It may be said that the world is troubled. To sense such a state of flux is to begin to face it. What is the possibility of art, the artist, and the audience in light of this trouble? What is the responsibility of the artwork, its making, and its experience in the prospects of future action? Every effort to change the world for the better matters. The Singapore Biennale 2019 puts its faith squarely in the potential of art (and its understanding) to rework the world, expressed in the Biennale title: Every Step in the Right Direction.
In this examination of act and action, the Biennale then considers the necessity of the step, that is prompted by the Biennale’s geography, itself spanning nodes and locations across the city of Singapore, thus inviting audiences to be inspired in an exploration. Furthermore, we observe this everyday but decisive act of walking in artistic practices, such as of Singapore artist, Amanda Heng. Utilising the act of walking in a number of performances (for example, Let’s Walk, first performed in 1999), Heng presents her audience with moments for moving forward, looking back, turning inward, venturing outward with others, in so doing, engendering reflection, the speculation or adoption of other perspectives, and the consideration of pasts.
As artistic director of the Singapore Biennale 2019 and a scholar of Southeast Asian art, in my effort to deepen the conversation on the need for an ethical gesture in our time and in history, I recall the words of Salud Algabre, who, in the 1930s in the Philippines, played a central role in a peasant movement that did not appear to achieve its immediate intentions. Responding to a scholar on the perception of its failure, Algabre reasoned that no movement fails, “each one is a step in the right direction.” This apparently counterintuitive reply opens up for rethinking the condition of failure and the chance at transformation. In relation to art and its investigation of material and its ecologies, it might then be that this counterintuition restores hope as a medium of continuous conversions and as a method of getting things done the right way, but only in light of steps taken and decisions made about the right direction. Informed by such an impulse, SB2019 offers a sustainable, self-renewing project of change, and moves everyone to act – to make a step.
Singapore Biennale 2019