Osage Art Foundation – plAy
By Nathalie Johnston
What the Singaporean art scene lacked in the last few years is a complete representation of artists from the Southeast Asian region. Whether aware of it or not, the relatively young Osage Art Foundation moved Singapore closer to this goal with the first major exhibition of contemporary Myanmar art, aptly titled plAy. Thirteen major players in the Myanmar art scene showed work, some commissioned for the event, none ever shown outside of Myanmar, in this landmark display of a country’s artwork often left out of the Asian contemporary art canon of today.
The title plAy seemed an attempt to take any attention away from whatever political or sensitive connotations often associated with references to Myanmar. The exhibition opened with a symposium, moderated by curator Isabel Ching, who emphasized the resonance this show holds for so many of the artists from Myanmar, whether included or not. It represents a piece of an even larger puzzle, one that is hidden from the attentions of most. Tun Wing Aung, a young artist who participated in this year’s Asia Pacific Triennial, and Po Po, a more senior artist who has experience exhibiting in several international exhibitions including Fukuoka, were the designated ambassadors of the larger Myanmar artist community, introducing not only their personal works but those of their peers, providing insight into an isolated yet incredibly rich and vibrant art scene, complete with performance art festivals, environmental art groups and several artist collective and galleries.
The opening started with Aung Myint, performing his unrealized plan for The Intruders. It began with the sound of rice, gently hitting the floor as Aung Myint traced the outline of his home country of Myanmar. The performance lasted over an hour, while he carefully adjusted the borders, added toys, photographs, cigarette boxes and empty bottles of alcohol, symbolizing the strain of Myanmar’s resources, spread thin by the greed in and outside the country.
Each work demanded the viewer’s heightened emotional sense, eliciting a feeling of relief amongst difficulty. The tension between the bright colors and childlike shapes and characters of plAy and the longing and sadness of life in Myanmar was palpable. Yet the work created a sense of community – they spoke to one another. Wah Nu’s Aung Zeya Light Project no. 1, a sort of house made of bamboo stilts and cloth created a conversation with Zar Min Htike’s Portrait of an Artist as a Goblin – as though Zar Min’s portraits, lamps and toys were made to light up the darkness of Wah Nu’s tent-like structure. The artworks greeted viewers like family, invasive yet inviting, confronting them with pain and joy, pushing them out or around, only to have them meet another’s response to a greater issue.
Ko Z’s Room was a series of large photos and video, with repetitive noises carrying into the next room, where Tun Win Aung’s stop-motion video of The Train click-clacked in response. Around the corner, Nyein Chan Su’s Who is it thirty minute video droned with the noise and music of a carnival in Myanmar while in the next room, Min Thein Sung’s work Restroom seeks a sort of quietude. If one sought silence, it was Po Po’s work in progress, Terrace, on the roof of the Osage, where one could observe the lunchbox rice paddy, a serene and peaceful nod to Po Po’s childhood amongst the rice fields.
With thirteen artists, it would be impossible to describe each in detail here but the enchantment, sophistication; confrontation of memory and play of the installation was unsurpassed and clearly never experienced by the audience in such a context. Viewers were confounded and intrigued as the artists mingled amongst the works, more accessible than they might normally be, free to express and support one another as they pleased. plAy acts almost as an incomplete work of its own, a recipe seeking another ingredient that could not be found. Yet it remains a work of epic importance at this point in time and serves as a profoundly respectful and eye opening experience for all to enjoy.