What best represents Singapore?
Some may mention the local foods, perhaps. Most would answer Marina Bay Sands, the Esplanade, the Merlion overlooking the Singapore River, or even the HDB flats. What comes forth in our consciousness as one ponders the question are the striking, larger-than-life objects strategically organised within the spaces. Through extensive master plans for our urban landscape, these are landmarks that have been carefully planned and executed by the government over the past decades. It is little wonder, therefore, that one would fail to recall the little, seemingly insignificant things that govern our everyday movements amidst the hustle and bustle of our garden city.
Jason Wee, Labyrinths (Obstacle Course), 2017, galvanized steel, watercolour on cold press paper, army rope in two shades, 253 x 120cm. Photo: Yavuz Gallery.
I was therefore intrigued by Jason Wee’s inspiration to employ fences as the focal point of his exhibition. What used to stand visible but unseen in the background has now become the subject of consciousness, such that we not only realise its crucial role in providing privacy, safety, and security, but also its ability to control, entrap, and punish. The artist reflects on how the issues of social and political changes have increasingly seeped into local conversation; he recalls the regulatory role of fences in shaping and directing crowds at Lee Kuan Yew’s wake and Hong Lim Park, as well as those installed at beaches and shores to prevent illegal landing.
In his first solo exhibition at Yavuz Gallery, artist Jason Wee (and also founder of Grey Projects) presents a thought-provoking commentary on the politics of physical space by personifying wall design and architecture as authoritative and powerful figures. You, as the passer-by, will be navigated through the gallery space not simply by your volition, but also by the tasteful, strategic placement of his works. To put it another way, the title “labyrinth” as perused by the artist is encapsulated not so much by the winding corridors of the gallery space, but by the artful presentation of his works.
Exhibition view with the installation Labyrinths (2017) in the foreground. Photo: Yavuz Gallery.
Close-up of Jason Wee's Labyrinths, 2017, installation. Stainless steel, galvanised steel, emulsion paint. Dimensions vary.
You begin your viewing by encountering the installation, in which you immediately recognise the municipal green fences and tactile paving so oft’ taken for granted in our daily lives. On first glance it is aesthetically pleasing, what with its simple three-tone color palette and clean-cut lines that lightly resemble a cosy play area for children. As you take a walk through this, you may come to realise how firmly yet gently the lines direct you towards a certain direction or another. You almost have no room for error; put another way, you almost do not have the freedom to decide.
This is the appetiser, a taster for what is to come.
You move on to the mixed-media panels, this time somewhat more aware of how wall architecture can have such an autonomy in our movements through physical space. The eight panels can be simultaneously treated as sculptures and paintings, and they have a running motif of the iconic railing ubiquitous along the roads and pavements of Singapore. These are intended as blank canvases on which the artist puts thought into action, to be read as a legible page. The delicacy in each of these works is balance; the simple yet brilliant geometry of shapes orders you to regard the panel as a whole, while simultaneously being cognisant of how its individual parts play a sense of harmony.
Exhibition view with works Labyrinths (Living Rooms), 2017, Open Fire, 2017 and Need Air, 2017 from left to right. Photo: Yavuz Gallery.
Jason Wee, Living Rooms, 2017. Galvanised steel, polyester print, C-print on PVC, teak laminate on plywood, watercolor on cold press paper, mirrors, etched aluminium, powder-coated steel, spray paint on cut wood. 253 x 187 cm. Photo: Yavuz Gallery.
Keen observation and inference will also allow you to deduce single sentences coyly peeking out between the lines; each of these is poetry in itself, which provides not just detail but a context for its panel. Otherwise, you may choose to regard it as “insta-worthy” moments to be immortalised in the digital world.
Along the way, you may find yourself feeling lost amidst such familiar objects; you know where you have seen them, yet littered among these comforts are peculiar oddities you would not think to be significant or relevant to the work. How do these fit into the picture?
If you had not spoken to the artist, you would not have known that this was a deliberate play in his work. He wants to evoke such feelings within the viewer; you ought to feel displaced and uncomfortable, because there lacks that detailed explanation we often demand for in phenomena. Why is the earth round? What brings about poverty? Why is Lee Hsien Loong allegedly responding against his father’s wishes to demolish the townhouse at Oxley Road? Without specificity to the occasion, you are left pondering the possibilities of why, how, and what the artist has created, and had them meaning to be.
Jason Wee, Wayfinding, 2017. Galvanised steel, aluminium, chiffon print, C-print on PVC, teak laminate on plywood, watercolor on cold press paper. 200 x 183 cm. Photo: Yavuz Gallery.
Jason Wee, Labyrinths (Out of the Cl_s_t, Into the C_ge), 2017, galvanized steel, wool, 200 x 120 cm. Photo: Yavuz Gallery.
As you take your leave, you may perhaps gain a greater understanding and appreciation for wall or fence architecture in Singapore, and how they quietly govern our lives to protect the citizens or create order in a booming society. I myself left the exhibition with a heightened awareness for the architecture of physical spaces; upon writing this review, I also came to realize that my own experience of Labyrinths may not be similar to viewer A, B, or C. My “verbal” walkthrough for your benefit, dear reader, is created within the architecture of my mind, so to speak. What I see may not be what you see, which is why I invite you to experience Labyrinths with your own body and spirit. To feel and think, for yourself, what the artist has meant for you to feel and think.
Labyrinths will be showcased from 17 August – 17 September 2017, at the Yavuz Gallery located at Gilman Barracks. More information here.
Keep up with Southeast Asia's art scene, follow ArtHop's Facebook page here.