The O.P.E.N. 2016 – One Pass To See It All

The O.P.E.N. 2016 by Singapore International Festival of Arts grants visitors access to more than 40 arts programmes over 18 days – for only S$45.

There was an article published in The Straits Times last Monday titled Growing pains for Singapore art market. It is really not easy at all to be an artist or an art practitioner in Singapore when her arts climate is… not the most ideal, let’s put it that way. This also gives me a greater appreciation for the good work that the various art establishments are doing to boost the local arts scene.

Speaking of which, The O.P.E.N is back! The O.P.E.N. is Singapore International Festival of Arts‘s pre-festival of ideas to get people talking about the festival’s themes and issues before the main event that is SIFA (taking place from 11 August to 17 September 2016).  The O.P.E.N. was initiated by SIFA festival director Ong Keng Sen when he took over the reins of SIFA back in 2011 – thank you good sir.

After past themes like 2014’s Legacy and the Expanded Classic which looks at the past and 2015’s POST-Empires which looks at the present, this year’s The O.P.E.N. (and SIFA) will come full circle with the theme ‘Potentialities’ – looking into the future. This year’s pre-festival not only celebrates change agents from around the world, but also nudges and reminds visitors that we as individuals also have the same potentiality to be change-makers.

The O.P.E.N will take place from 22 June to 9 July 2016 and once again, for a flat rate of $45 entitles visitors to all of its programmes over 18 days (concession and single entry passes are also available). I’m really excited! Here are my top 10 picks for this year’s The O.P.E.N. RW

For more information on The O.P.E.N. click here. To buy your The O.P.E.N. pass, click here.

Editor’s note: Programmes’ descriptions and photos by SIFA. The theme ‘Potentialities’ was previously written as ‘Potentiality’. The error has since been corrected.

1. I Know Why The Rebel Sings

22 June, 7pm – 10pm (Opening day)
23 June through 9 July, Tue – Sat: 11am – 10pm ; Sun: 11am – 6pm; Closed on Mondays

Venue: 72-13

PHOTO & VIDEO EXHIBITION: I Know Why The Rebel Sings strikingly highlights the impressive range of Iranian photojournalist Newsha Tavakolian. Comprising photographs from her previous series, “Look”, “Listen” and “The Blank Pages Of An Iranian Photo Album”, this comprehensive showcase includes previously unexhibited images of humanitarian tragedies around the world. It highlights the continuum in Tavakolian’s oeuvre, from art to photojournalism. With a focus on the portrait, these two genres are scintillatingly in conversation in her work.

Tavakolian’s talent for making the inner worlds of her subjects come alive is seen in her “Look” series. It captures the people in her building, each individual framed by a window and the detritus of everyday living. Her work refuses to fall into the clichés of expressing Iran today. Instead she gives complexity to these ordinary lives without resorting to narratives of oppression and freedom. This theme is continued in “The Blank Pages Of An Iranian Photo Album”, in which she follows her peers through video portraits and photo albums from their daily lives.

2. Remember 30 Years To Live 65 Minutes


30 June, 8pm (1hr 30mins, no intermission)

Venue: Drama Centre Black Box

PERFORMANCE: As an artist, how much of your life are you willing to share with your audience? “For eight years I’ve been trying to finish this play,” Marina Otero states. “This is yet another sketch of that incomplete, endless play. It’s made with parts of an old play, confused memories, past lovers and other things I already killed. I now open the doors to show those misplaced secrets, the archived documents, stolen pictures, and my first 30 years reassembled.” See Otero as a child, a teenager, a woman. See her as a daughter, a sister, a girlfriend. Then – a dancer, an actress, a playwright. Yet the query is posed, haunting, teasing: how much did she remember and how much did she invent? Weigh those questions against the undeniable honesty in Remember 30 Years To Live 65 Minutes. Otero’s mashup performance reveals a woman stripped bare, dealing with raw emotions, fighting her demons and struggling to find meaning in this affecting play about her own life.

3. Archaeology of the Final Decade

28 June, 7.30pm (1hr 15mins (inclusive of Q&A))

Venue: 72-13

LECTURE: What is the potentiality of archives for the future? Explore Iran’s rich yet lesser-known artistic past with London-based curator Vali Mahlouji, who is a writer and adviser to the British Museum. Mahlouji founded Archaeology Of The Final Decade, a curatorial and research platform that brings back to life art and culture buried under revolution and social change.

In this enlightening lecture, Mahlouji explores Iran’s cultural legacies now lost by the chaos of the 1979 Islamic Revolution. With meticulous passion and investigative energy, he dissects these ideas through the use of two cultural reference points. The first is Iran’s “Festival of Arts, Shiraz-Persepolis” that ran from 1967 to 1977, a theatre, dance and music showcase with a unique focus on Asia and Africa. Black-and-white snapshots of this arts and cultural extravaganza reveal a rich diversity and cosmopolitan sophistication not often associated with the country. The second is the seminal photographic series, “Prostitute”, by Iranian photographer Kaveh Golestan. These haunting images of women from the red-light ghetto of Citadel of Shahr-e No represent an underbelly deliberately annihilated. The Citadel went up in flames as the revolution unfolded. Many survivors were imprisoned or culturally ‘reformed’; some were sentenced to death. What are the lasting ramifications when huge chunks of cultural memory are brutally erased?

What is the best way to reintroduce lost objects into the public domain, stimulate healthy discourse and encourage reconciliation? Join Mahlouji as he confronts these thorny issues of memory, history and reintegration that have lasting resonance for us all.

4. Riding On A Cloud


23 June, 8pm

Venue: 72-13 (1h 05min, no intermission)

PERFORMANCE: The brilliant performance auteur Rabih Mroué’s younger brother was shot in Beirut in 1987, as the Lebanese civil war was winding down. Although the 17-year-old Yasser did not die, the sniper’s bullet pierced his skull and caused partial paralysis and aphasia – the loss of the ability to understand and express speech.

It was this seminal moment that gave birth to Riding On A Cloud so many years later. This mixed-media theatre piece blurs the line between fact and fiction, reality and imagination, truth and subjective perspective, especially with Yasser himself at the centre as the sole performer.

Yasser as victim in a political struggle that riveted the world for decades, Yasser as actor in a fictionalised narrative, Yasser as a character invented by Mroué’s imagination, Yasser as victor in his struggle with language and meaning.

Through the flickering images on stage, the video clips and disjointed fragments of music, Mroué plumbs depth and meaning in shifting narratives, explores possibilities for a post-war Lebanon and, more universally, strikes the chords of memory, representation and the elusive search for truth in all of us.

5. Ibsen: Ghosts


8 July, 8pm

Venue: SOTA Studio Theatre (1hr 40min, no intermission)

PERFORMANCE: In Henrik Ibsen’s original “Ghosts”, the character Oswald asks his mother to help him commit suicide. It is this theme that German theatre collective Markus&Markus have chosen to focus on in their version of Ibsen: Ghosts. But don’t expect to see any acting. “We don’t want to see any more actors who pretend they want to die. So we cast a person who really wants to die as our Oswald,” explained the boundary-pushing group. With their radical political performances dissolving the lines between the stage and real life, this theatre company has been one to watch in Europe since 2011.

Markus&Markus find their own “Oswald” in 81-year-old Margot. She travels to Switzerland, where assisted suicide is legal, to die on her own terms. They first meet her in April 2014, spending almost every day of the month with her. On May 1, they accompany her to an euthanasia organisation; they attend her funeral on May 22.

In Ibsen: Ghosts, Markus&Markus reanimate their deceased protagonist through videos, photos and letters. The work is a gut-wrenching and poignant reflection on life’s meaning. Does faithful documentation and ritual celebration of someone’s life ensure a kind of immortality? Maybe. As Margot says: “As long as my story is being told, I am not really dead.”

6. Homeland (Iraq Year Zero)


2 July3pm (Part 1) & 6pm (Part 2)

Venue: The Projector (334 min)

FILM: Iraqi filmmaker Abbas Fahdel’s Homeland is a richly detailed, unsentimental and yet, unexpectedly cheerful depiction of the everyday hardships in his own family over the one-and-a-half years before and after the 2003 American-led invasion of Iraq.Before The Fall (Part 1) focuses on a group of Iraqis, mostly members of Fahdel’s own family, on their fears and expectations of the coming war. After The Battle (Part 2) picks up after the American invasion and shows its harrowing consequences on the characters. Homeland (Iraq Year Zero) won the Grand Prize at the Visions du Réel festival and Montreal International Documentary Festival, as well as the Award of Excellence and Citizens’ Prize at Yamagata International Documentary Festival.

7. A Syrian Love Story


1 July, 7.30pm

Venue: The Projector (76min)

FILM: Amer and Raghda met 15 years ago in a Syrian prison. They fell in love and, when released, got married. A Syrian Love Story tells the poignant tale of their family torn apart by the Syrian War. When British director Sean McAllister first meets them in 2009, Raghda is back in prison, leaving Amer to look after their four boys alone. But as the Arab Spring sweeps the region, their fate shifts irrevocably. Filmed over five years, the film charts their incredible odyssey to freedom. McAllister (“Liberace Of Baghdad”) received the Grand Jury prize at last year’s Sheffield Documentary Festival for this “Bergmanesque portrait of a relationship and love”.

8. Embrace Of The Serpent


3 July, 5pm

Venue: The Projector (123min)

FILM: Karamakate, a powerful Amazonian shaman, dwells in the jungle alone. Decades of solitude have turned him into a chullachaqui, an empty shell of a human, devoid of memories and emotion. His hollow life is shaken with the arrival of Evan, an American ethnobotanist searching for the sacred plant Yakruna, capable of teaching people how to dream. Together they embark on a journey into the Amazon in which past, present and future are intertwined, and in which Karamakate will begin to regain his lost memories. Since receiving the top Directors’ Fortnight prize at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, Embrace Of The Serpent has continued to win acclaim, including an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film this year.

9. Invisible (Imbisibol)


6 July, 7.30pm

Venue: The Projector (132min)

This heart-wrenching film weaves together stories about undocumented Filipino workers supporting themselves and their loved ones in the Philippines with under-the-counter work in Japan. Middle-aged lovers Benjie and Edward fall for each other in Japan, but keep their love secret from their families. Ageing gigolo Manuel finds it difficult to make ends meet. The saintly Linda lives in Japan legally, but fights with her Japanese husband because she rents rooms to undocumented Filipinos.Imbisibol is directed by rising talent Lawrence Fajardo and produced by Cannes award-winning filmmaker Brillante Mendoza. It has swept seven awards, including prizes for Best Film and Best Director, at Sinag Maynila Film Festival before premiering at Toronto International Film Festival last year.

10. The Bacchus Lady


7 July, 7.30pm

VENUE: The Projector (110min)

Feisty 65-year-old So-young is a prostitute who approaches clients with Bacchus, a popular Korean energy drink and the offer of sex. With no savings or family, So-young is one of South Korea’s ‘Bacchus ladies’ – older women in South Korea who turn tricks to make a living. She meets little Min-ho and takes him in when his mother is detained by the police. The boy, who speaks only Tagalog, becomes kin to her, motivating her to work harder. When her disillusioned clients ask her for one last favour, So-young must decide whether she will help them. Never sordid or gratuitous, The Bacchus Lady tells a warm and humorous tale of South Korea’s controversial problem of senior prostitution.

The O.P.E.N

Multiple Locations

Opens 22 June to 9 July 2016

A pre-festival of ideas, The O.P.E.N. is a public engagement initiative from the Singapore International Festival of Arts (SIFA) that offers 18 days of exploration. It raises fascinating questions and offers eye-opening insights about our world and humanity.

The O.P.E.N. connects you with SIFA four weeks before the opening of the Festival. It directs you to consider a breadth of issues and perspectives inspired by SIFA’s annual festival theme. Styled as a popular academy, it presents a curated selection of events through diverse platforms.

Ticket Pricing: $10 (Single entry), $25 (Concession pass), $45 (All programmes pass)

Web Link: The O.P.E.N.

Affordable Art Fair: A Peculiar Exhibition

Interesting, and otherwise unusual artworks can all be found in the 2016 Spring Edition of Affordable Art Fair.

Held once again at the F1 Pit Building from 21 to 24 April, this year’s Affordable Art Fair showcases an assortment of artworks from 41 local and international galleries representing 300 artists.

As with past year’s theme, the objective of the biannual exhibition was to make contemporary art accessible to the general public. Find artworks from paintings and sculptures to photography priced between S$100 to S$10,000. Also in line with this is the popular Charity Feature Wall ‘Let Art Speak’ which showcases artworks priced at S$500 – half of the monies raised goes to charity partner Woodbridge Hospital Charity Fund. Catering to both the young and old, there are plenty of art tours for the adults and hands-on workshops for the little ones.

Despite just returning from an overseas trip on Saturday and nursing a [really] bad cough, I decided to head down to review Affordable Art Fair on the last day nevertheless (hence, I was not in top form when visiting the exhibition).



A visitor admiring an artwork by Bui Van Hoan.

I love this oil-on-canvas paintings (~S$7,000) by Vietnamese artist Bui Van Hoan (above). There does not seem to be anything going on in the painting above but if you look closer, you can see Bui’s subject (a fisherman) subtly placed in the background. According to Bui’s bio published by representing gallery ArtBlue Studio, Bui’s work is inspired by his serene and peaceful approach to life, often referred to in Vietnamese as ‘Thien’, roughly translated as a particular Vietnamese school of Zen Buddhism.



PHOTO: AAF | Visitors getting introduced to Gary Pereira’s artwork

Why wouldn’t anyone want to glaze out into beautiful landscapes? English artist Gary Pereira makes this possible, transporting us to his hometown in Norwich England through his ‘window’ paintings. Pereira is inspired from the waves and dunes of his native Norfolk coast. Pereira is represented by UK-based gallery Quantum Contemporary Art and is priced around S$3,000.


PHOTO: | ‘Asphyxiate’ | Photograph on Print | Ted O’Donnell & Nicki Lee

Australian artists Ted O’Donnell and Nicki Lee prove that two is indeed better than one through this utterly gorgeous photography series ‘Asphyxiate’. A collaborative piece between the two, Lee dons the flowers in colours and emotions while O’Donnell captures that in one single shot – no retakes as I was told by O’Donnell. Obsessed with the rhythmic movement of nature and passion, the two were first inspired by Robert Browning romantic-tragic poem,  ‘Porphyria’s Lover’. Interestingly, the two lovers first met at a organic fruit and vegetable store in Spring 2011. Comes in editions of 10 or 20, and priced at approximately S$2,500.

PHOTO: | ‘Wilton’ | Acrylic on Canvas | Monica Dixon

I love this simple painting that exudes serenity by American artist Monica Dixon. Dixon is represented by Singapore based art gallery, Barnabas Huang.

In my opinion, the most important mindset an art buyer should bring to an exhibition is that of whether we like the painting, and whether we are comfortable with these paintings as decorative pieces in our homes. Every art connoisseur and expert agree that we should never buy art sorely for the potential investment value, or simply because we were intrigued by it at the whim of the moment.


PHOTO: AAF | Featured artist, Max Zorn creates stunning lightbox artworks using nothing but packing tapes and a scalpel.



PHOTO: AAF | A great place to see beautiful people.. I mean art.

That said, I do question AAF’s curatorial direction. While there are some interesting artworks exhibited, it is puzzling how some artworks actually make the cut to exhibit at the AAF to begin with. Some of the artworks go from peculiar to downright awful. I cannot imagine people putting [some of these] artworks in their homes. Similarly, I was not very impressed by the artworks presented at the Charity Feature Wall (S$500 artworks) – but it could also be because the nicer artworks have previously been snapped up by art buyers.

Maybe I am not sophisticated enough to appreciate the exquisiteness of these artworks, but I do feel that the AAF curatorial team should step up a notch in the choosing of galleries and artworks to be represented here. After all, visitors may flock to AAF to find affordable artworks, they should not have the feeling that the artworks presented are in any way substandard to the likes of bigger art shows like Art Stage and Singapore Contemporary Art Show (see my review here).


PHOTO: AAF | Fun art tours for the children


PHOTO: AAF | Art buying starts early for this young one.


Amazingly, I was told by AAF insiders that some of these questionable artworks were bought up by art buyers very quickly. Well, whatever rocks your boat.

Overall, I do feel that AAF is a good place for new art enthusiasts to get acquainted with art and to understand the various art forms that they either like or dislike. Art collectors may also find one or two artworks that they fancy. Because of its ‘affordable’ branding, artworks found at the AAF are generally cheaper than those exhibited at other Singapore art fairs. But don’t write off a visit to AAF just yet, you might just unearth an exquisite piece of art there. RW

Disclaimer: Reuel Writes attended the Affordable Art Fair on media pass. However, Reuel Writes retains full editorial direction of this blog entry.

FUTURE WORLD: ArtScience Museum’s Funnest Permanent Exhibition To Date

Imagine, play and explore in ArtScience Museum’s new permanent exhibition, Singapore’s largest permanent digital art gallery.

Funnest is a very troublesome superlative adjective to use, but I really can’t find a better word to describe my recent visit to the ArtScience Museum’s latest permanent exhibition. Enter FUTURE WORLD: Where Art Meets Science. The permanent exhibition which also happens to be Singapore’s largest permanent digital art gallery marks the ArtScience Museum’s fifth anniversary and runs from 12 March 2016 onwards.

True to the ArtScience Museum title, the exhibition is the culmination and interplay of art and science; despite both being commonly acknowledged as opposite ends of the spectrum. Collaborating with ultra-technologist group teamLab, the two establishments have created a massive digital playground (1,500 square metres or a quarter of the museum’s total gallery space) consisting of 15 major art installations for both adults and children to play and explore.



The museum also sought to create an exhibition for visitors to reflect and contemplate their own position relative to the natural world, other people and the universe. I was given a guided tour by ArtScience Museum associate curator Jerry Gunn.

Unlike most exhibitions where any attempt to come into contact with the artworks warrants a boot out of the exhibition space, Future World invites the young and old to engage and even co-create art. Future World is organised into four themes: Nature, Town, Park and space.


The adventure begins – in Nature – with a stroll through an interactive world of flora and fauna created entirely by digital technology. Once in the garden of sorts, flowers begin to form at the flooring where I stood. When I trample on the flowers, the petals begin to dislodge from the flower bud. I was also told by Gunn that any contact with the butterflies on the animated walls will ‘kill’ them. While many people simply come to the gallery to snap photos, the broader objective is for visitors to reflect on the intricate relationship we share with our surrounding environment.



In Town, kids and adults are invited to collaborate and create their own artworks. In a fictitious town based on Singapore, we are invited to fill the landscape with cars, buildings and spaceships of our own design. The kid in me emerged and I got to work with colouring my own spaceship in ridiculous hues. Upon doing so, we can have our drawings animated on screen, and turned into paper craft patterns! How cool is that? Occasionally, a dragon pops out to destroy the city. Visitors can collaborate to defeat the dragon by touching on the spaceships.


Moving away from the Town into Park, I was mesmerised by the Universe of Water Particles – a seven-metre tall waterfall created by digital programming. I was told by Gunn that this installation was made possible after months of programming and collaboration among physicists, programmers and artists.

The water particles are digitally programmed to produce an accurate water fall simulation that flows in accordance to the laws of physics, hence the uncannily real waterfall.

Finally, I ventured into the most-talked-about section of the exhibition – Space. In many ways, outer space has and will always be mankind’s final frontier (I quote Star Trek). Step into the heart of the universe in Crystal Universe and witness from within, the illusion of stars and galaxies in an elaborate light show. This installation is powered by 170,000 LED lights. Think Interstellar and imagine yourself in it. Thanks to teamLab’s interactive 4-D Vision technology, visitors can also ‘change the fabric of the universe’ using their smartphones.


Standing before the artwork, I found myself drunk as I lapped up every detail in the Crystal Universe. It’s one of those moments where you feel so insignificant in the vastness of the universe, so tiny in the grander scheme of things. But I’ve never felt more alive, and filled with hope. A quote from Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist came into my mind; “And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”

Frankly, I can’t think of any reason to dissuade readers from visiting the Future World exhibition. Catered to both kids and adults alike, there’s something to interest all age groups. This could be the best S$16 you will be spending, but be sure to read the descriptions at each of the installations so that you can have a deeper understanding and appreciation for this remarkable exhibition.

One of my takeaways from this exhibition was also the intrinsic relationship between art and science. American playwright Wilson Mizner once wrote “Art is science made clear”. Science can be used to create art (as seen in Future World) and at the same time, there is a certain artistic aspiration in mankind’s pursuit of science. Hence, we see that both art and science have roles to play in their respective habitat – they are not mutually exclusive.

Many thanks to ArtScience Museum associate curator Jerry Gunn for taking time off to give me a private tour. I enjoyed it terribly and I’m sure everyone else would.

P.S. I got over my embarrassing post and did eventually meet Julia Vasko in person. She seem to have gotten prettier. I shall not embarrass myself further (Laughs).

Ticket Pricing:
Adult : S$16
Concessions and discounted prices available for Singaporeans, senior citizens, students and children. Visit ArtScience Museum’s official website here for more details.


Imaginarium: A Fun-filled Art Exhibition for You and Your Kids

“CANDY HOUSE~~~~~!!!” shrieked an excited young girl when she saw the fabled stuff of legends; a real life ‘Candy house’. The mixed media installation titled ‘Dream House’ is a work by South Korean artist, Lee Jeeyoung and part of a greater exhibition collective, Imaginarium: A Voyage of Big Ideas.

A contemporary art exhibition centered around children (and the young at heart) as their main target audiences, Imaginarium: A Voyage of Big Ideas invites adventurers, dreamers, sojourners and today’s young explorers on a journey of self-discovery.

Imaginarium is the new edition of SAM’s much-loved annual contemporary art exhibition for children, begun in 2010 and now in its fifth year. In the spirit of SG50, this year’s exhibition is inspired by the crescent moon on the Singapore flag, a symbol of a young nation on the rise with the capacity to dream big and think large. What might we be able to envision and aspire to? What worlds could we imagine for ourselves and create for others?

– Singapore Art Museum


Create your own work of art. The embroidery installation is the brainchild of talented Singaporean artist, Izziyana Suhaimi. Using embroidery as meaningful way of expressing creativity, the installation invites visitors both adults and children to get their hands on creating their own works of art. Over time, the artwork occupies a space on the installation, adding to the installation’s tapestry of dreams and weaving together the makers’ shared future.


Plant your own desire and let it grow. Visitors, both adult and child are invited to take a candy – symbolic of one’s wishes and desires for the future – from the Dream House and plant it in the adjacent garden. With every candy planted, the garden takes shape, eventually transforming into a garden in full bloom and shared dreams.


Find a spot and watch local short films and international feature films together with your family and friends.


Doodles from Singapore’s folklore by the ‘Band of Doodlers’ fill the walls of the 4-storey SAM 8HQ stairwell. Parents, look closer. You might recognise a few of these doodles from your childhood days.

Other exhibits include Chang Yu Xiang’s We Built this Estate!, Vincent Twardzik Ching’s Greenroom II: Interstellar Overdrive, Takashi Kuribayashi’s Trees, and Kumkum Fernando’s Kiko’s Secrets. Other activities include educators’ tour and talks, keeping yourself occupied in a ‘moonroom’, activity sheets for both children and adults, and more.


While not exactly the type of exhibition that will satisfy the curiosity and inquisitiveness of adults, Imaginarium promises to be a fun-filled museum experience for parents and their children. Overall, the exhibitions gives children the opportunity to experience art in an interactive way, and adults to reminisce on past dreams and aspirations. I would like to think that the exhibits establishes in our children – and invokes in the adults – a sense of hope and optimism of one’s future, something all our children and we ourselves can do more of.

Imaginarium: A Voyage of Big Ideas is one of two exhibitions put together by the Singapore Art Museum. Locals get complimentary access to both exhibitions (please bring your identity card) while foreigners pay a nominal $10 entry fee for both exhibitions.

Imaginarium: A Voyage of Big IdeasImaginarium

Singapore Art Museum

Now showing until 19 July 2015

Ticket Pricing: $10 / Free (local)

Exhibition eBrochure: Imaginarium: A Voyage of Big Ideas