Recently I met with a young artist friend of mine at Bras Basah Complex and had a discussion over chicken rice (Purvis Street). A range of interesting topic ensued, ranging from traditional arts such as Chinese Ink and Seal Carving, which is the object of our meeting in the first place, aesthetic ideologies, and the involvement of audience in our presentation.
One interesting point came on the table, the fact that I've almost never presented an old work for any proposed showcase except for 2 instances.(Once for a hotel lobby exposition and once for Affordable Art Fair.) I consistently considered every showcase as an opportunity for new ideas and new message. There was quite a few instance I even declined opportunities to showcase in venues that are dead set on only having my past work. This to the dismal to many of my friends who thought I'm too picky for my own good.
I mentioned that If I'm told that I have a last minute show inclusion 2 weeks later, I'd still make a new work. Even 1 week is considerably adequate. This conversation stimulated some careful thoughts on my part and I have a good hour worth of train ride home to think about it.
Here I cannot stress enough that opinion expressed on this blog is personal(and a bit blunt at times) and have very little to do with any affiliated establishments or galleries I worked with. With this opening, I recognise what are the common rationale for inclusion of older works in a showcase, except for obvious reasons such as a retrospective show or showcases highlighting an artists' partial journeys. Increasingly, exhibitions are no longer well projected far ahead enough as it's used to, in some cases even a lead time of 2-3 months may seem insufficient to produce something new. This is in consideration of the time set aside for publicity, for instance, and artwork photographs have to be ready. Logistic play a part too. Sometimes the reason is much more simpler - the organisers of the show requested that you show what you have as an already good piece of work.
I think we can all imagine that exhibiting an previously shown-before work is not the most exciting both for the artist himself and his peers. A friend of mine is a frequent show-er of shown works by circumstances, and even he himself exasperate at the lack of enthusiasm on his part. In his defence, the works were done in the past with conceptual hindsight. Artist-audience like myself have most likely seen them before as well considering how small our scene is.
To be fair, the object of art exhibitions should be largely built towards audience appreciation, and hopefully the cultivation of new audiences. In this perspective it's really not a big deal to show works irregardless of creation time-line as long as it is contextually relevant.
As the same friend above mentioned, "sometimes it feels like I'm repeating the same story again and again". It's already telling on the enthusiasm level.
It's not unique to the Singapore art scene where artists "downplay" any shows we're in that we exhibit old works. The off handed dismissal of importance of such showcases as we proudly list them on our CVs - "aiya, just some old works."
Is it fair to do that? Both in the perspective of the Gallery/Institution in support of your work as well to the other artists that are included in the same show. After a while, does it not seem like a free pass to negate constructive criticism?
Going back to Purvis Street now with my enthusiastic young friend, I explained that it have very little to do with the assumed self-importance of "showing new works" and that artistic development is a linear in line with our intellectual progresses. Really, it's like retelling an old story. The commerciality and the opportunity to re-circulate works is one possibility that I don't really subscribe to - not at this stage of my practice anyway. It really boils down to one thing for me: Communication.
I somehow believe it's a not difficult as an artist to present something "pleasing" for view and I suppose this sentiment will be echoed in this conceptually charged era, so it really leaves us with content and communication agenda.
So what is compromised? A whole lot of things, but I'm also an obsessed communicator. I know I have to strike a balance somewhere.In that conversation I've accidentally self-reflected that I'm treating an exhibition as a podium of sharing new ideas and messaged. Indeed, some of my works of late are created under extremely pressurised timeline in the attempt to say something that is current to myself as well as to the venue mentioned.
Now as I'm relocating my studio and look at the crippling clutter stashed in my bedroom, maybe it's time for me to retell some stories a few more times.