Tag Archives: art

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

Tiong Bahru Mouth: Two Friends in a Hardware Shop

Tiong Bahru Mouth: Tiong Bahru Teochew Kueh

Tiong Bahru Mouth: Coffee and Light

Tiong Bahru Mouth Wakes Up

Tiong Bahru Mouth: Jian Boh Shui Kueh at Sunrise


You are probably here because you received a piece of paper from me.   HELLO   I am writing this on Thursday, November 24....  a very full day. Probably on Sunday I can come back and fill this page full of descriptions and links about my projects. For now... SPOKEN at www.gallery.sg this was created with Eugene Soh and is full of art and writing. It requires a 10 meg download, which is free. Beach Road You'll need a VR viewing device to see this short film which was featured at the 2015 Brisbane Film Festival and nominated for Best Experimental Film at the 2016 Las Vegas VR Fest. Descriptions of my books including videos and reviews. Please consider taking a look at my crowdfunding projects for a Tiong Bahru poster AND a book on the way that technology has affected cinematography. And, scattered throughout this blog are posts about art, post full of photography, short stories and posts about all kinds of things.   THANKS FOR STOPPING BY!   Stephen Black    

Tiong Bahru Poster Project (Crowdfunding)

I am writing this on Saturday morning, 12:12 on November 19. This is a placeholder, with only a little information.This will be updated soon. I am starting another crowdfunding campaign with Zingohub, as the first was very successful: 174% over target. This campaign is for a poster that will include photos from the public, photos taken by me for someone and my own photos. At the moment I have a number of ideas on what the poster will look like. I will reveal them soon. For now, a poster from a previous project, this one designed by Roy Chan. The design for the Tiong Bahru poster will likely be much simpler.
SPOKEN poster

SPOKEN was co-produced with Eugene Soh and features a wide range of artists and writers, some world famous, some not. www.gallery.sg

grid of minimalist text patterns

Roy Chan's preliminary designs.

Stay tuned to watch how the Tiong Bahru poster develops... (<a href="http://www.notey.com/blog/114080#blog/dd058b2c8e4a49de38af7c826a333856"></a>)

i ate tiong bahru limited edition glass sculptures/JDMIS/certificate of authenticity

iatb-glass-signing-at-jdmis I am honored  that the Jewellery Design and Management International School have agreed to oversee the certificates of authenticity for the edition of signed(etched) glass artworks in the crowdfunding campaign now on ZingoHub. (You can learn more about JDMIS here.) As stated on the crowdfunding page,  a total of eighty-eight glasses will be signed with an etching pen and numbered. A certificate of authenticity will be enclosed with each glass. I have known Tanja Sadow, the dean of JDMIS, since I arrived in Singapore in 2002. I know that many jewellery-making success stories are associated with the high standards of JDMIS and I am thrilled that JDMIS has agreed to oversee the authentication process of the i ate tiong bahru glass artworks. iatb-cup-certificate-of-authenticity    

You and I, talking about crowdfunding the i ate tiong bahru glasses

For the next month, I am conducting a crowdfunding campaign on ZingoHub. The goal is to raise money for a small commercial run of glasses that would be sold to stores, as well as to create a limited edition of signed glasses. The campaign is here. YOU: You have samples... and stores that are waiting... Stephen Black: Yes, the samples were necessary to show stores and people exactly what I want to make. Friends and strangers that I met in the Tiong Bahru Market were very supportive. Online postings were also well received. And,at the time of this writing, I have an order for 70 glasses from a company which is also selling the i ate tiong bahru book. YOU: How many copies of the book have you sold? SB: Almost 2000, which qualifies as a national bestseller in Singapore. iatb-book-on-white-paper YOU: Even with that cover that doesn't even have your name on it? SB: Yep....and with zero advertising and almost no mention of the book by the media.It sold because of positive word of mouth... YOU: And now you want to make i ate tiong bahru glasses? SB: Yes! And T-shirts and an audio book and aprons and organic baby wear and cheese graters and dog chew toys and skateboards and hand towels and perfume. All rehyperpostcontextual synthesitic objects that are edgy and challenge the consumer to blur the boundaries and push the limits of the postcolonial, postmodern postadot paradigm... YOU: I don't know if you are joking or not. SB: Well... Freda D and her perfumes are mentioned on my blog... YOU: If I give you money, how do I know you will deliver? SB: I need to make these glasses. One store is waiting for them, and once I know this project is a success, I can approach other stores... These glasses are my art: they are conceptual, functional and beautiful in a simple way. I want to share them with people. The book was written to be an artwork and a labor of love...the glasses extend the project in an unexpected but natural direction. Plus, there are very few things that can go wrong. I know where to get the glasses, know where to get them sandblasted. The campaign sets a minimum target of $650, but if I exceed that I can do a larger run or do better packaging or even do advertising... YOU: Do you have any terrible videos about this project? SB: One terrible video about the i ate tiong bahru glassware project coming up!   YOU: Well, that was terrible. You should sleep more! And who recorded that audio? SB: Yes, I will sleep more. And, there is a better video here, on the ZingoHub iatb glassware page. YOU: OK..thanks for that link... I will check it now. ME: Thank you very very much for considering to support the i ate tiong bahru glassware/limited edition postmodern readymade functional sculpture campaign! If you have any more questions, just ask in the comment section below! Any ideas on how I can create great rewards are also appreciated! ONWARD!   Stephen Black