09 January 2006

The Artist's Pledge

The social ritual establishes a kind of truth; through each re-enactment, that truth is restated, reaffirmed as a timeless fact in itself. The speaker reads from an ancient score, his voice and part, an obliggato which drowns out the initial question, and reestablishes that primal state of innocence of his endeavor in the eternal silence of the natural, undisputed, commonsensical state of always-now.

Question: How do artists here operate, given the restrictions of the state?
Artist's ritual answer: There is freedom of speech, and we have to be very creative in putting certain politically-sensitive points across, and we occasionally have to exercise some self-censorship. So as an artist, I do not feel the heavy hand of the state.

So why is it the most important piece of art here in 2005 was created by a local businessman and PAP minion grassroots activist? I refer to the 1-day display of 8 white elephant cardboard sculptures at the unopened Buangkok train station last August, organised by Mr Leow, a grassroots activist of Punggol South and other leaders minions.

The white elephants installation epitomise the best of public art:
1. Site-specific art accessible to the public
2. Relevant to area residents
3. Strong, clear social and political criticism commentary that speaks on a national level
4. Controversial, yet humourous and cheeky
5. Safe and almost legal

Question: How do the grassroots minions leaders of Punggol South operate, given the state's testiness and control of public art and politics?

Surprisingly, their answer involves none of the 10-year series model artist's answer that we've heard far too often in arts forums. No, they did NOT have to tread carefully and censor themselves in order to put up the white elephant installation. No, they were not creative enough to avoid such a sensitive issue and an entanglement with the police and the incestuous transport authority-business complex. But they were bold enough to see a good idea and to see it through.

When will local artists make socially relevant public art instead of safe, state-sponsored, high concept, sterile public art?

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