8Q-rate at 8Qsam

Last weekend we went to explore the new contemporary art wing of the Singapore Art Museum, 8Qsam. Quite obviously, the name 8Q refers to its location at 8 Queen Street. Continuing on with the word play, it is currently hosting its inaugural exhibition 8Q-rate: school which displays 8 installations by 8 local contemporary artist, curated by 8 different curators who work with each artist individually. Not to mention that 8Qsam was opened on the 8th month of the year 2008.

The exhibition theme, School, is apt considering that the wing occupies the former Catholic High School building. They even invited its former principal to the opening! Oh yeah we were there at the opening, too. It was fun and took the School theme up another notch. The staff were all dressed up in their old school uniforms, and some of them also dressed up as school-mistresses, carrying around sticks of rotan and feather dusters. The guest book was disguised as an attendance list, and we all got buttons to pin on our shirts. Mine says “so Q!”. It was reminiscent of a school bazaar. We received coupons which could be exchanged for bottles of Tiger (I don’t think they actually serve beer in school now, do they?), cups of popcorn, potong ice-cream, and free flow of cotton candy and Mamee. It was kinda weird seeing crisply dressed executives licking noodle crumbs off their fingers.

Keeping up the spirit of the theme, throughout the exhibition you’ll see information labels printed on blackboard-green stickers, just like the banner above here. When we entered the lobby, we were welcome by a chrome-clad military Jeep with the phrase “In God We Trust” pasted over its windshield. It’s the deeds of two Filipino artists, Alfredo and Maria Isabel Aquilizan. The jeep isn’t actually part of the 8Q-rate exhibition. Unlike paintings or sculptures, these installations occupy more space. Thus on each gallery only one or two works are displayed. Talking about space, many contemporary installations utilise different media as extension of the traditional form of sculpture. A good example is the sound installation by Chu’an. He reworked the Catholic High school-song into a 25-minute composition that you can hear throughout the three levels of exhibition as a reminder of the spirit of the former school. Somewhat creepy, though. Like in those horror movies where the (scantily-clad female) character walks into some empty old building and some piano in some corner starts playing on its own.

The theme “school” is not explicitly referred to in the installations, but the artists played around with the idea that surrounds school – discipline, boyhood, idealism, rigidity, play, classroom, etc. I don’t want to give a spoiler and tell you about each and every installation, it’s only fun when you experience them yourself :). My favourite is Grace Tan’s stitched cloths. It may not sound interesting but wait till you get to see it. Other participating artists are Jason Wee, :phunkstudio, Jahan Loh, Ahmad Abu Bakar, Donna Ong, and Tan Kai Syng.

Over last weekend, there were also public workshops by artists Agnes Yit and Lee Wen in conjunction with The Artist Village exhibition running in SAM. It was a pity that not many people are informed about it. Agnes’s workshop involved scribbling your thoughts on a long banner. You can also help Lee Wen create his chewing gum paintings (first created as a response to the ban) – unfortunately the gums available for us to chew were legal, pharmacy available gums. If only they were contraband from Johor, then I could’ve heard my little rebellious soul screaming “yay!”. We also drew ships. Yes, ships. With crayons. And markers. On A3-size sheets of paper. They will be used as part of the collage displayed in the Bayfront MRT station. But don’t get excited yet. First, my drawing isn’t any better than any kindergartener’s, and the station will only be opened in 2012. But hey it’s my chance to show off my (nonexistent) skill to the public!

On the 4th level of 8Qsam you can find I Nyoman Masriadi’s exhibition, “Black is My Last Weapon” which will run until 9 November. He’s an Indonesian painter whose paintings now are much sought after and fetch amazing prices at auctions. All the paintings displayed come from collectors, since he’s sold every last piece of his work. Masriadi paints almost comical figures inspired by commentaries on daily life (fights, bodybuilding, the arts, even popping pimples and batman) complete with speech bubbles. I couldn’t help but smile and feel tickled by them.

I’m pretty sure many of the visitors to 8Qsam leave with the question “Is this art?”. Just keep in mind we shouldn’t think too hard and try to find the meaning of each and every piece of artwork or what the artist intends to imply! You can like an artwork (or not) for many different reasons – which is perfectly fine as there is no right or wrong. But most importantly, it has to have a message, or provoke your mind, or gets you inspired. I think 8Qsam is a good effort to reach out and educate the community about contemporary art. So do come down to 8Qsam and experience something different!

Keep yourself posted with happenings at SAM here.

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