Can Everybody See My Screen? Singapore Art Museum’s latest exhibit explores our growing connection to technology
Explore how human bodies interact and connect with technology in Can Everybody See My Screen?, thenewest exhibition at Singapore Art Museum (SAM).Echoing a phrase familiar to many around the world as meetings went almost exclusively virtual during the pandemic, Can Everybody See My Screen? invites audiences to observe and experience how the perception of lived realities has evolved over the last 20 years as the world turned increasingly digital.
Centred on the element of the screen, the exhibition features 12 artworks that exemplify its use as a portal or gateway to transform our physical realities into idealised versions.
The exhibition combines seven works from the SAM Collection, four new commissions, and one loan, drawing diverse interpretations from both local and regional artists (Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and China) on technology’s impact on contemporary life.
According to exhibition curators Ong Puay Khim and Teng Yen Hui, the artistic responses to the dot-com bubble, which refers to the legendary growth in the adoption and use of the internet between the late 1990s to early 2000s, took on new meaning when presented alongside more recent artwork.
They explained: “The selection of works for Can Everybody See My Screen? is guided by an interest in exploring the digital and virtual realms which, in the last decades, has fast become part of our corporeal reality.”
The exhibition consists of three sections: Forging relationships in a hyperconnected world, A world between atoms and pixels, and The (in)visibility of technological mediation.
The A List highlights some of the artworks featured within these sections.
1. Forging relationships in a hyperconnected world
This section explores how technology can be used as an instrument to foster love and kinship. A highlight of this section is the juxtaposition of two artworks – Chatchai Puipa’s painting and Liana Yang’s 3D digital art piece. Here, visitors can observe how two different artists, born in different countries and generations, reflect on the concept of finding love online.
Thai artist Chatchai Puipia’s painting, Windows (Love Me…Love Me Not…Love Me) is a social commentary on the unequal power distribution behind mail-order brides and online matchmaking services. The larger-than-life androgynous figure is painted within the frame of a familiar, grey 90’s Windows browser. The artworkdigs beyond the friendly veneer of cyber relationships and reveals the human commodification lying underneath.
25 years later, home-grown artist Liana Yang enters the conversation with her art piece, A Souvenir. Taking the form of an arcade claw machine, with a soundscape by Robin Chua (KiDG), the piece breaks apart the illusion of control we think we have when finding love online.
A Souvenir shows how choice and chance, two key elements that drive cyber relationships, are often determined not by the users but by app algorithms instead. This lack of control then makes online dating a game of luck. Yang uses the metaphor and mechanism of a familiar game of luck, the claw machine, to explore this perspective. The piece was specially commissioned by SAM for this exhibition.
2. A world between atoms and pixels
In this section, visitors can delve into the different ways the real world can be translated into the virtual realm. Artworks in this space showcase how humans and the physical world we live in can be animated, reconstructed, reimagined, and immortalised through different technologies.
Indonesian artist Terra Bajraghosa has created an interactive arcade game, Narcissus Pixelus, where visitors can design their ideal digital avatars by using a suite of pixelated items and templates. The piece calls out to a youth culture where arcade games were used as a form of validation and recognition among peers.
An alternative to the selfie, Narcissus Pixelus only lets visitors keep their designed avatars in printed form. The installation brings to the surface our obsession with the digital ideal and questions whether freedom of choice and autonomy are interchangeable concepts.
i.Mirror, a digital art piece by renowned Chinese contemporary artist, Cao Fei, invites visitors into a simulated, virtual realm. Cao Fei’s work looks at the positives of an encroaching virtual world – a medium through which people can build a second life where they get to explore freely and be their true selves.
3. The (in)visibility of technological mediation
This final section features interactive art pieces that explore how the presence of body and matter are required for accessing virtual spaces. Visitors can observe and reflect on how technology can mediate the body and its senses.
Positioned as the first obstacle to the exhibition space, Chong Kim Chiew’s Unreadable Wall symbolises the limited media freedom in Malaysia – the artist’s home country. By shredding and pulping sheets from Malaysia’s vernacular newspaper to form bricks, the artist renders the information within them unreadable, thus creating his Unreadable Wall.
The piece explores how the connected online space can be endangered by media limitations that disrupt the free flow of information.
Trace 2 by Teow Yue Han is a playful, interactive art piece that raises questions on geo-fencing, bio-surveillance, and post-pandemic traumas and rehabilitations. As visitors walk by any of the three contact hubs installed around the museum, a motion sensor-activated system will trigger the appearance of a nebulous shadow on a screen.
Trace 2 strives to remind visitors of their personal experiences with Trace Together, the contact-tracing system developed and used widely in Singapore during the height of the pandemic.
Commissioned by the Singapore Art Museum, Trace2 was created in collaboration with Bernice Lee, Frederico Ruberto, and formAxioms. The art piece is part of an ongoing body of work by Teow titled Performing the Smart Nation.
The exhibition runs 11 Dec at Gallery 2, Tanjong Pagar Distripark. Admission is free for all visitors. Alongside the exhibition, there will be curator tours, fun craft activities for kids and adults, as well as talks and demonstrations by artists Urich Lau, Teow Yue Han, and Liana Yang.
Find out more about the exhibition, artworks featured, and artist backgrounds here.
(Photos: Singapore Art Museum, National Heritage Board)
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