Singapore Biennale 2019: Every Step in the Right Direction

Story By
Stephanie Mamonto

The world feels as though it is spinning out of orbit. The sense that we’re in such a state of flux has been with us since the end of last year and many more people are beginning to face it in varied ways.


Photo by Singapore Biennale’s Documentation


What are the possibilities for art, the artist, and the audience in the light of these troubles? No effort to change the world into a better place to live is too small and the Singapore Biennale 2019 has put its faith squarely in the potential of art (and its appreciation) to rework the world’s perspective, expressed in the Biennale title: Every Step in the Right Direction.  

The sixth edition of the Singapore Biennale 2019 (SB2019) ran from 22 November 2019 until 22 March 2020 across 11 venues in the city and featured 77 artists and art collectives from 36 countries and territories. Commissioned by the National Arts Council and organized by Singapore Art Museum (SAM), SB2019 enabled the audience to experience art in new ways. In two months, SB2019 invited visitors to explore over 150 contemporary artworks for free at venues across the city and take part in a range of programmes that would inspire out-of-the-box ways of engaging with art through a range of wellness, literary, and artist-run programmes and themed curator tours.

As one of Asia’s most exciting contemporary visual art exhibitions, SB2019 under the title Every Step in the Right Direction and the artistic direction of Patrick Flores, explored its curatorial and artistic threads common to our human condition and the catalytic role ‘hope’ plays in pushing for change. In the midst of a rapidly changing social and political climate, the notion of self and the world has significantly changed in recent years. Being mindful of such change, SB2019: Every Step in the Right Direction drew on the importance of making choices, taking steps to consider current conditions, and human endeavour for change and betterment.

Every effort to step in the right direction and transform begins with introspection, a reassessment of how self-consciousness through modernism has developed and come to constitute the present production of art. Hafiz Rancajale’s Social Organism articulated Indonesia’s post-Reformasi struggles with modernity, as well as the long arc of the colonial and post-colonial in the country. Here, the artist is a social being – a social organism – that intersects with institutions and public, artistic theories and experiments, and modes of citizenship. Sited in two different venues of the Biennale, the presentation at Gillman Barracks presented a range of his drawings and objects.

Providing further context of modernism and its relationship with what we now call the contemporary as a moment in the history of art is the practice of the Filipino artist Raymundo Albano, whose work as an interdisciplinary artist and a visionary curator sheds light on the constant translations of modernity.

Through the gathering of people, the public can also take a step and decide on what could be the right direction with others in an atmosphere of warm encounters and possible solidarities. These works invited the audience –whether onlookers or participants –to affirm common aspirations as well as discuss differences. It is in this vein that Singaporean artist Amanda Heng examined the relationship of humans to the outside world, and the inner emotional and psychological resources of the body. She staged a new edition of, and elaborated on, her renowned Let’s Walk series, which spoke directly to the title of the 2019 edition Every Step in the Right Direction.

Building on the participatory festival aspect of the Biennale, Phare, The Cambodia Circus was commissioned to create a contact zone where people shared space and created memories in a community experience. While Gary-Ross Pastrana from the Philippines looked into the way objects and materials shape narratives and translate into different states, through the staging of a play, which is to be periodically activated by Singapore-based performers. SB2019 also presented a series of programmes for the wellness-conscious. They were designed to stimulate mindfulness and art appreciation. The closing festivities kicked off on 21 March 2020 at Gillman Barracks, starting with an invigorating Zumba session in the morning. At night, the place transformed into an outdoor music party featuring local bands Sobs, BGourd, Bad Dod, Subsonic Eye and Quite Quiet, alongside a selection of light bites and craft beer.

The #BiennaleFinale was held at the National Gallery Singapore on 22 March 2020 and hosted a full day of activities to close SB2019. Within the gallery spaces, visitors were guided through Yin Yoga and Meditation surrounded by the atmospheric soundscape at async - volume by art collective Zakkubalan, in collaboration with Ryuichi Sakamoto. It featured an adaptation of Sakamoto’s multimedia work that immersed audiences in a rich and ever-shifting ambient soundscape. In the afternoon, artiste Edmund Chen took visitors on an exclusive, personal tour of his favourite artworks in SB2019. At National Gallery’s Padang Atrium, there were exciting performances throughout the day, ranging from music, to comedy and dance. Audiences caught actor and musician Ayden Sng perform a contemporary repertoire of erhu music, and a dance presentation by students from LASALLE College of the Arts, dressed in structured costumes inspired by the ancient art of origami. Families were also be entertained by a comedy circus show by Edwin Cirque (Mr Bee), while local musicians Bani Haykal, Leon Wan, and Kin Leonn rounded off the festivities in the evening.