Art and politics, our favourite combo

Expect to see a fair amount of politically charged works this Singapore Biennale—or at least a clear message of social responsibility stringing them together. The international contemporary art exhibition returns later this year from Nov 29-Mar 22, 2020 and, for starters, will take the title “Every Step in the Right Direction”.

Organised by the Singapore Art Museum, the sixth edition will take place at multiple venues across the island, which include National Gallery Singapore, Gillman Barracks, and various cultural and heritage venues. The spacing out of venues will give audiences the opportunity to to move from site to site and make their own connections between artworks and artists, in a literal interpretation of the title, according to SAM Director of Curatorial, Programmes and Publication, Dr June Yap.

Speaking on the political drive behind the theme, Artistic Director Patrick Flores said that the Biennale will comprise two parts: critically acknowledging the “troubled state of precariousness” of the current world, and manifesting the desire and motivation to do something about the situation. The two aspects will shape how the artists produce their works, as well as how the audience responds to the works, he added.


Artistic Director Patrick Flores (middle) and the Singapore Biennale 2019 curatorial team

He also called on the role of art as an agent for positive change today, stressing the importance of equating all creative gestures with “ethical” ones.

“The idea of every step implies so many things—one, that every step is not singular, it’s plural, it’s varied, it’s many. Two, it’s not final; it is incremental, persistent, successive. And finally, it is not authoritative; it is shared with others who make that step—and also others who think about the right thing and direction,” said Flores.

“The phrase ‘every step’ should be seen always in relation to the right direction; to do the right thing, based on certain human values.”

In addressing the Biennale’s goal to create a more dynamic relationship between the art world and society, Flores will work with a team of six other curators from the region—all below the age of 40, they were specifically selected for their generational perspective.

Though the actual Biennale only begins in November, a teaser event happening Jan 26 will kick off the festivities. From 4pm till late, come by SAM at 8Q Plaza for experimental performance sets, film screenings and artist talks. A special nighttime installation by Singaporean artist Zai Tang and Chiang Mai-based Arnont Nongyao will bring together field recordings of “voices” from habitats in Singapore and markets in northern Thailand, to question the significance of sounds in nature during a time of mass extinction and ecological crisis.


Poem from Nowhere. Photo credit: Heritage Space Team

Referencing once more the weight of the 2019 Biennale’s title, Flores shared the dual inspirations behind it—local artist Amanda Heng’s seminal work Let’s Walk; and Salud Algabre, the Filipino leader of a rebellious movement against the Americans in the 1930s. Though the rebellion was historically a failure that ended in bloodshed, Algabre famously said, “No uprising fails; each one is a step in the right direction.”

Very Hunger Games, but we like it.