Collector’s Diary

Titled hyper-horizon as a survey of upheaval and change in Southeast Asia’s future, S.E.A. Focus 2021 brought together 27 galleries and 54 artists with a hybrid programme of online and offline events. Here’s a selection of artworks that have lingered on our minds since our visit.

1. Mandy El-Sayegh — Net-Grid (fall)

Oil and mixed media on linen with silk-screened collaged elements
235 x 225 cm
Lehmann Maupin

Image courtesy of S.E.A. Focus, Singapore.

It’s hard to miss a work when it extends beyond the canvas and spreads across an entire wall. Meticulously layering newspapers, fabric, and materials such as rubber and clay, El-Sayegh uses fragments of found text and grids to question typically undisputed knowledge structures, and reconstruct new systems of order. Within this dense display, El-Sayegh incorporates hints of her personal history: latex because her mother was a rubber tapper in Pahang, Malaysia; Arabic words in homage to her father, who was a calligrapher for the Sultan. The artist is more than just an archivist, as she stretches the detritus of her family into cultural and political spheres.

2. Syaiful Garibaldi — Porculen Sudor #3

Lichen and thermometer on andesite rock
30 x 10 x 5 cm
ROH Projects

Image courtesy of S.E.A. Focus, Singapore.

While Syaiful Garibaldi’s large paintings depict harmonious colour washes that stylise scientific observations of microorganisms, although small, this lichen-covered rock that hung amongst them aptly substantiates the artist’s fascination for ecology. In fusing art and science with a simple gesture (the addition of the thermometer), Garibaldi draws attention to the observer’s inability to categorise, measure or differentiate between interconnected organisms. The living symbiosis of fungi and algae proliferates so that an entire universe breathes and radiates over the exterior of the rock.

3. Kristoffer ArdeñaGhost Painting (Cracked Category): Panatang Makabayan / Philippine National Oath of Allegiance

Elastomeric paint on PVC coated fabric
163 x 133 cm
Tropical Futures Institute

Image courtesy of S.E.A. Focus, Singapore.

Kristoffer Ardeña’s Ghost Paintings are often a visual feast of illusory patterns and mesmeric colours, while the textual and material subject matter beneath remains partially obscured. Upon a closer look, his work reflects the tropical conditions of his local surroundings in Negros Island, and is a testament to the ubiquity of materials like tarpaulin, the local katrina fabric, or the basahan rugs all throughout the Philippines. Ardeña paints with elastomeric paint, an anti-humidity industrial paint often used in the tropics, and the resulting canvases are a vivid celebration of equatorial material culture. 

4. Rirkrit Tiravanija — untitled 2019 (five easy pieces) (from the offering series)

5 plastic food sweets, stainless steel plate
Edition of 12
18 x 30 x 4 cm (plate: 18 x 30 x 3 cm)
Gallery Side 2

Image courtesy of S.E.A. Focus, Singapore.

Most of us know that Rirkrit Tiravanija’s relational aesthetics more famously revolve around cooking and communal eating, pointing to human interactions and rituals as art just as much as whatever objects hang on the walls of a gallery. This time, Tiravanija designs five halves of plastic sweets with their glossy surfaces looking so “fake” that their varnish reinforces them as mere objects. They sit atop a reflective platter, and in it we see ourselves peering over the vitrine, just looking — and not touching — or eating — Tiravanija’s food.

5. Kawita Vatanajyankur – The Spade

UHD video, single-channel video
Duration: 8 min 19 sec
Edition of 4
Nova Contemporary

Image courtesy of S.E.A. Focus, Singapore.

Likening her body to a spade, Kawita Vatanajyankur repeatedly swings herself across a bright yellow container. Maintaining this momentum for over eight minutes, she subjects herself to an extreme test of endurance, making visible the burden of everyday labour behind our increasingly technological world (think of the lithium mines that power our smartphones). Placing the body at the forefront of this painful, mechanical gesture, we are compelled to contemplate on our own habits of consumption.

S.E.A. Focus Curated: hyper-horizon was on show from 22—31 January 2021.