The air at Tanjong Pagar Distripark hangs heavy with the musty smell of grease and industrial wooden pellets. Now and then, the sonorous booming horn of a leviathan cargo ship punctuates the horizon. Yet at Artspace@Helutrans located in a warehouse that serves its neighbouring container port, the aura is that of an art gallery’s meditative silence. In the centre sits a curious transparent acrylic cube containing a structure made of beeswax.

This is an artwork by Beijing-based artist Ren Ri and his choice of beeswax as a medium is truly a curious one. His aim? To demonstrate the harmonious balance between man and nature, for constructing the sculpture involved placing a living queen bee in the centre of the cube. The sculpture is rotated every seven days in a reference the Biblical creation of the world. This shifts the centre of gravity of the sculpture and hence influences the shape of which the honey bees form their structure.

Ren Ri’s work is just one out of over a hundred art pieces at the pop-up art gallery by The Artling held in September. It’s the third of such an initiative as The Artling is technically an online “gallery of galleries”. Here, physical art galleries are given a web presence through the digital platform in an effort to give greater global exposure to their collections. Ren Ri’s work is exhibited by Pearl Lam Galleries.

The Artling
Ren Ri’s work is made out of beeswax. (Photo: The Artling)

“Offline events are quite important in terms of continuing branding and exposure,” says Kim Tay, the gallery manager. “Pop-ups like this gives us more exposure to a different kind of audience – mainly people who aren’t comfortable with transacting online. It’s a way to browse galleries from across the country in one spot.”

At the heart of the pop-up is a strong showing of emerging artists — most of which are under the age of 40.

But what exactly makes an emerging artist? Is it about innovation, the message, recognition, or medium as in the case of Ren Ri? Or perhaps a combination of all four? And how exactly does an online gallery work anyway?

The art world can indeed be an opaque place. We sit down with Tay for a chat in the hopes that she could shed some light.

what makes an emerging artist
Kim Tay, gallery manager of The Artling. Photography by Lavender Chang.

First off, how exactly does an online art gallery and platform work?

We started around three years ago, and we are essentially a gallery of galleries. We’re an e-commerce platform so we sell artworks from artists and galleries online to give more exposure on a global level, because we found that the traditional gallery concept is difficult to sustain in the current climate – at least the economics of it.

Is this a global phenomenon or is it just affecting Singapore?

It’s affecting galleries worldwide, but it’s also how technology is evolving. Everyone wants to be connected and the online gallery model really helps with that. It gives access to people overseas who aren’t able to travel here to see the galleries, the works, or the artist in person.

But it's not quite the same as seeing something in person, is it?

It’s not, I will say. But we try to combat that with different viewing rooms, perspectives, so you can see the paintings on the walls, you can zoom in. Clients can also request for additional images. We find that people are getting more and more used to buying art online in the same way that people took to buying clothes and shoes.

What makes an emerging artist
Santi Wangchuan’s woven fabric work hangs in the background while Rudi Hendriatno’s mechanical teakwood work is seen at the front.
So what makes an emerging artist?

It’s a very broad spectrum. They are artists who are a bit younger – younger in their art practice as well. They’re identified as they’re moving into the realm of established artists, where they’re getting more features in exhibitions, gallery shows, solo exhibitions, collected by local and regional museums. All those things add up to move them towards becoming more established.

What are the qualities that you look out for in these artists?

For emerging artists, it’s really looking into their practice, seeing the concepts that they’re working with, what they’re thinking through, and what they’re producing. It’s the mediums they’re experimenting with, and looking into their practice as a whole as opposed to singular artworks in isolation.

How important is the message? Does it have to be politically or socially charged?

Not at all, but it does have to be thought through. You have to be able to speak to the artist and have them articulate exactly what they want to express.

What makes an emerging artist
Artist Teppei Kaneuji from Japan. Photo courtesy of artist and STPI.
Any other examples of artists that we should highlight?

We have Teppei Kaneuji from Japan who is a bit more established [and his works exhibited here] were created for STPI during his residency at the workshop. His work is interesting because he incorporates elements of Singapore within them. They’re not works that are naturally in his practice, but are inspired by the time he spent here.

For Thailand, we also have Santi Wangchuan. His works are entirely made from fabric and weaving. He comes from a village of weavers in Thailand so he continues that tradition with a modern element, and he uses symbols from Thai culture hidden in the weaving.

From Indonesia we have Rudi Hendriatno and all his works are mechanical and made of teakwood. You can imagine the kind of workmanship that goes into creating teakwood machines, and it comments on how we’re moving beyond analogue machines and bringing them back into a different sphere.

Which countries in the region hold the most promise to you?

That’s difficult to answer, but I would say the Philippines, Indonesia and Thailand. There’s a very different kind of energy in these places. You see a lot of older artists mentoring the younger artists and having an effect on the practices that’s coming out of these countries. There’s a lot of creativity and a huge community element to it, which helps with the number of artists coming out. The art schools are really strong and when artists graduate, they’re getting together to form collectives.

But you need some sort of financial incentive to become an artist. How does it differ to what we have in Singapore?

Yes of course. The community element is important and in these countries, there’s a long history of art collecting. There’s a history of patrons supporting specific younger artists and following their careers. In Singapore, the scene is still very young so we don’t have that sort of collectors’ community that the other countries benefit from.

In your opinion, how can our local art scene move forward?

I think it’s all about education, and that’s what we try to do with this exhibition. We’re making sure that there are things that people can see, do and be involved in. It helps that we have the new National Gallery and the Singapore Art Museum, all creating exhibitions that the public can view. This lets them become more interested in art, and make it part of daily life rather than an elite activity. It has to be less scary because it can be intimidating to be in these types of white cube gallery spaces when you don’t know anything. Even if you don’t understand it, it’s important to just see and work through it in your own ways.

Azimin Saini
Editor
Azimin Saini is the Editor of Lifestyle Asia and manages the team in Singapore. He has been told the sound of his backspace is like thunder through the clouds. On a regular day, he has enough caffeine in him to power a small car.