in central HCMC. Any artwork she sells is funding her dreams, new or old. Excited about her next project, a further development of a photographic series titled ‘Come Out’, Himiko emails curators at luxury hotels, takes calls from galleries, and receives private collectors. ‘She is a true artist. She has given up everything for art,’ applauds one of these private collectors, who has known Himiko since the start of her art career.

Her career started only two months after graduating, when she opened the first ‘Himiko café’. It was in the living room of a shared house. ‘I thought of opening a café because Vietnamese people always go in cafes, they don’t want to go in galleries and museums. They don’t know museums,’ Himiko analyses.

Saigon was a different place in 2005. There were hardly any galleries. Himiko’s success was to find a way to show art that suited the local mindset. Her determination to have more than the one exhibition a year she might get if she relied on other art spaces sparked it off. She knew the strengths and weaknesses of local artists.  ‘If artists want to exhibit in San Art [which didn’t exist at the time] or Galerie Quynh, they need to write a proposal and this is difficult. With Himiko they got a yes. I understand them.’ Her low bureaucracy approach gave opportunities to many, and the rotating exhibitions made the café a more interesting place to go.

At first, she says, customers didn’t care about the artwork. People came because word of mouth rated hers as one of the top cafes in HCMC. Himiko makes it sound like it was easy, but organising exhibitions with young artists had its challenges. ‘Saigon artists want to be free,’ Himiko observes. ‘They cannot keep time. The exhibition is always installed one week after the deadline.’ She learnt to wait until the artwork was actually on the walls before informing the newspapers about the exhibition opening.

The grass roots, low-fi approach might suggest a somewhat provincial art style. Not Himiko’s. Far from it. Her artwork is in two important collections of Vietnamese art.

One day the authorities came to close down the alternative art space they had kept a eye on. The culprit was nude photography, too risqué for millennial Vietnam. But Himiko café was reborn a second time in a different location. It lasted some years before the same thing happened again. She opened a third, but was unable to keep it following her accident. She is now waiting for an investor to help her set up a new café. She ploughed money from her art sales in the cafes. Now Himiko owes nothing, but is back at square one.

It shouldn’t be a problem for her to begin again. ‘If you believe in good you get good energy,’ she says. Before the accident she got on with her life and didn’t think much about others. Now the sound of an ambulance makes her take stock. ‘Before [the accident] I didn’t care,’ she says, explaining how positive thinking gives strength, ‘but now I care.’

Himiko working in her Old Dreams studio. Photo by Cristina Nualart 2013

Himiko working in her Old Dreams studio. Photo by Cristina Nualart 2013

Follow Himiko’s writings on

   “I am a sculptor. I don’t know about Picasso and Van Gogh.
I don’t know about History painting. I make the art I like.”

Text and photos by Cristina Nualart.

How to save a village and age more rapidly

This exhibition review was published in the August 2013 issue of Word Vietnam magazine.

Artist Le Hien Minh’s use of Vietnamese dó paper

lehienminh_by_cnualart-jpg‘I don’t know how to use a drill, I don’t know how to cut wood,’ says the artist who refuses to call herself a sculptor because she doesn’t know how to use workshop machinery. And yet Le Hien Minh’s exhibition is full of surprising 3D objects.

Le Hien Minh labels ‘real’ sculpture as a noisy activity requiring power tools. Her artwork consists mostly of squashing paper softened with glue into shapes. It can be done quietly, with no tools except her hands. But this simple activity makes her partly responsible for keeping afloat the few Northern villages that still handcraft dó paper, a thin, soft paper made from tree bark.

Over five hundred kilos of traditional Vietnamese dó paper were needed to make one of the installations here. One thousand hand-made dictionaries in a neat labyrinth cover the floor of the largest room at the back of the 1930’s building.

Dictionaries were the tools of Minh’s father, a linguist. Her father passed away ten years ago, but the exhibition title, Dó10, refers to the ten years that Minh has been creating art using dó paper. After training in lacquer painting in Saigon, Minh studied art in America. Far away from family, Minh received a surprise parcel containing some dó paper. Her mother’s gift was more influential than either of them might have guessed at the time. Minh felt immediately connected to her homeland’s traditional paper, and started painting on it.

lehienminh_by_cnualart3-jpgA few more experiments resulted in the first sculptures, and she’s never looked back. ‘I wouldn’t know what to do if I didn’t have dó paper,’ she reflects.

Each finished sculpture is put outside to dry and to age. The weathering effects of sun, humidity and wind change their surface. After a few months, the paper objects look like ceramics, stones or other treasures unearthed from the dusty depths of history.

This process gives a solid, weighty appearance to the hollow art objects. The weight is also psychological. She laments that women carry a heavy load in life. ‘Do we have to carry that much weight with us? We don’t know! We’re always asking ourselves,’ she exclaims, pointing to the sculpture of a woman floored by her struggle with ropes hanging down on her.

Weight doesn’t floor Minh, though. She sometimes wonders if, being a woman, she carries too much baggage, but as a feminist, she looks for balance. The underlying concept for all her artwork, she shares, is looking for balance. Not just the balance of a fair society, but internal balance as a person, and balance with nature. Minh makes work that will return to earth. ‘The paper will disintegrate and disappear, like me. Accept and make peace with nature.’

Hanoi-born artist Le Hien Minh exhibited at the Ho Chi Minh City Fine Arts Museum (20-25 July 2013). Some of the artworks in this show have appeared in previous exhibitions in Hanoi, HCMC, Korea and the US.



Art trends at Hong Kong Art Basel 2013

After 5 years of rapid growth the Hong Kong Art Fair this year was rebranded Hong Kong Art Basel. The space is the same, but the price of the entrance ticket has gone up – that’s what branding does. The art fair, a commercial initiative that showcases artwork from Western and Eastern galleries in equal measure, has expanded its reach with additional talks and city-wide events.

Intelligence Squared sparked off ideas with a debate on the value of art. Matthew Collings did a great job as a speaker, and the moderator was excellent, but the best contribution came from the man in the audience who told panelist Amy Capellazzo that her arguments for the market being the best judge of art had ruined, for him, the magic of the wonderful art in the fair!

Hong Kong’s art fair is popular in every sense of the word. Weaving one’s way between $20-a-glass champagne stalls and children’s buggies, some themes seemed to resurface intermittently amongst the 2 floors of world galleries. Here is an illustrated overview:

That thinking machine of ours is probably making a frequent appearance to remind us not to leave all intellectual activity to the automated machines.

HK_tabaimo_cnualartShow Through I by Tabaimo
Lithography, gampi papers, nylon thread on teak frame, 2009.

HK_MarbleBrain_cnualartGisant (the Silk Spun in the Brain) by Jan Fabre
Marble sculpture, 2012.

Roman Standard by Tracey Emin
Patinated bronze and wood, 2007.

In 2008, as all things craft were exploding in popularity, a contemporary tapestry exhibition in England led some of the world’s best known artists back to this technique which had been almost forgotten after the Renaissance. A number of examples of the thread weaving art dotted the Asian art fair.

HK_detail_KikiSmith_tapestry_cnualartDetail of a large tapestry by Kiki Smith.

hk_kimsooja_cnualartDetail of a tapestry by Kimsooja.

HK_mohair_cnualartSelf Portrait as a Coffee Pot III by William Kentridge and Marguerite Stephens
Mohair tapestry, 2012. 

Glitter, beading, rhinestones and other bling
Was it the rise of new money, the influence of different cultures on the global catwalk or a defiance of austerity? Whatever the reason, bling has been giving a shine to the art market in the last decade.

HK_RakibShaw_cnualartDetail from The Disambiguation of the Myth of the last Shinobi by Raqib Shaw
Oil, acrylic, enamel, glitter and rhinestones on birch wood, 2011-12.

HK_KengoKito_cnualartCosmic Dust Gold by Kengo Kito
Oil and glitter on canvas, 2013.

HK_FarhadModshiri_cnualartBird Girl by Farhad Moshiri
Glass bead embroidery on canvas, 2013.

HK_CarBonnet_cnualartAn Old Breeze 13-3-2 by Whang Inkie
Car bonnet with pearly rhinestones.

Along with action painting, collage seems to be one of those inexhaustibly inspiring 20th century inventions.

HK_detail_PietroRuffo_cnualartPietro Ruffo’s photographic collage of an islamic patterned globe is captivating because of the 3D effect achieved by using pins to hold each shape in place.

HK_bindis_cnualartMaths by Bharti Kher
Bindis on panel, 2012.

Pictures of Magazine 2: Vase of Flowers after Claude Monet by Vik Muniz
C-print, 2013

Even some sculptures are a collage, such as the shopping trolley full of scrap metal, Wagon (miles and miles), by Ida Ekblad, or the porcelain pieces by Francesca DiMattio below:


Juicy Abstract paintings
Polyester resin (that glass-like chemical substance that Vietnamese tourist shops pass off as ‘lacquer’) or thickly dripped enamel make for a candy-gloss surface.

HK_IvanLam_cnualartI have hated you too much to be grateful of the day (part of a dyptich) by Ivan Lam
House paint, resin and model submarine on canvas, 2013

HK_resin_cnualartPeter Zimmerman pours thick layers of coloured resin over large canvases.

HK_strawberry_cnualartVanilla, Strawberry by Kenjiro Okazaki
Acrylic on canvas, 2000.

HK_Grosse_cnualartKatharina Grosse plays with enamel paint.

HK_metallic_cnualartTiang #2 by Handiwirman Saputra
C-print  and acrylic coating on metallic paper, 2012

But the artwork that made most people smile was not in the exhibition centre, it floated happily in Hong Kong bay: Florentijn Hofman’s Rubber Duck

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The wax sculptures by La Huy

Wonderful surprise to visit HCMC’s Cactus gallery on the closing day of this exhibition, and to find that it is their best exhibition to date. La Huy is a young graduate of the HCMC Fine Arts University who has worked mainly with paint up to now. This show features a small number of paintings, but it’s his sculpture which dominates, and which I find extremely original and interesting. The title ‘Sentimental Zone’ sounds quite despondent. Perhaps it sounds more fitting in the original Vietnamese. In any case, the theme of the show is intimacy and private ‘quiet times’, expressed with images of motherhood, angelic figures and religious books. The artist is a catholic, which explains the angels and the bible, but he also uses Buddhist imagery, perhaps because it is more prevalent in Vietnam than the imagery of other religions.

Sculpture by La Huy. Photo by Cristina Nualart 2011.A stunning opening to the exhibition, this pregnant dress lit from the inside seems full of corporeal life despite the absence of the wearer. Exquisitely finished and hung, the wax has a warm, satin-like glow. The theme that inspired the artist is patently materialised.

Sculpture by La Huy. Photo by Cristina Nualart 2011.An object that is a cross between a candle and a vase. A series of these remind me of Grayson Perry’s ceramics, but in La Huy’s work, the drawings, while full of energy and sometimes tinged with aggression, are mellowed by the family figures and the softness of the pliable wax.Watch Full Movie Online Streaming Online and Download

Sculpture by La Huy. Photo by Cristina Nualart 2011.Books iced in wax. The pages have become transparent with grease and the text from the pages below is somewhat visible. Beautifully finished and hung, the symbolism is rich.

Sculpture by La Huy. Photo by Cristina Nualart 2011.This poetry in a bowl, titled ‘Pho’ (Vietnamese noodle soup dish), is a fittingly poetic ode to spiritual nourishment. Funny, beautiful and rich in meaning, I’d say this meal leaves one satisfied.

Sculpture by La Huy. Photo by Cristina Nualart 2011.This child-size cloak has transparent silk hands in prayer, with angels drawn on them. I find it very unusual to see art that inherits from Baroque altarpieces, and yet is refreshingly contemporary and not heavy with dogmatism.

Sculpture by La Huy. Photo by Cristina Nualart 2011.Buddha, in this piece, seems uncomfortably trapped. The idea of encasing objects in wax, however, is a happy accident. The artist  found a broken ceramic elephant pedestal in the street (finding random objects always excites creativity!). This reminded La Huy of his chidhood, when his father had worked in a ceramic factory and brought home some models as toys. Adding wax to the broken foundling served to repair memories and to direct new experiments with his artwork.

Sculpture by La Huy. Photo by Cristina Nualart 2011.In the foreground, Vietnamese national newspapers rolled into wax turns become scrolls of a warped devotional nature. In this room, I enjoy the witty mixture of ordinary food and daily information presented alongside lengthy religious texts that are by no means fast to consume or disposable and quickly forgotten.

Sculpture by La Huy. Photo by Cristina Nualart 2011.
My favourite piece is this bust hovering over a wax-coated podium. It looks very much like Magritte’s Philosophy in the Boudoir (what a fabulous title…), but this sculpture is less shocking and more human, despite the disembodiment of the torso. The radiating light, warmth of the wax and human-scale give it a personable atmosphere that removes any threat of ambiguity, which is what haunts us in the Magritte. This is, quite simply, beautiful.

Three weekend trilogy – art from the beach

Maintaining an art practice alongside a regular job is all the harder if you live in an exciting place -in my case Vietnam – that you just want to go and spend time discovering and exploring. Paradoxically, new experiences are a well-known stimulant of creativity. I was a little surprised with myself when 3 weekends turned into an unexpected mini art project.

I have never been very interested in painting still lives, but one idea leads to another, and I came to making some. This is why: I went to Ke Ga beach one weekend, packing the sketchbook that accumulates drawings of found stones, towels and other stuff that looks gorgeous when you are on holiday. I didn’t use it much.

FloatingBenchwThe wild landscape of eroded rocks propelled me to take hundreds of photos, and long walks. Across miles of sand, seashells and driftwood squatted between the rocks. Few artists can resist the tactile urge of holding these objects. Some were too beautiful to give back to the sea, and they came with me back to the big city. The light weight of these objects is surprising. Weekend one in this trilogy was devoted to research and to collect materials.

Looking out at my neighbour’s terrace after holding my little treasures, I saw these concrete tables and benches, of a type that I have only come across in Asia. They are not labour-intensive to produce, and they are so adapted to the climate the design is unbeatable: they never blow away or get damaged in tropical storms, they don’t harbour bacteria and they dry quickly after monsoon rains. I find their functionality and stumpy shapes very attractive. And so the next weekend, both ideas collided and I was compelled to paint a chair too heavy to move by myself on a lightweight piece of wood.

I started off with some pencil sketches, which were nice but too clean and flat. On a whim I tore them up and stuck them on card and layered them with acrylic paint. The spatula and the rough surface were good practice for painting on three-dimensional objects. The finished collage, ‘Floating Bench’, has the quietness of an empty beach, but it is both an exploration of forms in space and of tactile qualities. In any case, it is a by-product of the preparatory work of the actual painted objects.

3wkndTrilogy_BenchwI was fascinated by the perfect smoothness of this piece of balsa wood, lighter than chocolate mousse, a haptic surprise. It arrived in Saigon with other found bits that went into my carrier bag too. The second weekend in the trilogy, the wooden junk had become a portable art object, tattooed with a pencil drawing that hid under layers of paint and graphite. the restfulness of the bench is an inherent quality of the natural object. Erosion and human manipulation have intervened to show the beauty of gentle sloping lines.


A hardened sponge that must have been the bumper of a fishing boat was fragile and crumbly, but so light to the touch and nicely oval that it begged a career change. The podgy concrete table, companion to the bench, was painted onto the fragile sponge, which I coated in transparent primer to give it a bit of strength after a hard life as a tidal plaything. the finished object is still quite delicate, in contrast to the image it now transports.

One further block of wood, a heavy, triangular-sectioned stake will become the third piece in the 3D trilogy. The wooden lump lacks all of the airiness, portability and lightness of this other type of chair commonly found in Vietnam:


P.S. Post updated: in December 2011, these sketches were sold in the Arts For Mobility charity auction.

Public Space in the Singapore Art Biennale 2011

This article was originally written for Sustainable Urbanism site









For the third edition of the Singapore Biennale, titled ‘Open House’, currently open until 15th May, over 60 artists were invited to create site-specific artworks. Women artists are well represented, as are, naturally, artists from South East Asia. Their thought-provoking ideas on the use of urban and interior space integrate smoothly into the four exhibition areas that the Biennale straddles. Here I will focus on two of them: an old decommissioned airport, and the pedestrian seafront area known as the Merlion park.

The Kallang airport, originally built over reclaimed mangrove swamps in the 1930s, was decommissioned in 1955, and has since then become a gathering space, of sorts, for youth clubs and the People’s Association. This social aspect is reignited once again with its present use as a temporary art gallery. It’s free for all visitors and courtesy buses from the city centre offer easy access.

The airport offers very large spaces, some deco, luminous and airy, some rusty, paint-peeled and full of industrial character. The whole thing is an artists’ party waiting for countdown.

Every building, from the ruined hangars to the renovated control tower, presently contains artworks of all types, including a large children’s work gallery – an educational initiative. Clearly, inclusiveness has been designed into the project, with the exception of the tower, only accessible by stairs, due to the original architecture. Even the pop-up café incorporates the old structural features into its attractive retro interior design.

Next door, a gigantic hangar is home to another home: a freshly made, old-fashioned German barn created by artist duo Elmgreen and Dragset, complete with hay, cart, stuffed goat and lederhosen. The resulting ensemble of cultural melange and resurrected dying spaces (the disused barns and hangars) can be read as a metaphor for the layers of diverse communities and social shelter, from social services to family units, that make up the urban structure. The artists have a trajectory of making commentary on the power of architecture. Here they add thoughts on the isolation of the rural, and the possibility of integration and regeneration.

An artist that actively develops social metamorphosis is Arin Rungjang, from Thailand. His commission ‘Unequal Exchange. No Exchange Can Be Unequal’ appears to be an inviting family living room area. In fact, the homely space, a mix of new and old furniture, transforms itself weekly. Thai migrant workers based in Singapore are offered the opportunity to bring some of their own furniture in return for brand new Ikea pieces.

The process of exchange, moving household objects across residences over the city, swapping old into new and vice versa, generates hybrid interior decoration in the Biennale space we are welcome to use, and in the private homes of the Thai community. Mixing private with public spaces, the question of aesthetic value arises, as quality old-fashioned furniture replaces pristine prefabricated objects. Personal taste as an element of social equality is brought to the table with this exchange of like-for-like.

From the semi-abandoned airport, we move to the bustle of the bay. The Merlion statue, regally on guard at the seafront, has stood as the symbol of Singapore for decades. For the duration of the Biennale, instead of looking up to this 8 metre tall iconic sculpture from the ground, the public can interact face-to-face with it. Japanese artist Tatzu Nishi has encased the Merlion’s head in a makeshift 5-star hotel room.

Visitors queue up daily to enter the suite, in which the Merlion emerges powerfully from the red carpet, towering above the bed, looking out the window to the Marina. This innovative premise turns upside down notions of public sculpture. No longer do we encounter the sculpture casually walking in the park, we must actively go indoors to visit it in an intimate, secluded, ‘private’ space.

Each night, the hotel is the home of two guests who pay the equivalent of approx. £50 each, a competitive price in Singapore for such luxurious accommodation, and a bargain price for the unrepeatable art experience. General public and paying guests alike have the unique opportunity to see Singapore’s favourite monument in a domestic situation. The monolithic proportions of the Merlion are offered on a human scale, transforming ideas of power, protection and surveillance. The wild beast defender of naval invaders becomes indoors a custodian of the home, a family member with whom one converses as an equal.

Over the city, people encounter artworks whose messages of interactive sheltering, both political and private, signal a transition to a motherly and cohesive approach to urban development. The Singapore Biennale is a thoroughly enjoyable art event in which the variety of spaces is an aesthetic experience in itself. The message of ‘Open House’ is for town planners, artists, architects, and the public collaborate to create spaces where new and old, central and peripheral, intimate and expansive, are built into the diverse and welcoming city fabric.

The audioguide information for the Singapore Biennale is available on iPhone and Android apps.


Art is in the eye of the beholder

105_GoldsworthyVietnamIt looks like Andy Goldsworthy came to have a play in my local swamp… Beauty amidst the microbeasts.

Wrapping Art and Golden Gates

Manhattan residents will remember the Golden Gates art project by the awesome artist duo Christo and Jeanne-Claude (r.i.p.).

I love Christo’s wrapped art and land art projects, but I have no need to be jealous. Now in my local neighbourghood in Vietnam I have impromptu wrapped ‘art’ and golden gates to look at, and to add meaning to visuals, it will also keep me guessing as to the motives (the motives for the wrap, not of the kitsch golden gate – that’s just nouveau riche syndrome).


Heroes and Villains in Public Sculpture

One thing that has surprised about Vietnam (not that I’ve seen the whole country, I only just got here) is the lack of public sculpture. That’s probably a good thing, because the last thing a struggling country needs, in my opinion, is to put lots of public funds into squares and parks when the majority of the people’s basic needs aren’t met. Nonetheless, I was expecting to see monumental memorials and grand homages to political leaders, like the massive, rather elegant megaliths in Poland or Turkey. Maybe I have just not found them yet, and public sculpture is one of those things that often goes unnoticed anyway. Another bronze man on a bronze horse can pass you by more discretely than a boat in a giant glass bottle

And speaking of the Fourth Plinth, near Trafalgar Square in London lies one of my favourite public sculptures: ‘A Conversation with Oscar Wilde’  by Maggi Hambling. The title couldn’t be more inviting!

The piece is brilliant. Nice situation (though the sculpture has moved from next to St. Martin’s church to the pedestrian street behind it), the roughly drawn portrait that is Hambling’s trademark, the tactile black marble, and the dual role as mock tombstone and public bench, this is clever. Sitting next to a witty conversationalist, crafted by the powerful Maggi, you couldn’t be in better company. To me, this is heroic sculpture, and not those casts of hieratic politicians. Art doesn’t get more interactive than this – and it doesn’t even move or have a switch anywhere! Smart…

Art as teleportation via the internet

I’ve recently moved from London to Saigon, and last night I phoned my grandmother to let her know all is well here. When I told her I was phoning from my computer via the internet, my nan, who has never used a computer, was  amazed that technology could do such things. Imagine if we’d used video-link! Her sense of wonder is not out of place. I can safely say that computer literate people also find intercontinental links heart-warmingly extraordinary!

Artist Mariele Neudecker has expressed a fascination for the ability to create art in multiple locations simultaneously, via the internet.

‘Divorced, beheaded, died. Divorced, beheaded, survived’ (2000) is her sculpture of a stretched skull based on the skull in Holbein’s 1533 painting ‘The Ambassadors.’

Holbein’s large canvas is wonderous, so perfect and full of detail, but with that mysterious shape hovering in front of us. Oh, I wish I’d gone to see it one more time before I left London. At least I did visit my revered Carlo Crivelli’s next door… There are so many great things to see in life!

Mariele Neudecker, in awe as the rest of us with Holbein’s floating metaphor, created a 3D digital image of the skull, and the file was used to machine-carve it out of resin. ‘The stereo lithography machine cut that 3 dimensional, virtual object out into resin,’ she says of the new technology, which she sees as ‘a kind of a forerunner of teleportation, I suppose, because in theory, you could have a computer sitting in Cardiff and send all the information and data down to Australia, and have the machine cut out exactly the same object. You can put any object, any three dimensional object, from the computer into reality’

Mariele Neudecker, 2002

Out of order

In Kingston-upon-Thames, just outside London, on the corner of Old London Road and Eden Street, lies one of the most quintessentially British works of public art. ‘Out of Order’ is a sculpture by artist David Mach, made in 1989 from 12 ‘tumbling’ telephone boxes. The artist used the Kiosk 6 version of the classic red telephone box, a 1935 design much improved from the original K1, originally produced from concrete in 1920. The K6, designed by architect Sir Giles Scott, was the first phonebox that was used as standard across the UK.

Mach’s sculpture feels like it belongs to the country’s iconography as much as the telephone boxes, precisely because the ubiquity of the phoneboxes is transferred to the sculpture. It is by far one of my favourite artworks, and one of few public sculptures that really makes you smile and go all nostalgic at the same time. Fantastic!

Unless otherwise specified, text and images © 2017 Cristina Nualart

Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

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