'Awakenings': The most transgressive art in National Gallery Singapore's provocative exhibition on artist-led social activism in Asia
Huang Yong Ping
Reptiles (1989, current version made in 2013)
Reptiles explores the cultural connections and conflicts between the East and the West. The artwork was made entirely of paper pulp that was created by running old French newspapers through three washing machines. Taking the form of turtle-shaped traditional Fujian province graves, the large-scale installation strategically sits on the North-South axis according to fengshui principles to intentionally disrupt the flow of the exhibition.
Tang Da Wu
They Poach the Rhino, Chop Off His His Horn and Make This Drink (1989)
You might be familiar with Three Legs' cooling water, which is instantly recognisable with its unique shape, turquoise cap, and a iconic image of a rhinoceros on its label. A critique of consumerism's role in destroying nature, Tang Da Wu first staged this artwork in 1989 at the National Museum Art Gallery and Singapore Zoo. The installation's linen-wrapped rhinoceros and spiral arrangement of cooling water bottles has an almost ritualistic feel that points to the indiscrimate poaching of rhinoceros for their horns and its medically unsubstantiated use in traditional Chinese medicine.
What Would You Do If These Crackers Were Real Pistols? (1977-2018)
Created in 1977, Harsono came up with this artwork as a political statement against then-President Suhato's authoritarian New Order regime. "I bought the pistol crackers and just poured them on a gallery floor. A lot of people then linked my work with militarism and the regime," the artist once explained. As a poignant conclusion in the exhibition, Harsono invites audiences to write their response to the question "What would you do if theses crackers were real pistols?" in the notebook.
Burning Canvases Floating on the River (1964)
Allegedly executed on Christmas Day when the guards were off-duty, Lee Seung-Taek set three of his canvases on fire, and let them drift away on the Han River before quickly fleeing the scene. The canvases depicted three figurative paintings that represented the stoic state of Korean modern art then. No one knows what happened to the burning canvasses or if anyone had actually seen them while they were floating down the Han River.
'Awakenings: Art in Society in Asia 1960s-1990s' is on view at the National Gallery Singapore until 15 September 2019. Entry to the exhibition costs $15 for Singaporeans and Permanent Residents, and $25 for non-Singaporeans.
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