A Collector’s Viewpoint
Updated: Jul 23, 2020
Written By Dr. Colin Lim
I see around me a professional disease of taking everything too seriously.
- Achille Castiglioni
Mine is a plain speak counterpoint to the curatorial language employed by the esteemed writers in this catalogue, much like the stylistic contrast between Ventura and Ng. I do hope I may convey a non-curatorial expression of the impact of this ground-breaking show and the ideas it generates.
By any standard, this is a great show. And I am fortunate to see this show in its entirety before writing this. Sometimes lateness (in publishing this catalogue) has its virtue. Kudos to Artesan Gallery + Studio for dreaming up and bringing to splendid fruition this remarkable showcase involving two of the finest young artists in Southeast Asia who have such contrasting styles, is certainly a great bonus. Other galleries sit up and learn…and weep.
Upon entering the ICA gallery, one is immediately engulfed by an otherworldly static-infused sound introducing the multi-media work of Francis Ng. Much has been made of the architectural forms of the concrete monoliths, which, if the atmosphere were not so ominous, actually reminds me of blocks of local public dwellings. The crackly static more than once caused me to glance upwards, half expecting some debris to fall off, making me an unwilling participant in a performance piece. The looped video projecting onto the bare faces of three of them culminates in, well, a face, eyes wide staring. Drawing further on the analogy, the rough-hewn surfaces, despite their foreboding nature, actually invite palpation, much like our concrete HDB homes welcoming residents and even the odd tourist. The other three hanging works, which shows off Ng’s versatility with various mediums, invite quiet contemplation of their form and meaning. Not quite Zen, but as restrained, passive yet intriguing as you can get in contemporary art.
After Ng’s aural and tactile assault, Ronald Ventura’s works seem a welcomed visual relief. For a brief moment at least. Then his alternative universe swallows you up, regurgitates, gargles and spits you out onto a world of his making, emerging more Alice than Astronaut. Mapping the Corporeal in 2009 was just a foretaste of what this otherworldly talent is capable of. In this part of the show, Ventura makes full use of the space to explore the concept of play and playthings and how time often blurs the distinction between devices of death and destruction and of play.
His hyper-realistic renditions on canvases of humans (notably young boys with overactive imaginations) and their playthings, body parts, Disneyesque characters and a whole menagerie of creatures, both fantastic and real, make for very compelling viewing. This wonderfully macabre (two words which should otherwise not be used together) dramatis personae includes skeletal Mickey Mouses, Donald Ducks, Snow White and Thumper the rabbit with a bloodied kitchen knife. (I cannot remember whether Bambi features in any of the paintings; if not, we know why).
A personal favourite is the skeletal Mickey doing a rainbow ‘teh-tarik’ with a sawn-off skull in each gloved hand. The infamous description of Singapore by William Gibson in 1993 as “Disneyland with the death sentence” springs to mind, but I am almost certain Ventura did not intend this in his work.
Ventura’s fiberglass sculptures leave one without a doubt as to his compliance with the title of the show and the play/plaything and death/weapon metaphors. His two life-size robots and two tanks with human organs artfully built into them show off his febrile imagination to great effect, as do his dioramas (cheekily called Die-o-Drama because of their narrative nature). I note with wry amusement that the exposed belly of the red robot has a grenade where the appendix is supposed to be. One also cannot forget the graffiti on the walls, the strongest thematically of which is the one with the television-headed Adam and Eve beneath the Tree of Knowledge which has oddly mechanical branches.
After the visual and intellectual overload from immersion in Ventura’s flamboyant work, going back to Ng’s contemplative work provides a much-needed stillness. Ng’s subdued work makes Ventura’s even more stunning; and Ventura’s exuberant works make Ng’s stillness even more tenacious and dauntless. In this way, the works of these two artists play off each other, highlighting each other’s strong suit. Finally, as one stands in the middle of the gallery, Ventura’s High at Five III confronts Ng’s Variability series across the space, as if in silent debate of the state of the world, in a language that can only take place between two artists.
Ventura and Ng are not only true to their own highly personal styles, their styles seem to mirror the perceived identities and personality traits of their respective home countries’ populace. As such, this collaborative effort also speaks of diplomacy, and sensitivity, not only between the two artists, but also between two identities, of two very different cultures. It can be said that A Duad in Play is a fitting climactic conclusion to celebrating forty years of diplomatic ties between the countries of Singapore and the Philippines.