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ruangrupa (ArtLab division), Lonely Market, 2009, Jakarta. Courtesy the artists
Last year Southeast Asia hosted two significant media art shows, both daring to juxtapose recent work from the region with seminal collections from the First World. In ‘Video, an Art, a History 1965—2010’, the Singapore Art Museum (SAM) tentatively aired its nascent Southeast Asian collection alongside a roving blockbuster from the Centre Pompidou in Paris. At the National Gallery of Indonesia (Galnas), the Jakarta artists’ collective ruangrupa held the fifth instalment of their video art biennial, OK Video, featuring a curated selection from the catalogue of Electronic Arts Intermix in New York.1 Both exhibitions were rare treats, featuring contemporary video works from Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam, side by side with works by Western artists including Bill Viola, Dan Graham, VALIE EXPORT and Vito Acconci — the first time this canon had alighted on the region en masse. In both exhibitions worlds came together, but they were worlds apart.
I found myself wondering what it would be like if these two worlds were swapped, if SAM were to take over the ageing halls of Galnas, and ruangrupa the colonial nooks and crannies of SAM. For a start, we would see OK Video with fewer mosquitoes, and comfortable seats; with an injection of Singaporean efficiency, Galnas would get a much needed overhaul. SAM would meanwhile be unrecognisable, revived by a shot of the spontaneity and personality it lacks. Alas, it was wishful thinking. One can only dream of a day when the region’s resources are effectively shared.
It could be objected that I am not comparing apples with apples. SAM is a well-funded public museum, with its own collection, but, like all of Singapore’s institutions, it