Curatorial Note: We Are Farmers Exhibition, by Ore Huiying
I was invited by Singapore Photographer Ore Huiying to curate her first solo exhibition “We Are Farmers” currently showing at Objectifs. I was surprised at first, but accepted as I have known Huiying for a while and familiar with her work. She had shown me her early black and white documentary photographs of her family a few years back and I had recently worked with her on an edit of her Mekong – The Mother of Rivers photographs. It seems Huiying has changed her camera, in turn the way she saw the world, and taken a more subjective approach. I also have a special affection for personal work, and particularly those on identity and notions of family.
Huiying describes “We Are Farmers” as a visual study on her family – 4 generations of farmers in Singapore. This description allows for much fluidity in constructing narratives. It is the artist Huiying’s prerogative to channel her perspective into a narrative. My curatorial role was merely to help her craft and communicate that narrative. The book format of Huiying’s upcoming photobook of the same work prescribes a more linear interaction with the work through page flips from left to right. Audiences occupy and move in a 3 dimensional exhibition space differently and according to their own sense of flow. During the opening night, some guests moved from the left wall to the right, while others who arrived later started from the right wall as the room filled.
The approach taken to curating the exhibition was one where we imagined a gathering of family, friends and strangers in a small, intimate living room. We imagine the air filled with conversation and whispers, and much eavesdropping. On the left, opening wall, Huiying reconciles her past with her present through nuanced pairings of archival family album images with new photographs. The pairs speak of change and progress, hint at regret, and ponder on inevitability. On the facing right wall, Huiying questions the future with formal portraits of 4 generations of her family. The wall sequence begins with a faceless portrait of her grandma, worn and weary, with her head down in a surrendered position, and ends with a portrait of her bright, young niece in the arms of a maid.
Coincidently and unfortunately, Huiying’s grandma passed away in the weeks prior to this exhibition. And one sensed how central a figure she was in Huiying’s narrative. We decided to bring art and exhibition back home where it belongs, especially in this case, by dedicating a wall to Huiying’s grandma. The centre wall is montaged with a series of photographs showing Huiying’s grandma blowing candles on her birthday cake alongside moments before and after, across various years of her life. The repeated sight of her and others blowing, as if bestowing breaths of life, in the various images is poignant in its effect. The wall of images is also accompanied by a slow, one-take video interview Huiying made with her grandma. The sound of grandma’s worn yet wise voice speckles the space with meditation, a subtle reminder that in the Ore household, the words of elders are the thread that weaves and binds.
Accompanying the walled exhibition and on the open roof of the Objectifs building is an installation of 2 greenhouses seeded with vegetables from the Ore farm. The Xiao Bai Cai and Chinese Cabbages will take the duration of the exhibition to grow and harvest. The little plants are sprinkled with historic mementos of the family farm alongside Huiying’s first black and white attempt at photographing her family. The installation is an homage to Huiying’s Chinese title 耕 for her work, Gēng meaning ‘toiling and cultivating the land’. Huiying, the grand daughter who left for greener pastures, has returned home with a new harvest to offer.
Huiying’s ‘We Are Farmers’ is indeed a peep into the little known lives of one of Singapore’s few remaining farming families. One may also see it as a small epic of founding generations and legacies, as embodied by Huiying’s Grandma, the reluctant protagonist. On the opening night, I even heard whispers, and questions, about Singapore – past, present and future.
“We Are Farmers” by Ore Huiying the exhibition is open now till 12th January 2014 at Objectifs, 56A Arab Street, Singapore 199753.
Photographs © Kevin WY Lee
Originally posted: http://www.kevinwylee.com/scrapbook/curatorialnote_orefarmers