The Spirituality of Perception

Accompanying text of exhibition and work at the Singapore Art Museum by curator Lindy Poh.



We live in times of extremes and environments of new speed and intensity. The works in this Gallery evidence a strong consciousness of how technology. medicine, and science have irrevocably altered our perception, our imagination, our very modes of being. Many of the artists have employed an unsentimental, almost forensic approach in their works, invoking the aesthetics and vocabulary of the laboratory to demonstrate how contemporary bodies interface with urban landscapes. These urban contexts have conditioned our eating, sleeping, and procreating patterns. Diets, gym, and school physical fitness programs, drugs that regulate life's natural processes like sleeping, medical procedures that invade, expose, and regulate the body processes - all these form the archive of contemporary experiences. They also ensure that the way our bodies are conceived, imagined, and represented, will never be the same again.



In a sense, the self has expanded in its projection and multiplication through communications networks and cyber-technologies. Chng Nai Wee, in The Spirituality of Perception, plays with the paradox of scale. He explores the potential of contraction, and introduces us to the systems of a micro-world. The artist (a doctor trained in Ophthalmology) had his own eyes pharmacologically dilated, and then photographed. These prints were enlarged and installed in light boxes. The work challenges romantic and urban myths that have accumulated around the 'eye' (such as being the windows of the 'soul', or being 'the eye of the storm'). It is unquestionably the most refined organ in visual culture, linked with taste and cultivation ('having the right eye', 'an eye for beauty'), and features in the contemporary artworks as the instrument that anchors narcissism, voyeurism, and surveillance ('eye in the sky', 'the all-seeing eye' - Chng presents the mechanism of sight unsentimentally as 'organs of sensory reception and perception' with its networks of blood vessels, its vitreous humour, optic nerve, and retina. Ironically, these images, despite the aesthetics of the lab, cast their own presence and aura of beauty.