Academy Rules

featuring Koh Liang Jiang, Loi Cai Xiang, Nyein Su, Yeo Jian Long, Zheng Lai Ming

6 - 23 November 2014

"Chan Hampe Galleries is renowned for having raised the profile of emerging artists to international acclaim," says Ben Hampe, Director, Chan Hampe Galleries. "As part of the galleries' continuing commitment to the development of creative talent, we devised Academy Rules to showcase a selection of recent graduates from Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA). This unique project, linking Singapore’s oldest tertiary arts education institution to a commercial gallery, highlights the importance of collaboration to ensure long-term sustainable careers for practicing artists."

With a diverse range of interests and preferred techniques, these five young artists represent the dynamism of contemporary art practice in Singapore today. 

Making things – NAFA artists in Academy Rules

By Bridget Tracy Tan

“A medium is not a ‘proper’ means or material. It is a surface of conversion: a surface of equivalence between the different arts’ ways of making; a conceptual space of articulation between these ways of making and forms of visibility and intelligibility determining the way in which they can be viewed and conceived.”

Jacques Ranciere, Painting in the Text, The Future of the Image

Contemporary culture is not so kind to the typical craftsman, one who takes pride in manual labour and the making of ‘things’ by hand. Mechanization and technological advancement have allowed for mass production of most of what we consume, from material goods, actual food to even services (think of the automated telephone operator) and art. 

The Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA) was established in 1938 as a Fine Arts college with the oft quoted 14 students. Today, it is defined as a full fledged arts education institution of higher learning, delivering courses across the spectrum of the visual, performing and management arts to over 2500 students at any one time, through their three year diploma programme. As early as 1974, the academy was the first to offer applied arts training, demonstrating its key industrial and social relevance still under the auspices of the ‘arts’. 

Fine Art training is usually eschewed in favour of more industrially applicable training, such as graphic design and fashion design. The conventional painter and the sculptor for instance, are parts of a diminishing community. The technicalities in painting, drawing and sculpture can sometimes prove challenging and arduous to master. Or, may be regarded as simply, ‘old fashioned’. 

Ranciere’s quote above sounds complicated, but is in effect simple: to understand that a medium, as we refer to in the use of making any art, is not simply the material definition – but a more simple sensibility, of physical occurrence. To make a thing, to make art, is to exercise the possibility of mediums, regardless of whether they are regarded old fashioned (if it is painting and sculpture) or new and current (such as but not limited to, photography and computer aided design for instance). 

NAFA is proud that artists Yeo Jian Long, Loi Cai Xiang, Zheng Lai Ming, Nyein Su and Koh Liang Jiang at the recent exhibition here for Chan Hampe Galleries continue to practice, as a reflection of belief in their own visionary aspirations, but also a belief in the value of the ‘thing’, the ‘physical occurrence’. Making an object is a self aware process of both mechanical skill and intuitive refinement. Its end result presents a surface, as Ranciere suggests, on which all who observe (the artist, maker and the viewer, consumer) gather, and make their own connections about intelligibility and meaningfulness. Of what something looks like to them, carrying symbols familiar to individual and collective memories, as a reflection of both history and contemporary times, bound by the basic humanity embedded in hand-craftsmanship no machine can achieve.

No, painting is not dead; figurative and representation art is not simplified art, even if they may be simple in their visual formations to recognition. Abstract art follows the same vein: not reckless abandon of order and skills, but instead constantly in search of new patterns and intelligibility – the possibilities of construction and reconstruction. 

At NAFA, regardless of the genre and discipline, concept and thought remain at the forefront of all arts training. A craft of any kind, in visual or performing arts, must find its place as a medium in currency, in use, in practice. And through time, does not remain inert, but instead transforms with each ‘thing’ that rises to that self same surface: in a painting, a drawing, a visualisation through infinite means. The Academy not only rules, but prevails.

Bridget Tracy Tan is the Director, Institute of Southeast Asian Arts & Art Galleries, Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts

Artists:

  • Koh Liang Jiang
  • Loi Cai Xiang
  • Nyein Su
  • Yeo Jian Long
  • Zheng Lai Ming