by anjana krishna kumar
An installation at the Singapore Biennale is attracting not only art lovers but also an army of ants and bees.Visitors to the sugar sculpture
at the Biennale are struck more by the ants
than by the work's political meaning
The 2m-tall sculpture, modelled after a Myanmarese pagoda, is made entirely of sugar and starch.
It was created by artists Richard Streitmatter-Tran from Vietnam and Chaw Ei Thein from Myanmar, and is on display at South Beach Development in Beach Road.
But Since the Biennale opened on Sept 11, the installation has been drawing a stream of ants, bees and centipedes. Many dead ants can be seen stuck in the sugar.
The exhibit has also started to ferment and is giving off a peculiar smell. Small parts of the pagoda have crumbled.
The title of the work, September Sweetness, is meant to be an ironic tribute to the people who died during the unrest in Myanmar last September, when monks marched in the streets calling for democratic change.
The artists intended the sugar artwork to erode over time, to symbolise the erosion of hope for a better future in Myanmar. But judging from the comments of viewers that Life! spoke to at the installation last week, the political significance of the work is lost on them.
During three site visits, there were no more than five people checking out the sculpture. The visitors were struck more by the smell and the insects than the work itself. A large sign at the sculpture tells visitors that the bees are part of the artwork.
Miss Cheryl Chua, 18, a student at Temasek Polytechnic who was there on Saturday, would not even go near the piece. She said she was put off when volunteers at the entrance warned her there would be a lot of insects at the pagoda. "Firstly, the exhibit was very far away, and because I don't like ants at all, I thought I'll just give it a miss."
But Mr Phang Shueh Yen, 29, a student at National University of Singapore, who was at the installation last Thursday, said the smell and the insects made the exhibit more powerful.
"The smell and the insects show that it isn't just an art object, but actually an ongoing process. I can relate to the message almost immediately."
Miss Candice Leong, 23, was concerned about the erosion of the installation.
She said: "It is sad that the structure is breaking down. I wish I had seen how it looked like before."
Visitors said the information placard could have given more data to help them appreciate the artwork. It just described the effort taken to make the structure and there was no mention of the Myanmar unrest and the artists' aims.
As far as national serviceman Alvin Ong, 20, was concerned, the installation was just a sculpture made of sugar.
Miss Lee Wei Ting, 22, a student at Nanyang Technological University said: "The last thing I expected was the use of sugar to convey such a bitter message."
Photo credits: Aziz Hussin, Danny Phyo
(life! The Straits Times Wednesday, October 1 2008, page C2)