Friday, February 25, 2011

Shipwrecked (ArtScience Museum, Marina Bay Sands, 18 Feb 2011)

Three shows have opened at the ArtScience Museum at Marina Bay Sands, namely: "Shipwrecked: Tang Treasures and Monsoon Winds", "Traveling the Silk Road", and "Genghis Khan".


"Shipwrecked" is a collection of over 400 items found in a shipwreck off the coast of Belitung island in the Gelasa Straits (Gaspar Straits). I was actually involved in some of the production work for the exhibition so it is probably not possible for me to give an objective account of it - naturally I really like the Shipwrecked show a lot more than the other two exhibitions (which were brought in from the US). I guess it also feels a lot more significant as these are the first time the artefacts are being exhibited here as an original Singaporean collection, whereas the other two shows (Silk Road, Genghis) are shows which were acquired from other collections and then adapted for the space.


Touchscreen map interactive I worked on.

As the story goes, the shipwreck was discovered off the coast of Belitung by sea-cucumber divers in shallow waters of just 20 metres, making it an incredibly rare find in recent times. Found in the coast of Indonesia, it was an arabic dhow that would have sailed from Tang China, to the Abbasid Empire near present day Iraq and Iran. In the course of its epic maritime journey, it would most likely have passed Singapore (Temasek) although there are speculations on the variations of routes ships would have taken around this area.


Octagonal Gold Cup with dancers and musicians on the sides.

Stem Cup (Nose Wine Glasses)

Stem Cup (Nose Wine Glasses)


Bronze Mirror

Despite what appears as a somewhat tenuous connection, Singapore took an interest in this shipwreck, and it was eventually bought over by Singapore Tourism Board & Sentosa. George Yeo's (Minister for Foreign Affairs) speech at the opening belies the metaphorical nature of this acquisition, citing this shipwreck as proof of Singapore's context as the networked city - and an opportunity for us to "relink Singapore to other places like China, Oman, etc."

One may ask what is the ostensible connection between these various things - Pottery from 9th century Tang China? Camels and spices from the Silk Road? Mongol warriors? So how are these related to art or science? At this point only the permanent collection at the ArtScience Museum directly deals with the intersection between art and science. It seems the only thread connecting the three exhibitions is TRADING AND CONQUERING! Perhaps over time (and under less pressurising circumstances) the exhibitions chosen for the space will have more direct relation to art/science; otherwise it should become a museum for exhibitions about maritime/overland trade and conquests! TRADE/CONQUEST MUSEUM? Uh, that might be apt for Marina Bay Sands? (I like it best when people are directly honest about what they are doing...)

Speaking of pottery collections, I was at NUS Museums recently where I found the most amazing display of broken pottery in their permanent collection! I LOVE THIS CABINET!


So, it's all broken into pieces, but we can't quite just throw it away, can we? But what happens to all the broken historical artefacts of the world? Do they still have collection value? And if they don't have collectors value, then what other value do they have?


I love how it looks like someone has lovingly tried to piece it together but the gaps are still so huge between the cracks. So endearingly earnest.


Random Ubin Pottery


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