Singapore Biennale 2008 Engaged Audiences with Accessible Artworks


They came, they saw, they responded to the artworks! Pasting stickers on a gigantic Google Earth map of Singapore, stepping over maggots, walking into the evening fog, enjoying a wintry snowscape, donating slippers, making paper windmills, smelling soap in the air - all these and more contributed to a wonderful experience for visitors at the Singapore Biennale (SB) 2008.


Capturing the imagination of the young and old and exploding preconceived ideas of contemporary art, SB2008 gave visitors the opportunity to come up close and personal with 137 pieces of exciting and accessible artworks by 66 artists from 36 countries and regions, including Singapore.


To spread the Wonder theme and reach out to the community from the man-in-the street to art aficionados, SB2008 exhibited across three centrally located main venues - City Hall, South Beach Development and the Central Promontory Site at Marina Bay, as well as the Esplanade Bridge, Raffles City and The Singapore Flyer.


Engaged Audiences

The second edition of Singapore’s largest international biennale of contemporary art pulled in 505,200 visitors over eight weeks, achieving its target of 500,000 visitors.


Audience engagement was of priority this year. From the first-ever Kids’ Biennale, education programmes and tours for students and teachers, to expanding the popular guided tours to include the four official languages, as well as Japanese and dialects Cantonese and Hokkien, these new and innovative platforms served to make contemporary art more accessible and enjoyable to the public.


SB2008 has reached out to 162 schools and more than 40,000 students with its various outreach activities and school tours. The inaugural Kids’ Biennale designed for primary school children to learn both art techniques and concepts attracted the participation of more than 20,000 students from 35 schools. Some 500 pieces of artworks created by these students were displayed in the Kid’s Zone at City Hall. In addition, a series of events called Kid’s Day Out were organised to nurture and celebrate the creative energies of children, giving them a sense of the wonder of art.


Students from secondary schools and junior colleges were given the SB2008 Art Pack, an educational resource which included a video of a performance lecture and a structured visit to SB2008. In addition, students were trained to lead their peers on a personalised tour of the exhibition.


Guided tours in Cantonese and Hokkien were provided for group visits organised by Community Development Councils, Community Clubs and grassroots organisations. Many of these visitors experienced their first encounter with contemporary art at SB2008.


To take ownership of SB2008, about 500 volunteers from all walks of life came forward to assist in the contemporary art extravaganza and got to experience firsthand the operations of the exhibition and its artworks. The Yellow Ribbon Project also contributed 4,000 slippers to be used by artists Alfredo and Isabel Aquilizan for their artwork, Flight.


International Interest

Building on the success of the inaugural exhibition, SB2008 continued to be an important springboard for artistic talent as the participating artists networked and gained exposure to the community of international artists, artistic directors, curators, critics, museum directors, and academics who visited the exhibition. Through such interactions, some of the Singapore artists have received invitations to other international exhibitions.


Jane Lee and Sherman Ong will be showcasing their works at the Contemporary Art Centre, Vilnius, Lithuania. Jane’s artwork at SB2008, Raw Canvas – her largest work to date – has also been sold to a private collector.


Interest for Joshua Yang, Heman Chong and Rachel Goh have been expressed from overseas curators and exhibitions too.


Many of the regional artists participated in their first major exhibition with SB2008. The level of interest generated by visiting curators and exhibitors has become a hallmark for the Singapore Biennale as the platform to discover new and emerging artists.


Vietnamese artists Le Dinh Q., Tran Quoc Hai and Le Van Danh’s offering, The Farmers and the Helicopters – both the actual helicopter and video installation – is also reserved for acquisition by MOMA New York and Dinh Q. has been invited to give a lecture at MOMA in April next year. The video installation will also be on exhibit at the Smithsonian in Washington DC from December 2008. Dinh Q is also working with the Museum of Contemporary Art in Antwerp to showcase the artwork at the City Vision Festival in Belgium next year.


Nine artists Ki-Bong Rhee, Shaarbek Amankul, Alfredo and Isabel Aquilizan, Dinh Q, Kiran Subbaiah, Leonid Tishkov, Zhan Wang, Fujiko Nakaya have been shortlisted for the 2009 Biennale Cuvee in Linz, Austria.


Positive Media & Public Response

On top of the many compliments from local and foreign visitors, SB2008 also enjoyed positive reception from the media in Singapore. There was much interest from the international media - some 70 journalists from Asia, Europe and the US visited the exhibition.


True to its Wonder theme, and the aim to challenge and inspire, SB2008 prompted numerous discussions, blog entries and even music videos online from the public. The official SB2008 blog also played host to animated discourse on artworks, while visitors posted accounts and experiences of their visit to the Biennale on personal blogs and photo portals.


With SB2008 fostering exchange, dialogue and engagement between Singapore and the international art world, it has helped raise the profile of Singapore art and position Singapore as a vibrant global city for the arts.


The National Arts Council wishes to thank all artists, sponsors, partners, volunteers, audiences and the media for their strong support in SB2008.


Annex – Responses from media and compliments from SB artists and visitors.


About the Singapore Biennale

Organised by the National Arts Council, Singapore, the Singapore Biennale aims to position Singapore prominently as an international centre and regional thought leader in the field of visual art. It encourages Singapore artists and Singapore to engage with the international art world, through the invitation of regional and international artists to exhibit with Singapore artists, and for Singapore to join the international community of art biennales whose language is mainly conducted through the medium of contemporary art. As a platform for collaborations with the global arts community, the Biennale provides new opportunities for local visual artists and arts businesses, and is a significant opportunity to cultivate deeper public engagement with the arts. It complements the achievements of other areas of the arts and cultural scene, collectively enhancing Singapore’s international image as a vibrant city to live, work, play.