Hello again, Boedi! It’s been a while since we’ve talked to you. What has been happening for you lately?
Hello Catalog! It’s been a crazy full year. After my solo “Drawing Cage” in The U Factory, Gillman Barracks at the Singapore Art Week, I spent a month in an artist residency in a medieval village in Southwest France.
It was surrounded by caves containing prehistoric drawings. The village stone walls date back to the Middle Ages, some are thousands of years old and the “newer” ones easily 300-400 years old.
I made frottages of the wall textures, to create a new work titled “Wall Paper”, which compares wall surfaces from Singapore and Caylus to suggest insights into history and modernity. The work was shown in a group exhibition called “A Drawing Show” at Yeo Workshop, Gillman Barracks.
My ongoing solo “Path. 6, Unpacking my Library。书城”, commissioned by Esplanade and supported by Canon, is a highlight. It is by far the largest instalment in the Path. series, consisting of installations, live art and public events. The exhibition runs till 4th Jan 2015.
What is the inspiration behind this particular installation?
While moving studios recently, I had to pack/unpack my books. Through the dust and tedium of handling them, I realised that every book conjured up complicated memories of Bras Basah Complex.
From a young age, I was sent to study in Singapore apart from my parents, due to ethnic tensions in my hometown. Whenever my father visited us during the week-long school break, we would hang out in the Chinese bookstores at Bras Basah Complex. Bras Basah became a place of both the joy of reunion and the dread of departure.
“Path. 6” is my way of engaging with this problematic childhood memory, first by materializing it, and then marking it - a transformative gesture to recast a past so as to affect the present and future.
Why did you choose to title your installation “Unpacking my Library”, and why books?
There are two parts to the exhibition title. “Unpacking my Library” is taken directly from Walter Benjamin’s essay, in which he wrote about the joys of a bibliophile. I was particularly drawn to Benjamin’s tactile process of remembering. It suggested an idea - that there is more to a printed book than its function of presenting content, its materiality also being a repository for personal stories, memories and emotions that the owner could access viscerally. Bookending the title is “书城”, Chinese for “Books City” and also a nickname of Bras Basah Complex. I remember being overwhelmed by the shelves and stacks of books in Bras Basah, towering and almost toppling.
These elements – books, bookshelves and architecture – found their respective expressions in the three installations at the exhibition.
The first installation comprised of more than 350 books individually canvas-wrapped and marked, arranged in rows similar to the book bargain tables commonly seen in Bras Basah.
The second installation is made of re-configured bookshelves with multiple points of access.
In the last installation, I used Canon XEED WUX5000 to projection map onto a corner wall, an area measuring 5 x 2.8m – a video within a video. The first video had my father reading to me a book at Bras Basah. The second video, which also contained the first video through projection, had my daughter and I excavating cemented books at the same spot in the gallery that the audience is standing. The installation’s title is 《重见》, Chinese for re-seeing and also a homonym for re-building. I wanted to explore the aural potency of books (through the simple act of reading), and the possibilities in re-perceiving.
What is the future ahead for the Path series?
I will continue to make and show new works along this series. There are many unresolved memories that still require excavation and expression. Seeking and defining identities is an ongoing process. I see the potential for the “Path.” series to track and record how my concerns evolve over time. Interestingly, I’ve had feedback that “Path. 6” seems less agitated than the earlier ones.
How do you feel about being the representative featured artist of Singapore in the ArtReview FutureGreats Asia 2014?
I am honoured to be one of the eleven Asian artists featured on the list! While it is a personal encouragement, the feature points strongly at the growing opportunities given to Singapore-based artists. Place and context remain significant considerations even in our hyper-connected world. As more Singapore-based artists, curators and art writers gain regional and international accolades and exposure, all of us will get to benefit.
Boedi's latest art instalment of the Path Series - "Path. 6 - Unpacking My Library" will run till 4 January 2015 at the Esplanade.