Contemporary art exhibition at SGH Museum

Two rectangular glass blocks with the data chart of brainwaves etched into their different layers. A variety of used soaps in kidney-shaped dishes. Paintings of the floor plans of lost buildings.

These are some of the art pieces on display at the Singapore General Hospital (SGH) Museum's first contemporary art exhibition, in collaboration with Singaporean curator Susie Wong.

The exhibition, titled [The Machine] Contemplating The Body, is about how the hospital, specifically SGH, can be used as a point of discussion about the body and its relation to medical science and societal attitudes.

It features works by six artists, a mix of established artists and up-and-coming ones from here and overseas. The local artists are Michael Lee, Tamares Goh, Melissa Tan and Ashley Yeo Yakka. Rounding off the sextet are Jiselle Magbanua from the Philippines and Sarani Gunawickrama from Sri Lanka.

Lee, whose interest lies in urban memory and fiction, especially those to do with the topic of loss, contributed the paintings of floor plans.

Tan, a young artist who studied fine arts at Lasalle College of the Arts, seeks to explore themes of transience and the beauty of the ephemeral, as reflected in her work Landscape, composed of the two glass blocks and data chart of brainwaves.

"This exhibition is our second installation which marries our medical history and the creative disciplines... I think it's wonderful how the visual artists interact in a space such as this," says SGH Museum curator Toby Huynh.

The 425 sq m museum also has on display artefacts and records which represent nearly 190 years of SGH's history. There are also interactive displays, such as a full-size animatronic figure of the late esteemed professor E.S. Monteiro, a former SGH doctor, which show the development of medical specialisation and medical education in Singapore.

The exhibition is essentially a dialogue between the artists and the museum's exhibits, says Ms Wong, 58, who is also an art writer and artist.

She explains: "The exhibition draws a closer connection between the role of the hospital as a 'mediator' of the body's corporeity and 'life'.

"The artists provoke us to rethink the hospital as a site of medical science and, as technology exponentially updates our senses, the continuing concerns of the way we see or are enabled to see the body."

For example, Goh's installation of 50 soap trays placed around the museum reflects how hospitals manage hygiene and protect against viral infections in high-risk premises.

Opened in May 2005, the SGH Museum is housed in the Bowyer Block, built in 1926 as part of the hospital. It is the only remaining block of the complex of buildings which was constructed then, and was designated a national monument in 2009.

The museum's last collaboration with artists was a dance performance by the Arts Fission Company in April 2012, as part of the Dance Take-Out performance series, which explored the idea of liveable cities through activities to engage the community.

Ms Huynh, 43, the museum's curator since 2007, has a bachelor's of art history and criticism from the University of Western Sydney. She says she wants to take the museum forward by filling the whole space with artists and performance pieces. "I hope to do more collaborations with other artists, a screenplay on Marie Curie and her daughters, and an exhibition on women doctors and medicine."

View it
Where: Singapore General Hospital Museum, Bowyer Block
When: Till June 30, 9am to 6pm (weekday),
9am to 1pm (Saturday), closed on Sunday and public holiday
Admission: Free
Info: There are free Coffee Mornings on Friday and Saturday from 10am to noon, when curator Susie Wong and the artists will be present to give a tour of the exhibition and talk to visitors

This article was first published on June 10, 2014.
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