Category Archives: Art

The topics reflect years spent in Asia: mainly Japan, Singapore and Hong Kong, as well as New York and Paris. Daulism starts here.

Apophenia Near the Causeway

the following is being  rewritten and is very far from the most current version. the conversation I had with Alvin was great; this blog post is so-so...

Alvin Tan, photographed by Stephen Black at Art 52 Gallery, Johor Bahru, Malaysia

  Our greatest challenge may be learning to bear incoherence. “The officer pulled me into the search area. Went through my car, my wallet, my personal letters,” Alvin says without emotion. The incident took place about thirty years ago. ”A friend had handwritten the Chinese characters for ‘democracy’ on a flyer. The officer asked me about it and I said it was related to an artwork I had done.’ Don’t distribute this,’ he said, and he let me go.” Tiananmen Square,1989: we had been talking about it. At the time, I was living in Tokyo and working at ABC News. All of our cameramen and sound guys were over in Beijing. One had hidden an 8mm video camera in a box and documented the demonstration. One afternoon during that time I was at home with our baby. On TV a student demonstrator was asked a question; her carefully pronounced answer made a reference to Abraham Lincoln. I was moved to tears. Fragility, innocence and youth amidst an unplanned massive demonstration in the most influential historical area in Asian history. During Tiananmen Alvin had been involved at The Artists Village(TAV), the first artists commune in Singapore. He made an installation in an unused chicken coop, entitled Personal Views, China’s Democracy and there was Blood. Tang Da Wu did a performance within the installation. Tang Da Wu founded TAV and is regarded as the founder of contemporary art in Singapore. At the time, the influence of TAV was felt throughout Southeast Asia. Even now, TAV members like Lee Wen, Amanda Heng , Zai Kuning, Koh Nguang How, Vincent Leow and others are exhibiting work in Singapore and internationally; their works usually reflect the activism and sense of social responsibility that were part of the TAV experience. Koh Nguang How is a documentary artist now; he was working in a museum at the time and visited TAV whenever he could. In preparation for my interview with Alvin, I sent Koh a Facebook message, asking if he had any questions. Koh’s attention to detail is impressive; he told me Alvin’s wife is from Taiwan and that Alvin did not speak Mandarin. Koh wanted to ask me if Alvin had any problems teaching in English. Mandarin was the language being used at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, where Alvin taught Western Art History, Aesthetics of Art and Psychology of Art.”Nanyang” is a Chinese phrase that translates as  “Southern Seas”, though it often refers to all of Southeast Asia. During the years that Alvin was teaching, Singapore was continuing to define itself.English became the language of instruction. Koh’s question highlights the complexities of language in Singapore, especially in regards to Chinese dialects. Mandarin is the one of the four official languages of Singapore and the official language of China. The word translates as “speech of officials”. “No, I didn’t have any problems, as English was so widely spoken. My classes became so popular we kept adding more. Even students who only spoke Mandarin wanted to attend. I told them they could, but that they would still have to write a term paper, even if they wrote it in Mandarin. Students were very hungry to learn about art then.” Alvin has studied in Oakland California, San Francisco, Kuala Lumpur and Rome. In Rome he became involved with a community and an exhibition, that made the most of an abandoned building owned by the Vatican. Those experiences prepared him for the possibilities of TAV. The Artists Village: in our conversation, silence often follow the phrase. Like the Impressionists in Paris, Andy Warhol in New York or Damien Hirst in London’s world of advertising, TAV is associated with a specific time and place. TAV is, perhaps, most noteworthy because it was a pioneering achievement. The internet, numerous art schools, globalization, the commodification of art and changes in government policy now make the Singaporean art world very different than it was in the Eighties. “We should not encourage escapism” is a phrase I wrote down years ago,  upon viewing an exhibition about Singaporean art in the Sixties. It felt like the Singaporean art world then was lost. Alvin mentioned the West’s first art critic, Giorgio Vasari and his book, Lives of the Artists. “A book about TAV is a good idea,” he says. I let the topic drift away. I could throw myself into creating a reading experience based upon the Artists Village, but I would not want to write a book about the Artists Village. A movie script, maybe, though where would the drama lie? Perhaps there were personal dramas at TAV: romances, scandals of some sort, infighting, egotism, probably betrayals: but if so, they are unrecorded. An unimaginative movie script would follow a three act structure: Act One: Tang Da Wu revolutionizes and modernizes Singapore’s contemporary art scene by establishing TAV and attracting the island-nation’s youngest, best and brightest. Act Two: Utopia at the end of a coconut tree-lined kampung dirt road; Pure Art, but with weekly visits by the police. Act Three; Exile and Loss. On our table is the catalogue of Alvin’s paintings, in which he wrote: I hope my paintings trigger an original sensation within the viewer; natural and freely formed  without history or preconditioning. And so it is with this writing; I hope to give you, the reader a sense of our conversation, a sense of the topics we touched upon. Alvin, TAV and the quiet street in Johor Bahru where we talked are all worthy of narrative writing. But I haven’t been inspired to write logically, just as Alvin is not inspired to paint realistic landscapes. Perhaps I am like an Expressionistic painter, using sentences and ideas instead of brushstrokes and pigments. Hijikata’s widow told me that her husband, the co-founder of butoh, and the writer Mishima and had fistfights over differences in aesthetics. Now...eyes glued to “smart”phones, plastic souls bury themselves in low-level radiation screen displays. Facebook comments pass for heated debate. Articles I want to read: TK Sabapathy. “No way out” The Strait Times, Singapore Art & Entertainment May 20, 1993 Jennifer Tan. “Art that faces up to problems of the world” City Weekly, Singapore. May 13, 1993 “No Bed of Roses For Alvin” New Straits Times, Malaysia October 28,1987. I learned the word “apophenia while researching the phenomenon of seeing faces in clouds, a concept I wanted to compare to the act of viewing Alvin’s paintings. I also discovered  molybdomany, shadow people, pareidolia, patternicity  and the work of Chonosuke Okamura , who won an Ig Noble Prize for his reports of finding tiny, tiny humans in ancient limestone. "There have been no changes in the bodies of mankind since the Silurian period,” Okamura wrote, ”except for a growth in stature from 3.5 mm to 1,700 mm." My word research also found this phrase; "a specific experience of an abnormal meaningfulness". Finally, this fact: a person withschizophrenia initially experiences delusion as revelation. If there are patterns in this text, I must find them, for discovering patterns where there seem to be none is a very good thing.  My life, my meeting with Alvin, the historical events that occurred within our lifetimes; there must be patterns. Banksy. The Beatles. The kway teow I’ve just eaten, the breeze and the frangipanis above us, the patterns of the tiles below. This is a Sunday afternoon, March 12, 2017. I met Alvin a week ago; our lives share some of the same patterns. Visas, passports and turnarounds. The last painting in Alvin’s catalogue, is called Late Arrival. I cannot judge his brushstrokes, nor if there is actually detail in the completely black areas. On the upper left of the painting, is a soft-edged raggedy flag-like shape of blue and blueish-white. Close to, and parallel with, the left edge of the painting is a warm brown horizontal shape like a tree branch or rifle. On the bottom right, a spike, the same tonality asthe brown on the left. Untitled Indigo is the name of first painting in the catalogue. It is a remaking of the yin yang symbol in soft fractions. A whirlpool. A map studied at twilight or dawn. Related post: http://www.blacksteps.tv/amanda-heng- performance-art- in-context- a-singaporean-perspective-by- lee-wen/ The italicized sentence which begins this essay is from an article which appeared on the Psychology Today website on July 31, 2012. Being Amused by Apophenia, waswritten by  Bruce Poulsen Ph.D. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/reality-play/201207/being- amused-apophenia Thank you very much Koh, and Eric/Art 52.

Coccoon by Alvin Tan and craftsmen from the Orang Asli community. Iskandar Puteri, Johor Malaysia  (2016) photo by Stephen Black

Steve’s VR Startup

I began working with VR in 2002, with a software development kit for children, the CDK. The Creative Development Kit allowed inexperienced children AND serious game developers to create games and projects, using our models and commands. The CDK was studied by the Singaporean Ministry of Education and used in schools throughout Singapore, as well as in the Singapore Science Center.  I took a hiatus from VR to write books, one of which has become a best seller in Singapore. I also  began research f0r a book on digital cinematography/VR/art, co-produced/curated SPOKEN, a virtual gallery with Eugene Soh and wrote/co-produced/starred in a 360 short film called Beach Road. In the middle of 2016, I decided that the time was right for my VR ideas. This blog is filled with posts about research , seminars, meetings etc. I am now refining my pitchdeck for presentation to investors/VCs. I would prefer to bootstrap, but for this company, at this time, that is a challenge that would seem to take a long time to solve.
................... Here are the basic questions investors want answered: What is it? What problem does it solve? Who is making it? Potential audience? What work has been done? How will it grow? Business projections Resources needed Reference Schedule Describe yourself Skills Here is what I can share publicly at this time. Potential audience? One billion (yes, that is a 'b') What work has been done? Extensive pre-production  including: research, research research, paper mockup, paper grey box mockup, troubleshooting  bootcamp with trusted associates, started theoretical command sequences for programmers, UI design(fonts, layout color patterns) How will it grow? I have compiled a list of personal connections and carefully selected industry leaders (mainly bloggers and journalists). These people would form a base for testing. Additionally, when the time is right, a press release will be sent to the VR media and notification give to VR social media groups. The user base will grow through these channels as well as through word of mouth. Other methods of promotion have been planned. In addition to meeting a need, the project is fun to use. Though the project is simple and functional, the user experience will feel like the best parts of a five star restaurant, Cirque Soleil and driving a Ferrari. Business projections: Huge If you would like to know more or be a beta tester, feel free to get in touch. Onward!   SB      

Stephen Black: VR startup in Singapore. Why?

An outline of reasons as to why Singapore is the place for Stephen Black's planned  VR startup.
  1. As Creative Director/Producer for the CDK, a CG-generated VR project for a Singapore-based joint venture, SB became very familiar with Singapore's working environment, including government policies and business practices. (The CDK is described more fully elsewhere on this blog.)
  2. As a long-term resident based in Singapore since 2002, and the author of a bestselling book about Singapore (i ate tiong bahru), SB has a familiarity with Singapore as well as a personal and professional network.
  3. The government of Singapore provides support for VR and VR-related startups. https://www.spring.gov.sg/Nurturing-Startups/SEEDS/Pages/spring-start-up-enterprise-development-scheme.aspx VR in Singapore
  4. As a teacher of VR-related educational software in the Singapore educational system, SB has experience "in the trenches", regarding the demands of institutions, schools, teachers and students. The Singapore Ministry of successfully tested the CDK and  presented the results at an international educational symposium.
  5. Singapore is a regional hub, with strong connections throughout Southeast Asia,India, China and Japan. This fact, combined with SB's living experiences in Japan, Hong Kong, Paris, New York and Bali create a strong  possibility for an active beta network that will be an influential force for global take-up.
    two male avatars in a very red gallery

    Stephen Black and Eugene Soh in the virtual lobby of gallery.sg, the location for the SPOKEN exhibition

    6. Safe and stable, Singapore has trustworthy legal and business infrastructures. 7. English: yes! Other languages? Yes, yes, yes and yes! 8.Singapore's multicultural population is also very smartphone savvy.
     

Year of the Rooster things to do

(image by David Severn) The Art/VR startup idea...the time is now! The  Tiong Bahru Mouth the book , the photos, the haikus,  the videos. The Tiong Bahru Market is closing for three months at the end of February. Seems like that would be a punctuation mark of some sort. The i ate tiong bahru audiobook is now being checked by Amazon. The iatb glasses were successfully crowdfunded. So was the design for the Tiong Bahru poster. I ate Tiong Bahru, the book itself, is due for a second printing...   priest painting the skyI Ate Tiong Bahru Audiobook Really...this could go live any day!ArtReview Asia review of IATBcover of Artreview AsiaVoicemaps I have Tiong Bahru mapped out... Bali Wave Ghost After three years+ of doing the starving artist thing,it's time to work on the net net and synergize so as to secure maximum ROI.(that was written last year also, on another blog post. Have not done marketing.. no sales action.)Bali Wave Ghost in a Periplus bookstoreSPOKEN I wrote the following last year, and it has received attention, should receive more... SPOKEN needs to increase its audience...it really is an incredible piece of work :a virtual gallery built by Eugene Soh and filled with contributions from an extremely diverse collection of artists and writers. two male avatars in a very red gallery And these two projects, carry overs from last year. Hopefully by midyear, they can be picked up again...INSEIN Last year, I  spent almost ten days in Yangon. I created images with a digital camera. I would like to exhibit them and create a book.The images use Yangon as a starting point...airline map sing to RangoonI Ate LaPhet Thoke Conceptual art meets culinary research. A booklet co-created with Sayuri Okayama.IMG_3604 la phet thoke in styrofoam w Joe 19th stBeach Road This 360VR movie will hopefully continue to attract viewers. 360 video still from Beach Road Towards a New Cinematography, the book, has been plodding along. I hope it will plod faster.AND I WANT TO SPEND TIME WITH MY MOM AND DAD AND BROTHER AND DAUGHTER!

Tiong Bahru Mouth: A Couple Descending

Tiong Bahru Mouth: Two Friends in a Hardware Shop

Tiong Bahru Mouth: Tiong Bahru Teochew Kueh

Tiong Bahru Mouth

This post documents progress on Tiong Bahru Mouth, which is a collection of short stories and a visual art project, both by Stephen Black. Visual art, in this case, means photographs, videos and 360 videos. There is also a haiku component which is hidden on the internet. PHOTOGRAPHS http://www.blacksteps.tv/tiong-bahru-mouth-images/ VIDEOS Coffee and Light Tiong Bahru Mouth Wakes Up Jian Boh Shui Kueh at Sunrise Tiong Bahru Teochew Kueh Tiong Bahru Teochew Kueh glutinous rice packing Galicier Counter at CNY Two Friends in a Hardware Shop A Couple Descending  

Tiong Bahru Mouth: Coffee and Light

Tiong Bahru Mouth Wakes Up