Being, in the Midst of Sea-Change By Dr Susie Lingham Director, Singapore Art Museum

Singapore Art Museum
Jan 3, 2014 9:17AM

The world changes if, and when, minds change. 

If the world changes when minds change, how and when do minds change? No denying it, art moves: it is a catalyst, and alchemical – not just transformative, but transmutative. Much of the world we think we know and live within is the world as recalled and reimagined within artistic forms – film; the wrought image; music; architecture. And history and memory are only as real as we can imagine them to be so. We actively and recursively recreate each passing moment. 

Preparing to change minds and have our minds changed, we come ashore on this very tiny island one degree north of the equator, in the heart of the tropics. Here, the Singapore Art Museum (SAM) proudly presents the Singapore Biennale 2013, If the World Changed, which focuses on art, artists and curators from Singapore and Southeast Asia. The unprecedented curatorial structure brings together 27 curators from across the region, many of whom are artist-curators, whose idiosyncratic perspectives and collective concerns allow us insights into how artists respond to their lived experiences, even as they invite their audiences to explore possible worlds with them. 

SAM, as a museum, has been invested in collecting, presenting and representing contemporary art and artists of the region. A substantive number of works have been specially commissioned for SB2013, and are shown here for the first time ever, in all their questings and quietude. In the context of deeper research, SB2013 presented a fantastic opportunity for SAM to ensure the continuity of its engagement with much greater intensity and focus. SAM’s curators went on immersive research trips with their co-curators to various parts of the region and developed strong and ongoing relations over this last year. The museum’s curatorial vision was to reach beyond the familiar and connect with the artists and communities in further flung non-capital cities and rural centres of Southeast Asia. This is a very exhilarating feature of the Biennale.

Yes, the structure is unwieldy, and that is precisely why SB2013 offers real engagement – at every level – to deepen our understanding of the sociocultural, economic, aesthetic and ideological complexities of this region. There isn’t one voice: it is a polyphonic chorus that can, and sometimes does, verge on cacophony. It is hoped that each visitor to If the World Changed will experience the deep connectedness within the region, and at the same time, cultivate an appreciation for the sheer cultural and artistic diversity in contemporary Southeast Asia – a diversity alert and alive to all its influences, and sense of being.


This write-up is an excerpt from a full essay available in the Singapore Biennale 2013 Catalogue, available for sale at the Museum Label store at SAM.

Singapore Art Museum