Singapore Biennale artist abandons blood oath
SINGAPORE - After a dramatic blood oath performance by pioneer Singapore contemporary artist S Chandrasekaran last Friday (28 Oct), the artist met with the Singapore Biennale 2016 curatorial team on Thursday evening (3 Nov) and has since rescinded his position.
In a joint statement released Friday evening (4 Nov) with the Singapore Art Museum (SAM), organisers of the Singapore Biennale, Chandrasekaran stated, “My artwork presentation in the biennale will remain as agreed between the organisers and myself.”
Multidisciplinary artist Chandrasekaran had earlier declared he would not perform again in Singapore again as a response to not being allowed to carry out the performance element of his proposed work Unwalked Boundaries due to perceived religious sensitivities. Chandrasekaran, who is known for his intense physical performances, had originally proposed a walk-performance through the Bras Basah-Bugis area and also the former location of the convict prison, with the artist personifying a nineteenth-century Indian convict.
The academic, who has 18 years of teaching experience at institutions including Lasalle College of the Arts and the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, said he had intended for his body to be “pierced with six metal hooks behind my back”, while “shrine-like ice sculptures” are attached to the hooks. He explained: “All these hooks and metal rod do not have any religious purpose or connotations because temple priest did not consecrate them for any ritual or prayers purposes.
But after a meeting with curatorial heads of SAM, Joyce Toh and Tan Siuli, as well as Biennale associate curator Michael Lee, the artist issued the statement saying, “The blood oath and declaration during the SB2016 artist talk was more a commentary about performance art in Singapore. It was never a dispute against the SB2016 curatorial process. The curatorial discussions have been respectful between the curators and I, and I have always respected the process.”
On behalf of the Singapore Biennale team, Ms. Joyce Toh, SAM curatorial co-Head and SB2016 curator said, “The SB2016 curatorial team has been ever-mindful of finding a balance between artistic concepts, the means and manner by which ideas can be realised in the final artworks, and the diverse audiences and publics that engage with art and issues.” She explained that contemporary art is an important space that allows meaningful dialogues to take place in good faith and with mutual respect among all parties. SAM also clarified that no performance elements were cut from the artist’s final artwork, as there were no performance elements included in the artist’s final artwork proposal.
When asked for further clarification on his statement and when he would perform, Chandrasekaran responded that he had agreed to provide a joint statement with the museum, with no further interviews. He went on to say in the statement that whenever a challenging situation arises among artists, curators or with institutions, he believes no one’s integrity should be tarnished. He added that for the sake of “nurturing contemporary art practice in Singapore, we need to grow together through the differences in values and beliefs.”