Known for its tongue-in-cheek humour and a commitment to socially engaging works, the M1 Singapore Fringe Festival has garnered plenty of acclaim for its mix of cross-disciplinary events, ranging from visual arts to dance, installations and performances. Previous editions have covered curatorial themes such as education and law (which boasted an extensive catalogue, with copious amounts of information censored with black boxes by the organisers themselves) â€“ and this year, the annual festivalâ€™s eighth edition, features yet another cheeky topic: art and faith.
â€˜The idea of faith seemed to us extremely pertinent, given recent global events,â€™ says Melissa Lim, company manager of The Necessary Stage, the festivalâ€™s organiser. â€˜We wanted to expand the definition of faith such that it goes beyond institutionalised religion â€“ which is how it is often perceived at first glance. We were keen on looking at artistic responses to issues pertaining to religion, but also to a broader idea of faith â€“ in humanity, in the future, in regeneration and more.â€™
Planning for each festival occurs up to two years in advance, with the themes based on what is deemed relevant to the times. Given previous yearsâ€™ daring content, The Necessary Stage clearly has no qualms about pushing the boundaries of what is considered acceptable, and this yearâ€™s offerings are equally headline-grabbing. Among the more controversial events will be a staging of Cane by Loo Zihan at The Substation on 19 Feb, a re-enactment of Singaporean artist Josef Ngâ€™s 1993 performance Brother Cane.
The original piece â€“ a reaction to biased media coverage over the arrest of 12 men for homosexuality â€“ in which Ng faced a black wall, cut his pubic hair and burnt himself with a lit cigarette â€“ caused an unsurprising furore, resulting in a public debate about obscenity and a subsequent ten-year restriction of the licensing and funding of performance art in Singapore. As for his connection to the theme, Loo explains: â€˜I am placing my faith in performance artâ€™s ability to exist illogically and impractically. This lack of logic and reason allows performance art to retain its power to challenge, and remain pertinent and relational.â€™
Not all the offerings will cover such hot-button issues. Following an edgy piece in the festivalâ€™s 2010 edition (based on his experiences as a political prisoner), Burmese artist Htein Lin presents a more calming commission based on his Buddhist beliefs, a spiritual refugee entitled â€˜The Triple Gemâ€™. Taking over the Esplanadeâ€™s Jendela visual-arts space for the duration of the festival, the piece incorporates monksâ€™ robes and other religious objects spread over three rooms â€“ each representing one of the three â€˜jewelsâ€™ in Buddhist thought.
In terms of the festivalâ€™s overall ideology, if any, Melissa Lim maintains the pieces are simply all meant to broaden the horizons and mindsets of both artists and audiences. â€˜We seek to present thought-provoking works which question and challenge the status quo, [offering] new meanings, definitions and perspectives, and which allow for audience participation and/or feedback. We are also focused on creating local content, and providing the necessary support and platform for local works to reach beyond their usual audience demographic.â€™
Overall, the 2012 festival offers nearly 20 projects from artists spanning 11 countries. Several artists will be making their Fringe debuts, including Jamal Penjweny of Iraq, who presents a series of jumping photos taken around his country. Other pieces are making their world premieres, such as â€˜Kim Jong Philâ€™, in which UK artist Philip Toledano uses his own face to re-create pre-existing dictatorial art from North Korea as well as statues of famous dictators around the world (Toledano previously exhibited at 2010â€™s M1 Fringe with a gift-shop installation constructed out of souvenirs from former US president George W Bushâ€™s foreign policy).
Additional visual-art pieces on display throughout the festivalâ€™s duration include photographic series from local artist Alecia Neo at The Substation and Japanese artist Fumiko Imano at the National Museum of Singaporeâ€™s Atelier. Catch them all, or pick just a few â€“ either way, donâ€™t miss out.
M1 Singapore Fringe Festival is at The Substation, Esplanade, ION Art and NMS from 15-26 Feb.