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Documenting art and identity in formation: An arts agent's story
Digital bridge of Melbourne and Singapore
Categories: Articles, Exhibitions

The following article is on an International Art Exhibition featuring collaborative photo media works of Jack Kee Gamble (Australia) and Tan Haur (Singapore) to be taken place in Melbourne, Australia (SEP-OCT 2012).

Perspectives in Transition
The Crossroads of Melbourne and Singapore
By Benedict Tan

For decades, scientists went to a painstaking extent to recover evidences of human evolution. Some believers wish that all men came from a single root; others were curious about how man has crossed the world and became a supreme species. 

People in the world travel and connect, migrate and immigrate, forming a modern force that drives the integration of cultures and societies; despite once in our time, mankind in scientific records has differentiated itself physically and ideologically, the current globalising force today brings us on a reverse route, finding the soul that still persists in us all.

This is the basis linked to the thoughts of Tan Haur on an attempt to digitalise his perception on ‘transnational motion’, and which he sees as the crucial factor to formulate his proposition of globalisation and glocalisation – a view that is visible in “Global Eyes” and several other series of his artworks.

This series of art is not going as far as to trace human evolution, but we can see it as an initiative for the global dream. Tan Haur, a digital mixed media artist and a travel photography enthusiast, took his perspective as an individual from the cosmopolitan city of Singapore, to investigate and lay questions to human existence and its fundamental cultures in relation to the tide of globalisation and glocalisation. Through photography as the base medium, Tan Haur captures signifiers from human environment and activities amid many facets of Melbourne and Singapore. And while digitally fusing both cities, he tactfully reveals the dimension of human lives from the parted co-existing grounds on earth with the use of visual language.

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While we are examining globalisation through the growing cross-countries culture and societal relationships, economic activity in this context would exist in the background as it always has a major involvement in the subject as a whole. Trade exchanges in a worldwide scale begun significantly in historic notes of the silk road and Tang dynasty ocean fleet, while western colonialisation effectively actualised its power, culture and architecture around major parts of South East Asia. This was the early form of economic globalisation. At the same time the trade managed to bridge people, lifestyles and cultures.
Global Eyes is a digital photo imaging art works series that provokes questions in the context of present globalisation. Busy streets of people chasing time, unnoticed corners of places within business districts and indicators on roads or pedestrian ways – Tan Haur takes us to a journey of the synthesis of city scenes and overlapping avenue photos of Melbourne and Singapore by his visual art making, producing a channel that causes boundaries separating the two nations to fade, or interlaced by a collage of two different places. The presence of globalisation becomes evident in the final visual effect when pieces of still moments are thrown forward – simultaneously being captured in their state of actuality. More than a photo journal of Tan Haur’s photo travelogue, they add thoughts that create the pictorial scrutiny of practice, nature and objects that have been adapted to a contemporary civilisation.
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The negative photographic turnabout acts like preservatives to keep that place and time alive. The vibrancy of base colours in digital print akin to magenta, cyan and yellow appear strategically to place a dimension where two places meet. The deliberate distortion of colours as a depiction of state of the place and time, or evoking emotions, is an indicator of post impressionism, and even an evolution of that artistic style due to the characteristics of implementing digital media – if one would allow the term that is not yet formalised but apparently imminent – is technically part of the existing mode of post-impressionism in digital (1).

Post-impressionism is used to specify the style of art created around 1886 to 1905 with artists whom empowered the value of contour, colour, structure and composition as well as the emotional value in art, and their imagery would appear more deliberate versus impressionism before them who focus on the physical world and external appearance of things (2). Van Gogh’s use of colour and subject matter would probably be indications of his state of mind during painting his impression along with preconceptions of the place and time, such as the painting of The Red Vineyard in a sentimental afternoon sunshine, instead of portraying the exploited and wearied harvesters (3).
Artist Tan Haur’s art works appear pausing time and providing us the pictography and sense of its spirit. It is thus not surprising that he sees his art works as ‘time capsules’ of a never permanent reality, encapsulating the spirit of foreign spaces and then having the liberty to reposition them to another; leading to the second subject matter of his art series which examines local transformations to the state of global change – glocalisation.

We could hardly define glocalisation without first knowing globalisation, just as Tan Haur places a familiar subject prominently on a picture, not necessarily belonging to any country particularly, which subconsciously defines a latter focal point, making it a secondary impression from the entire picture, the layer of location, adaptability and defining the characteristics of both subject matters. This can also be related strongly with economic significance as glocalisation would define local markets turning into global changes in economy. Japan has the earliest practice in business of this nature with their term dochakuka referring to global localisation (4). From this perspective, businessmen would build a base of products and services through the local favour and empower them with a global mindset.

Culture and the arts have no lack in this concept. Tan Haur is one of the South-East Asian artists who certainly recognises the importance of his roots while engaging in international art practices, as he represents (and also questions) the local mindset and identity to fuse with the contemporary, using his artistic examination and implementation. As mentioned by art historian Els van der Plas (Artistic Director of the Gate Foundation), many artists who went overseas to the USA and Europe to study returned to their Asian home to confront their own culture, viewing it with mixed feelings. Some would choose an expression of synthesis between the two cultures, others provided visual forms to the national identity of their originating counties. In Singapore, Vincent Leow’s artworks are distinguished by critical analysis of the society around him and reflect his feelings and identity living in Singapore as well as his concern as a human being (5).

Tan Haur chose Melbourne and Singapore as his places of interest for this series, both being former British colonies and having a significant amount of Chinese immigrants. He has constantly traveled to and fro both cities for several years, enhancing his project with the input of actual experience and study of signifiers that could be identified visually by people on the streets. Extending his view with his Singaporean entity and as a person who seeks discovery around the globe, he works with digital imaging, photography, drawing and painting as his media, a mode of visual language. Through the artworks, he attempts to reflect a multi-dimensional viewpoint of the existence he captures, deconstructing representational objects, activities, signifiers and environments to investigate and to question the fundamental value of culture and human existence in relationship to globalisation and glocalisation.

References:
1) Digital Post-impressionism/Post-impressionist in Digital is a self-explanatory term 
   that is used to describe an identifiable group of art techniques or style that 
   utilises mainly digital and contemporary media such as digital imaging and 
   photography, to achieve the effects of post-impressionism but with its own 
   contemporary characteristics and capabilities. This term has not yet been widely 
   recognised and researched on. References of such artistic experimentation can be 
   found in several examples such as: 
   a. Katie’s illustration 
      http://athousandwordsillustration.blogspot.com/2010/10/
      digital-post-impressionism-painting.html 
   b. Van Gogh’s digitalised Starry Night 
      http://technabob.com/blog/2012/02/14/van-gogh-starry-night-interactive/ 
   c. Digital post-impressionist paintings by students 
      http://www.wyckoffschools.org/eisenhower/teachers/olejarz/digitalimaging/
      postimpressionism/index.html 
   d. Macro Photography Impressionist and Expressionist Art 
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XQdDwjMBZVA 
2) The Know-it-all Book (2007), page 248, by David S. Kidder and 
   Noah D. Oppenheim, Hodder & Stoughton. 
3) Van Gogh (2000), pages 6 and 136, by Josephine Cutts and James Smith, 
   Parragon Books. 
4) Wikipedia on Glocalisation – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glocalisation 
5) Asian Art Today Article. http://www.iias.nl/iiasn/iiasn9/ascul/arttoday.html 

Art works copyright © Tan Haur 2012 http://blog.omy.sg/tanhaur/

Published in the Singapore Art Gallery Guide Jun/ Jul 2012. http://www.sagg.com.sg

Personal notes:
Melbourne has always been one of the cities I love since I traveled there for the first time when I was in my teens. I remembered vividly the peacefulness while walking down the streets after 6pm with little or no cars driving past. I seen it turned from a quiet town to a busy city after more than ten years when I returned again, and I had also realised the several huge structures by the streets displaying the city’s serious focus in arts with those outdoor sculptures. I personally felt their outdoor sculptures are placed with better positions for attention compared to ones that are in Singapore, or it could be Melbourne just had alot more of the public art that simply catches your sight. During my academic years, we took huge references on the subject of arts management as well as arts law from Melborne Australia.

I had the pleasure to meet Tan Haur and his wife Kit Mui few years back and had the opportunity to coordinate -“In” Beijing by Tan Haur-, a photo exhibition which was curated by Kit Mui. We shared many current situations on the arts scene development in Singapore and the arts scene in Melbourne where Tan Haur resided and traveled for few years.

Writing for this series of art works by the pioneer of digital art in Singapore was a very inspiring one, with the story behind each piece providing a stereo experience and a freeflow of thoughts. They triggered my deep interest in science and evolution which I have merged with the subject of arts, study of perception and history, as well as my believe in inculcating experimental and new media.

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