27 March 2011
25 March 2011
We RAT on Koh Nguang How and his newspaper collection!
Posted at 10:40 am under Singapore,Uncategorized
(Photo courtesy of SB2011)
Artists In The News, Koh Nguang How’s work for the Singapore Biennale, is an explosion of newspapers, of words and images, of facts and opinions. It’s, as everyone knows by now, three decades worth of art reportage (mainly visual arts) in the English and Chinese newspapers.
It is a kind of spectacle in itself. You feel a sense of awe stepping inside the space at SAM 8Q and being confronted by that much material. The ubiquity of newspapers is heightened and concentrated into sheer visual force.
But of course, that’s only part of it. It is also a quiet, unassuming work. One that urges you to linger. And then you notice just how well your experience is framed – on one side, the archivist’s “office”, the other, a newspaper report on Tang Da Wu’s Earthworks, an installation at the National Museum Art Gallery in 1980 that was prematurely taken down because the museum director had some issues with the contemporary work. Between these two points, an entire, free-flowing discussion on Singapore’s contemporary art scene occurs within this place where time and space are compressed.
Standing in the middle of this maelstrom of words is Koh as performer, witness, and guide.
Last week we had a chat with the 47-year-old curator/artist/archivist. Read on.
How do you feel looking at your archive exhibition and seeing the reactions of people?
Of course I’m quite surprised too to see so many news (reports) up on the wall. They are not like that in my flat. The audience keeps asking me if I have them all pinned up in my house. The Biennale allowed me the opportunity to spread them out and group them physically, instead of just in the computer or in my head.
And of course, so many news don’t make it to the wall. It’s not practical or possible. Some artists ask me how come I don’t put up the news about them. Of course I just laugh.
I have my own criteria, and it’s quite random, too. A piece of news comes up, and then the next piece, which is related, goes up next to it. A third one, if it’s not related, goes to another wall. In the end, I have several groupings. The audience would see the relationship if they look at the news next to one another. I don’t have to put captions here and there.
Audience-wise, it’s from art students to old artists who I’ve not met for many years since I left the museum. They all remember me as a museum staff. But it’s good to see them again. Students are very important for me. One of the purposes of having this archive is also learning and sharing, especially since I’m from the privileged background of having worked for a museum doing art archiving. Not many materials are available to the schools.
Is there a kind of catharsis?
I’m happy that it’s like a real archive – and I’m the unpaid archivist. There’s a lot of satisfaction talking about the past with old artists and the young ones who are getting into the art world and telling them there’s a lot of things in the news that they can rely on.
So do you trust the news?
No. I don’t trust them completely. I notice mistakes made in names, dates, misquotes – I personally sometimes avoid certain journalists whom I do not trust or have proven to be not a reliable writer.
But then, ironically, the fact that you’re putting all these up on display on the walls – it’s a kind of stamp of approval in a way.
Well the title is Artists In The News, but I’ve added another line, which is Artists Not In The News? I try to balance the so-called imperfections. Journalists have also admitted that the press cannot cover every event that happens.
And yet, I noticed, you see the certain artists appearing once or twice…?
I have consciously removed or reduced – if one particular artist has 10 articles, I don’t put the 10 articles up. I just choose one, which I think is important that the public sees. Not how a certain artist wins an award but maybe like how he started or things like that.
In a way you’re also “editing” Singapore’s art history.
Yah, I’m like an editor. I have the privilege of selecting what goes up on the wall, can make some people even more famous. That’s what the press does sometimes. This is an exhibition, actually of the press, how they report, how they write, how they photograph even.
Has much changed?
Of course, through the years there have been so many different writers and actually I wanted to list out all the writers on my blackboard but I ran out of space so I erased all the names. Instead of listing the names of the artists, I had wanted to list the names of the writers. Through the years, some were very important, like TK Sabapathy, T Sasitharan, Susie Wong.
Has the press’ attitudes toward art changed through the years?
The popular type of question is Is It Art? It’s still the same. Of course if it’s the same editor, you get to see the same headlines. But maybe, during the last decade or so, (you saw) less controversial headlines appear about “crimes” committed by artists or artists in trouble with the arts council or the police. Previously if you go back to the `50s, `60s, `70s, artists were arrested. In the `80s, `90s, maybe it’s nudity or even urine. (laughs) Of course gay artists come out and have exhibitions and they’re reported in the media too. This was only in the `90s.
Do you now find that the fact that there’s less of that kind of controversial writing is a sign that local media has finally “got it” or understood?
Well, if you look at the change in the media, the people in the media, they’re probably younger too? Well, the older ones are probably retired already. And of course the level of understanding of art internationally. When Singapore gets into the international art arena and sends artists to international art events isn’t it that we have to be more open? And when you invite artists here for your own Biennale, shouldn’t you also not try to censor? That much? (laughs)
Any other observations?
It would seem like we don’t have to wait for one article per week, which used to be the way. Now you may get two, three articles. Like the Chinese papers sometimes have four articles in one day. They’ve increased the coverage.
Your show is very “analogue”. But you’re also on Facebook. There has been much talk about the future of the physical newspaper. What are your thoughts on new and online media? There’s a bit of irony there that here you are with three decades worth of print – and counting — and art writing has exploded online.
Firstly, on my Facebook account, when the show officially opened, I only posted a photo of the entrance, the sign board. I never showed the inside. I want people to come and experience this.
Can we rewind a bit and give us a mini-refresher course on your ongoing Singapore Art Archive Project and its connection to Artists In The News?
This selection of newspapers for the Biennale is part of my SAAP, which of course is part of my collection since 30 years ago. Besides newspapers, I have art catalogues, books, posters, relics, objects found in exhibitions. Here in the show I have three relics. I also have photographs that document mostly performance art and installation events for arts festivals, I also do some audio recordings of artists interviews.
Are they here?
No. That will be for the full SAAP collection for maybe four times this space. I did Errata (Errata: Page 71, Plate 47. Image caption. Change Year: 1950 to Year: 1959; Reported September 2004 by Koh Nguang How) in p-10. That was only catalogues and books.
In the Chinese coverage it was mentioned that I did that six years ago, and this is the so-called “part two” with newspapers. What’s the “errata” this time around? Tang Da Wu’s Earthworks.
It’s not a print mistake but a mistake in (not) acknowledging it as art. It has to be put back in history as art. That was a work that was not accepted 30 years ago by the museum director. After 30 years, we have gone through all these new art policies, promotions, artists emerging and dying, 30 years of art news – and we go back to Da Wu’s work again. Is his work still valid or not valid in today’s mindset about contemporary art?
And this “office” of yours in this space –
It is to me a real archive. I’m the manager, the archivist, the designer. I allow the audience to come in and if they have a request or question, I will try to solve it. Some audience don’t read Chinese. So for example I have a Chinese article of (Ng) Eng Teng, that person can’t identify it easily. Then I’ll point it out to him or her.
At the same time, there’s a performative element to what you’re doing.
Yeah, well, it’s live art for two months. (laughs) The audience and me will create the energy, but it’s only seen by the camera – the surveillance camera (he points to CCTV camera in the room)
Were you conscious of that?
I don’t care.
I mean it’s also another kind of “survey”. Literally a surveillance of the art history within this space. So anyway, to clarify, the idea of archiving reports on art started 30 years ago?
I was doing art as a subject in JC, but I was in the commerce stream. Every student did art until at least secondary 2. And art was something I liked but I didn’t do O Level art. Then I flunked my commerce in so I had to repeat. Somehow I knew I could do art as a subject as an alternative to maybe accountancy.
Which is the opposite of what people thought back then.
So I was given a test by my teacher because she wanted to make sure we can pass. Because my college had a 100 per cent passing rate in art and she didn’t want create history by failing art. (laughs) So anyway I got to do art and I was happy doing it. But it’s very simple and it was all skill-based — nowadays people have to do art history.
And then after my A-level art and the army, I joind the National Museum Art Gallery as a museum assistant. I helped the curator and assistant curator of art. In my job, I met artists like Tang Da Wu in 1986 – he was invited to give a talk on contemporary art. I was helping him with his slides, the lighting, and listened to his lecture. Later I went to the museum’s newspaper clippings and found Earthworks.
So your encounter of Earthworks is very much like how we encounter the works reported about here in this space.
Correct, only news clippings. Later, when I knew him personally, he told me the story behind Earthworks and the problem that he faced, that the show was prematurely terminated.
In a sense you’re one of us and not coming from a position higher than your audience.
Yes, I imagine this is the future, that’s why I don’t have much captions or clues regarding this important news. (In a sense) this is the future, I am the future, you are the future audience or user of the newspapers. There is no Da Wu around to tell us, only newspapers.
So when did you start the collection?
1980 as a student, without thinking of whether I would work for the museum or not. If you do essay writing, you probably have got to have some clippings. Even more if you’re an art student.
But you don’t just collect clippings, you collect entire newspapers.
No, I used to clip. I used to cut. But, as I said in Facebook, I cannot cut straight, which is quite true. Because I didn’t have a proper cutter or cutting mat. And then later, when I started to provide things for people, I realised there were no dates (in my clippings). This was in the `90s when I became an artist and started providing things for writers and museums.
So there are stacks of your clippings somewhere?
Yes, but I never put my cuttings in scrapbooks. Some of them are in boxes, some are in my house. I chose not to show too many old clippings here, because it’s hard to handle irregular shapes.
At what point did you realize you had an archive going on?
When I started to help the Fukuoka Asian Art Museum in `96. I was invited to be a coordinator for an exhibition called The Birth Of Modern Art In Southeast Asia: Artists and Movements. That job allowed me to meet artists whom I’d never met during my museum work. I was also providing biodatas of artists – and I realised I didn’t have enough. Not even enough to conclude whether the artist is alive or dead! (laughs)
But that’s a full 16 years between 1980 and 1996. You mean for that long you weren’t conscious of an archive?
No, when I was in the museum, I got to read the clippings done by the librarian anyway. I was still collecting.
Is there no gap at all in your collection?
I try to ask my mother or father to buy (when I’m not around). Those six months in Japan for example, she continued to buy newspapers for me. So as long they continued to buy – because I stopped subscribing even though I still buy in the mornings – that when I return home I would go through the pile. Of course it’s not as good as reading them every day.
Weren’t you tempted to sell them to the karang guni?
At times yes, the classifieds. (laugsh) That’s the first thing I would sacrifice. But I still have some classifieds. Especially the Chinese ones. Obituaries are with the classifieds in the Chinese newspapers. English papers, classifieds are purely classifieds. If I do throw away, it’s the Straits Times classifieds.
And the ones that are featured in this exhibition?
From section two or three. If it’s section 1, it depends on whether art makes it to the front page, for example art policies or art “crimes”.
Do you consider yourself an artist or an archivist?
I am an artist. I use photography, I do mixed media collage, normally with my own photographs. I do installation, mostly site-specific installation, in the Substation Garden, in the gallery…
My practice for residencies is archiving for two or three months, to use the material for my installation. Then later, when I did Errata, that’s using art history material for my installation. It’s a two-in-one thing. It’s functional art.
Prior to this, the last solo show you had was Errata?
Yes. But of course I had The Artist Village show, the Drawing (as Form) show (in 2009), where I showed 200 over photographs.
I had wanted to show my photos of performance art at Substation once but I didn’t propose. If I have the chance, the next show will be photography from my collection. My documentation of art work.
The first one was catalogues and books, this one is newspapers. I hope to show the three components of my archive.
I actually wanted to do three shows with p-10 – first was Errata, the second on relics or objects and the third one one photography. But only one was realised.
You mentioned before that the fate of this newspaper archive is uncertain, that you’re thinking of letting it go and that no one seems to be interested in acquiring it.
Uhm, I don’t know. So far there’s no real offer to help me extend the life of this archive, to host it after the Biennale. But definitely the audiences have been saying that it’s something very useful for their studies, for their research. They would like to have such a place.
It’s interesting that in the Biennale context, it’s a work of art. But the reactions of audiences are based on its potential as source of very specific information. Of data.
Of course this is presented as an artwork, but I’m also the archivist in the artwork. So I have two roles. The artist has done the work already, now I’m the archivist. I’m performing the role of the archivist now. Towards the end of the Biennale, the artist will pack up.
Some institution was actually working with me to host it but now they have stopped. They withdrew acknowledgement credits in the Biennale. Now I was told that they will only spend for the carton boxes, no digitization, no further loan for five years… So I mentioned on my Facebook that I would throw them (the archive) because I’ve lost faith, I’ve lost hope.
Which is rather painful because in a way, this is three decades of you having hope.
Yah, and also in a way I’m continuing the hope of the artists before me. In fact there are more than 30 years (worth of art reporting). I say 30 years because as a story I can start from my Junior College years. But I have in my collection, newspapers from the `50s, `60s, `70s — they are from the older collectors and the artists. More than 70 years worth of Singapore art history.
And then, you’re very much aware that even as you collect, in two months time there’s the possibility of the archive disappearing. It’s a very sadomasochistic performance.
In a way, I look at this collection, the people who come, the story behind these newspapers, the history behind, I believe, whoever makes the choice of not supporting this project will regret it. This is our history, our heritage. I personally feel that they’re all with me – the artists who have already passed away, the artists who are no more in the news, they are on my side.
PS, I sent the transcript to Koh to verify his responses and, meticulous as ever, he elaborated on the Errata exhibition:
Errata went to NUS and Singapore History Museum after p-10. The finale at SHM had artist Chua MT and the author Kwok KC confirming the date of errata was 1959 in a forum. What a perfect situation and ending for Errata!
3 versions of Errata:
2004 ERRATA: Page 71, Plate 47. Image caption. Change Year: 1950 to Year: 1959;
Reported September 2004 by Koh Nguang How, p-10, Singapore
2005 Errata at NUS: Exploring Singapore Art History, a new version of the ERRATA show in 2004, co-organised by p1-0 & University Scholars Programme, National University of Singapore, at NUS Central Library. (2 to 16 March)
(The show is accompanied by a series of presentations and workshops)
2005 Errata: Page 71, Plate 47. Image caption. Change Year: 1950 to Year: 1959;
Reported September 2004 by Koh Nguang How
Presented by the Singapore History Museum and Curated by p-10 (15 Aug – 25 Sep)
Like I said in the papers previously, best work at this Biennale.
Tags: art reportage, Earthworks, Errata, Koh Nguang How, Singapore art, Singapore Biennale, Susie Wong, T Sasitharan, Tang Da Wu, TK Sabapathy
21 March 2011
07 March 2011
05 March 2011
The Philosophy Café in Vancouver, Canada
Peter B. Raabe Ph.D.
(This is an outdoor philosophy ‘café’ on a sandy beach on the edge of the Pacific Ocean. The facilitator, Peter Raabe is the man in the white hat under the umbrella.)
If you wanted to talk with others about the meaning of life, or what it means to be a good person, or whether God exists where would you go? In our Canadian society it’s often said that, in order to avoid offence, one should not discuss politics, sex, or religion. So when people do gather together, conversation is politely focused on the latest hockey game or the weather. And yet politics, sex, and religion are the three most important topics in life!
If you’re in university these sort of conversations might take place in a class such as philosophy or perhaps psychology. But for most people in the everyday world this sort of conversation rarely if ever happens. And yet in many people there is a curiosity about these questions that is never satisfied, and a hunger for answers that must be ignored because the food for thought is just not available. How do I know that there is an interest in these sort of discussions? Because here in Vancouver you can find these discussions happening almost every week. There are twenty locations, and everyone is invited!
People are gathering in discussion groups, referred to as philosophy cafés, located in coffee shops, small restaurants, church basements, library meeting rooms, community centres, and even under a big umbrella on the beach (see the picture below)!
In 1997 I decided to start a philosophy discussion group. I found a very tiny coffee shop in a very small village not far from Vancouver called Deep Cove. I had heard about discussion groups in Europe and especially in France, called salons that were very popular. These organized salon were a natural extension of the casual get-togethers that occur on a daily basis in the sidewalk cafés and indoor restaurants where friends shared their thoughts over a cup of coffee or a glass of wine. But here in North America sidewalk cafés are not popular in winter because of snow or rain, so the philosophy café is mostly an indoor activity.
The first thing I did was to make arrangements with the owner of the coffee shop in Deep Cove regarding the day of the week she would welcome a group gathering in her establishment. Then I put up a number of hand-made posters at a near by transit station to let people know about what I thought was the first philosophy café in all of Canada. A few days later I received a surprising phone call from professor Yosef Wosk at Simon Fraser University (SFU) asking me about the posters for our little café.
“Have you heard about the café I just started in downtown Vancouver?” he asked. Of course I hadn’t, and to both of our amazements we realized that we had come up with the same idea and started our respective cafés almost on the same day. Yosef invited me to join his effort in organizing the promotion of these cafés throughout our area. With the support of his university he and his staff found venues, recruited moderators or facilitators, and, as the movement grew, published a program which informed the public of the topics under discussion and locations of the various cafés. And now, 12 years, 11,000 cafés and 70,000 participants later, philosophy cafés are not only found across Metro Vancouver, they are catching on in cities all over the province, across Canada, as well as internationally, from England to Scotland, Australia, New Zealand, and the United States.
In 1999 the Philosophers' Café was presented with an Award of Excellence from CAUCE (The Canadian Association for University Continuing Education). In 2003 one of the foremost newspapers in Canada said the philosophy café “might be the most successful continuing education program in the country.” Diane Mar-Nicolle, is the program assistant with the Philosopher’s Café at SFU. She says, “Locally, we’ve seen a 40 per cent increase in attendance since 2007/2008.”
But what exactly is a philosophy café?
To begin with, a philosophy café is not a classroom since there is no intentional teaching by an expert and authority figure. At times the moderator or facilitator does know a lot about the topic under discussion, but at many other times there are others in the group who know far more about the topic than the moderator/facilitator. There are no formal lectures, although at times a participant may talk so long that it seems like he or she is lecturing. By the way when this happens it is up to the moderator/facilitator to step in and respectfully stop the monologue. But more about the moderator/facilitator later. While there are no academic credits for participation in a philosophy café, although there are many intellectual and emotional rewards, there are also none of the traditional worries associated with academic work, such as exam stress, fear of failure, and so on.
A philosophy café is not a reading group or book club and yet, when the topic is announced ahead of the café date, participants often come prepare by having read various sources or researched the topic on the web. As a moderator/facilitator I always prepared by researching the topics and having a few questions written down in case my thinking stalled later on in the evening. Again, the moderator/facilitator is not meant to lecture on the topic. His or her job is to introduce the topic, to keep the discussion on topic, and to prevent fist fights. Of course this last is an exaggeration, there has never been a threat of violence at any of my cafés. But sometimes verbal aggression can arise, so, just like a teacher in a classroom must remind students to be respectful of each other, so the moderator/facilitator must at times remind newcomers to be respectful.
Most importantly, I think, is that a philosophy café is not a place for debate. By debate I mean a competitive discussion where one tries to win. The problem with winning an argument is that one can win and still be wrong. A philosophy café is not about either competition or winning. It is, again, a respectful discussion among equal individuals, some of whom may now more about the topic than others, for the purpose and coming to a better understanding of the issues involved in the topic and perhaps a new perspective on what to think about it. It is a mutual sharing of beliefs and the reasons we have for those beliefs, along with an offer to help others understand one’s own perspective. In a well-run café there is a generosity among participants and a willingness to be of assistance to each other. This doesn’t mean that discussion is always quiet and genteel. In fact some of the best cafés I have facilitated were ones where discussion became very passionate.
Moderators and facilitators come is all shapes and sizes, and with varying levels of experience. Some have no formal academic experience in leading group discussions but that doesn’t really matter. All it takes is a person with a good personality: the ability to listen, to empathise, to ask open-ended questions that challenge but don’t provoke, and to keep the conversation on topic and respectful. There have been a few philosophy professors who have been moderator/facilitators, but there have also been retired military officers, one-time politicians, students, artists and others who have led the discussions..
But a good philosophy café is more than just a group discussion. Part of the pleasure in the evening is in sharing good food and drink. I always encouraged participants to purchase items from the establishment to show their appreciation to the owners for allowing us to gather there. It’s also a social gathering, a place to meet friends and to make new friends who appreciate the stimulation of good discussions. It’s not only a meeting in person, it’s a meaningful meeting of minds that goes well beyond anything possible on Twitter or Facebook. People are present to each other and real. And the discussions held at the café, the ideas raised about the good life, the concerns expressed over social injustice, and so on, have often gone out the door of the café and lead to concrete action in the community.
Besides our regular cafés, the SFU philosophy café program has developed special editions that feature various multicultural communities, as well as moderated gatherings for business, seniors, teens, and the disenfranchised. There are also cafés whose topics always centre around a specific theme such as politics, the environment, religion or spirituality, a specific languages, and mental health and mental illness issues. With the help of a printed program, that is also available on-line, people can choose a theme and a topic that interests them, and a location that is most convenient.
My cafés were always on the middle Wednesday of the month, because that’s when the little Deep Cove café was the most quiet. The café ran for two hours with a 15 minute break in the middle. I started mine by announcing the topic for those who weren’t already aware of it. All topics in my café came from suggestions by participants. I just made sure their suggestions were phrased in a philosophical style rather than as empirical questions where we could simply look the answers up in an encyclopaedia or science book. The I would ask if anyone had any personal experiences in regards to the topic. This served two purposes: first it took the topic beyond a theoretical discussion and made showed how it was relevant to real-life situations; and second, after a few personal experiences, it illustrated to everyone how differently the topic might be interpreted. This way the facilitator was not the dictator of how the topic should be approached. During these early few minutes questions were not allowed; personal experiences are to be respected not debated. I also found that the sharing of personal experiences was a wonderful way for people in the group to get to know each other better, and to appreciate some of the difficult life situations some had to endure and overcome.
When no one had any more personal experiences to offer the topic was open for general discussion. In our café the topics were incredibly varied because we weren’t committed to any specific theme. Participants came with all sort of ideas, such as What is success? Can science be trusted? When should we feel guilt and shame? What is the purpose of an economy? What is the cost of human progress? When is legal not moral? The list of topics is absolutely endless. And any one of these topics can be repeated many times because each discussion will raise different thoughts and opinions from the participants. I was the moderator/facilitator of a café for eight years and I enjoyed ever second of it. I eventually stopped because my teaching responsibilities had increased and, quite frankly I needed a break. But since then I have organized two cafés specializing in mental health and illness related issues and trained a number of senior students to be the moderator/facilitators at those café.
True to the name “philosophy café” the discussions at a philosophy café can be every bit as intellectually satisfying to the mind as a rich cup of coffee is to the tongue.
Thanks to Prof Peter B. Raabe Ph.D. for granted permission to post this article in our blog.
Prof Peter Raabe is the first Canadian and one of very few people internationally to be awarded a doctorate for his work in philosophical counselling. You could read more about him from his website.
We hope eye e city could have the similar discussion session in future.
extracted from eye e city
Peter B. Raabe 着
我做的第一件事是与Deep Cove咖啡馆的主人进行协调，她欢迎每周的一天在她的地方进行小组聚会。然后我在附近的车站张贴了几张手工海报，好让人们知道全加拿大第一家哲学家咖啡馆在做些什么。几天后，我接到一通惊喜的来电，是Simon Fraser(SFU)大学的Yosef Wosk教授打来询问我们的咖啡馆海报。
在1999年，哲学家咖啡馆获得CAUCE（The Canadian Association for University Continuing Eudcation；加拿大大学成人教育协会）颁发优良奖。在2003年，一份加拿大最重要的报纸表示哲学家咖啡馆「是国内最成功的成人教育计划。」SFU的哲学家咖啡馆计划助理Diane Mar-Nicolle说：「我们发现在某些地方从2007/2008年起出席持续有百分之四十的增长。」
Peter Raabe 教授是以哲学辅导（咨商）研究获得博士学位的第一个加拿大人，在国际上也是少数者。有关Peter Raabe 教授的资料可以参考他的网站。