Stepping into the exhibition room, one notices the various sea-themed quotes which preludes the artwork: “I must be a mermaid, Rango. I have no fear of depths and a great fear of shallow living.” ―Anaïs Nin.
Odyssey: Navigating Nameless Seas certainly has no fear of depths, touching on subjects as wide ranging as whale earwax to female piracy and colonialism. The exhibition, which opens today (4th June) till 28th August, features 11 contemporary artists, including artists from Singapore, South East Asia, Australia and South Korea. Additionally, the exhibition draws strong connections to Singapore’s own maritime history by including loans from the collection of the Republic of Singapore Navy Museum.
Spanning two floors, the collection shows a journey of maritime exploration through art. While the works are all wildly different, all of them are imbued with a sense of wonder and amazement of the sea. While we were there, some of the artists elaborated on their inspirations and spoke to us about the story behind the art. Here are three of them:
One of the two works by Richard Streitmatter-Tran showcased in the exhibition, is the one on whale earwax known as The Cerumen Strata. Similar to how a tree accumulates its rings in regular intervals, earwax in whales also accumulates regularly allowing scientists to measure the conditions of the ocean and different aspects about the environment the whales lived in. Richard’s work shows the damage and negative changes that the ocean is going through by looking at the earwax samples. The piece does not consist of real whale earwax, but beeswax. Unfortunately, according to the artist, “It still smells”.
Hailing from South Korea, the tall smiling artist wanted to be a robot scientist in his youth. His sculptures reflect his fascination with machinery – the two pieces he has showcased in the exhibition come to life with motors and pulsating light. Choe U-Ram also constructs intricate myths for his creations and one that struck us was the one of Ultima Mudfox. This dolphin silhouetted sculpture recalls the way dolphins follow after ships and re-imagines these creatures in a more mechanical way to follow our journeys in an increasingly technological world.
The artist spoke to us about how prevalent female piracy was but how these pirates have largely been written out of history. The Exquisite Pirate: Odyssey is a piece that is her effort of putting them right back into the story. The work, which consists of a collage of fabric, hair, metal and wood, has traveled with her, making the Odyssey in the title a literal one. Many elements used in the making of the ships are feminized and boats themselves are traditionally viewed as female. Through the work, Sally Smart explores an other way of looking at the world – through the eyes of a female pirate.
The Odyssey: Navigating Nameless Seas is definitely an exhibition that allows you to speculate the various connections that seas have to human lives – bringing into perspective how small we really are in the grand scheme of things while simultaneously reminding us of the responsibility we have in keeping our waters healthy.
Odyssey: Navigating Nameless Seas runs from 4th June to 28 August at Singapore Arts Museum (SAM). More information can be found here.