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SEA Focus: A breath of fresh air in Southeast Asia's art scene

Carla Bianpoen

The Jakarta Post

Singapore  /  Wed, February 13, 2019  /  11:56 am
SEA Focus: A breath of fresh air in Southeast Asia's art scene

Modern touch: The "Diabethanol" installation byJulian Abraham' “Togar” was an example of the evolving practice of this era. (Courtesy of Ruci Art Space/-)

SEA Focus, a boutique art fair in Singapore, has made its debut as part of the Singapore Art Week.

Encompassing 26 local and international galleries, SEA Focus art fair, which operated as an STPI project was held in three pop-up tents at Gillman Barracks, Singapore’s gallery cluster.

Marked by an intimate somewhat euphoric atmosphere, the fair, which came amid the sudden cancelation of the ninth edition of Art Stage Singapore, aimed to foster a deeper appreciation of Southeast Asian modern and contemporary art.

Spearheaded by Emi Eu, the fair and STPI director, and Audrey Yeo of Yeo Workshop, it was intended to complement major activities in the art fair ecosystem that they thought needed more dedicated attention to in Southeast Asian Art.

Emi Eu insisted there was never any idea of rivaling Art Stage. “We just wanted to complement with a more dedicated attention to Southeast Asian Art,” she says

About half of the galleries were from Singapore, including Gajah Gallery, Art Porters, Art-2 Gallery, artcommune gallery and Art Seasons. International names included 47 Canal (New York), The Columns Gallery (Seoul), Gallery VER (Bangkok), Jan Manton Art (Brisbane), The Drawing Room (the Philippines), Niagara Galleries (Melbourne), and international galleries with a sub in Singapore such as Sullivan + Strumpf, Tomio Koyama, Richard Koh.

It was also a surprise to see the re-emergence of Wetterling Teo gallery, one of the first international contemporary galleries to operate in Southeast Asia, after a long hiatus. The gallery was a 1994 joint venture between Swedish Wetterling gallery and Daniel Teo of Singapore and SEA Focus was an inspiration to revive it.

From Indonesia there was Nadi Gallery and the upcoming Ruci Art Space, both Jakarta based, and Gajah Gallery which operates both in Singapore and Yogyakarta.

Gajah Gallery excelled with an excellent solo show by emerging contemporary artist Octora, whose beautifully executed contemporary works explore the issue of power and authenticity in colonial ethnographic portraits.

Interestingly, Seoul-based Columns Gallery filled its booth with works by Indonesian artist Timoteus Anggawan Kusno, who also took on issues of historical memory and postcolonial experience in Indonesia.  

"By Airmail" by Eddie Hara (Carla Bianpoen/-)

At the fair, Nadi Gallery presented works by Agus Suwage, Eddie Hara, Handiwirman Saputra and Jumaldi Alfi.

But it was perhaps Ruci Art Space that was most worth noting as it brought works that were infused with contemporary imagery. Particularly the installation by Julian Abraham “Togar”, an example of the evolving practice of this era. Titled “Diabethanol”, it was marked by an imagery that is increasingly fascinating for today’s contemporary artists who combine art, science and technology.  

In his piece, Togar imagined converting diabetic urine into a source of renewable energy. While it might still be fictional it could evolve into reality in the future.

Ruci Art Space is one of the many galleries that has spoken well of SEA Focus. Gallery director Rio Pasaribu said artwork had been sold to Alain Servais, a well-known collector in the contemporary art world. 

For Ruci, a first-time participant in an international art fair, this was very encouraging.

Ruci cofounder and adviser Melin Merril views SEA Focus as an asset to the art fair ecosystem as it enabled newcomers to shine internationally.  She is hoping future editions will improve on the flow from one venue to the next, and adding facilities would also be appreciated.

Generally, galleries reported good sales. Perhaps, as Sean Soh of Art Porters whose entire booth sold out, said, the affordable rent of the booths enabled the presentation of young upcoming artists, whose quality of works was good but who might have had a problem entering mainstream art fairs. As Soh pointed out, his gallery intentionally focused on young collectors.

It will be interesting to see how SEA Focus further evolves. (ste)


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