Mysteries of the deep

QUIET COMPANY - Carina Santos (The Philippine Star) - July 8, 2016 - 12:00am

Odyssey: Navigating the Nameless Seas” is Singapore Art Museum’s last opening exhibit before making way for the Singapore Art Biennale, scheduled to open in October this year. In “Odyssey,” curators Andrea Fam and John Tung create a companion show to “Imaginarium: Over the Ocean, Under the Sea,” a more interactive exhibit geared towards both children and adults who are curious about man’s relationship to the oceans, and how we affect this ecosystem in our daily lives. “Odyssey” further explores the sea as a metaphor.

Working with several artists from and based around the Southeast Asian region, Fam and Tung shaped the show according to their individual perspectives. “It’s like plotting a graph on an axis,” Tung explains. “Of the many possible narratives, you choose which one links all of them the best.” What’s interesting about “Odyssey” is that the intended way for viewers to experience it does indeed seem like a carefully plotted graph.

“Odyssey” unfolds with a clear and quite linear narrative, starting with a Research Room that houses several artifacts loaned by the Republic of Singapore Navy Museum. On display are an eight-inch incandescent signal lamp, an MK1 compass, a small bell from the RSS Panglima, Singapore’s first naval ship, a map of the Spice Trade route from 1906, and a journal featuring anthropological information, as well as an essay on piracy in the region.





The Research Room contextualizes and grounds what lies ahead, and it is proof that even with the breadth of information available to us, the ocean world largely remains a mystery. There is deliberate storytelling in how the curators have set up the show, beginning with the sea’s primordial and amorphous aspects — the sea as is: sometimes a harsh environment, a part of nature, something we exist in and around — as well as the sea as a source of life. “Odyssey” continues to explore its personification, its role in developing our own history, and beyond.

It plays with elements of mythology and history as well, adding richness to the growing ambiguity of our relationship with the sea, even with the information we have already culled from its depths. There is a lot to unpack, and it seems that with each discovered truth about the ocean, we open a door to even more questions. With the pieces, some of which were commissioned specifically for this exhibit, “Odyssey” extends its commentary to consider the role of the sea in contemporary consumerist culture, the sea to represent connection and separation (especially as in diaspora, a relevant issue to Pinoys addressed by husband-and-wife artist tandem, Alfredo and Isabel Aquilizan, in their work, “Passage III: Project Another Country,” which they started in 2009), as well as speculations of untold mysteries of the future.

The “nameless seas” seem boundless, calling to mind endless questions that “Odyssey” attempts to make sense of, using art as a vehicle to explore these ideas.

Paired with “Odyssey” and located at SAM at 8Q, a stone’s throw away from SAM’s main wing, is “Imaginarium,” an exhibit that’s more geared towards children, though it can be enjoyed and appreciated by adults as well. It explores man’s relationship with the sea, taking into account how our actions affect it. While “Odyssey” deals with the more metaphysical questions, “Imaginarium” gives a shape to the various issues that have arisen due to man-made pollution, exhaustive fishing, and even colonialism. These may seem like bleak topics, but the work invites the viewers to consider these issues in a way that is perhaps easier to understand and connect with. Many of the pieces are interactive and visually inviting, encouraging a direct connection and participation from the audience, in hopes that this will create a real understanding of these issues.

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“Odyssey: Navigating the Nameless Seas” and “Imaginarium: Over the Ocean, Under the Sea” are on view at Singapore Art Museum until Aug. 28 2016.

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