Deconstructing democracy

MATTHEW NGUI has a foot in two countries, but they come together in two artworks showing at the Fremantle Arts Centre; Every Point of View and Swimming: At Least 8 Points of View.

Singaporean-born Ngui came to Australia to study at Curtin University, but fell in love and never really went back, dividing his time between family and his Aussie partner.

In the process he knocked back an opportunity to work in Berlin and New York, a decision that doesn’t seem to have hampered his artistic career as his large-scale installations have appeared at major biennales in Germany, Brazil, Venice and South Korea.

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He was artistic director of the Singapore biennale in 2011 and his permanent works can be found in galleries nationally.

Every Point of View is an Australian premiere, but was one of five major works commissioned by the Singapore Art Museum to mark 50 years of the country’s independence.

Artists were asked to come up with a piece based on Singapore’s five values, as represented by five stars on the flag – peace, justice, progress, democracy and equality.

“I got democracy, which is hard. How do you do democracy?” Ngui says.

• Matthew Ngui’s Every Point of View was commissioned for Singapore’s 50th year of independence, and he was given the brief of creating an artwork based around democracy. Photo supplied

• Matthew Ngui’s Every Point of View was commissioned for Singapore’s 50th year of independence, and he was given the brief of creating an artwork based around democracy. Photo supplied

Navigating a forest of almost 300 PVC pipes his installation moves visitors through fragments of sentences glimpsed fleetingly.

They seem to whisper phrases such as “power of the people”, “ballot box”, “feedback” – and obscurely “farmer” and “apples” – in a labyrinth to be negotiated by the viewer.

In a summation of “democracy” the many fragments only come together from one specific angle in the vast gallery.

“Every Point of View is an exercise in seeing, but not necessarily understanding. You have to be at a particular point to understand each perspective,” Ngui says.

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“Democracy is a way to work with these conflicts. In any society we have competing viewpoints and desires which democracy can help to balance.”

In Swimming, a 15-metre wide projection follows Ngui swimming laps in a pool, a life-sized image that will fill the main gallery.

Shot under water he transforms an ordinary act into a hypnotic, sensual performance.

Along with the video, there’s a recording of Ngui describing the sensation of swimming and a coach analysing his style.

The joint exhibitions are on at the Fremantle Arts Centre Friday, July 29 until Saturday September 17.

by JENNY D’ANGER

942 Terrace Hotel 9x2.3

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