Between 2 and 3

Solo Exhibition, Gallery Everson Hotel, 2001


When confronted with a wire sculpture of Victor Tan Wee Tar’s, one is invariably drawn to handling the figure and marveling at the intricate handiwork that has gone into its synthesis. The medium of stainless steel wire, especially when used for figuration, is Victor’s own in Singapore, innovated as a student in the LaSalle-SIA College of the Arts in the mid-90s. The wire is coiled and shaped into human form, beginning first with a loose contouring of the body, head and limbs, then followed by additional filling in and densification which gives muscle to the skeleton. Originally building a figure from thinner wire to thicker strands, Victor’s fingers are now nimble enough to shape a figure directly with wire of a single thickness, using the thinner strands only for a finer touch and to secure segments in a desired posture. The virtuosity of the contouring process is now captured in a series of deft wire sketches in Between 2 and 3, his first solo exhibition in Singapore.

Visitors to Victor’s studio in Telok Kurau have often commented on the dynamism of his incomplete figures; they possess a distinct character that would change if the figures were filled in. This has encouraged him to mount the current exhibition, which explores using wire to sketch out figures in motion, or at rest. A pencil sketch on paper usually conveys a sense of immediacy with ease because strokes can be applied quickly, following the rapid motion of the artist’s hand. Is it possible to convey a similar vibrancy and essence using a solid medium such as sculpture? Between 2 and 3 presents Victor’s investigations into this intriguing question.

His chosen medium, wire, affords him one advantage that bronze-casting or ceramic work is unable to, that of a particular quality of line. Line is able to give a feeling of movement, and of flow. There is an elusive energy in a line sketch that is difficult to emulate in a solid format. In sculpture, wire can best capture these qualities of line. Wire can shape the outline of a human torso with precision and speed, particularly in the hands of someone as skilled as Victor. Wire coiling can also fill in a figure outline, much as the application of several pencil marks shades in and provides volume to a flat contour. This ambiguity between techniques which are more commonly applied to one medium than another provides the uncertainty as to whether the work is more of a two-dimensional (2D) than three-dimensional (3D) nature, or otherwise somewhere in between – Between 2 and 3, so to speak.

The economy of use of wire in this current series reinforces the idea of a sketch. Occasionally the front contours of the figure will be more defined than the back, giving the impression of a man rushing forward. The idea of a man in motion is effectively created, and strengthened by the arrangement of several of the figures in succession (The Awareness of Being), as in stop-action photography or animation storyboards. Figures in dynamic motion are contrasted by other figures lying prostrate. These prone figures explore the aesthetics of the horizontal line, and their stagnancy acts as a counterpoint to the fleeting impermanence of other more vertically-oriented running forms. Again an impression of ‘between’-ness is created, here between motion and stillness. Being caught between two states is a recurrent theme with Victor who exhibited a large sculpture entitled ‘Between’ in the exhibition Provocative Things at Sculpture Square (1999). There, a life-sized wire figure emerged from a suspended wooden doorway, fixed yet hanging, tentatively testing the external environment, but not entirely divested of his background (see the maquettes present in this exhibition). The artist’s statement for the work suggests a metaphor for human existence being in a continual state of flux and uncertainty, but that we can live for the moment and dare to determine our own directions.

What background has the artist emerged from? In his diploma studies at LaSalle-SIA College of the Arts, Victor gravitated naturally towards the 3D media. Partially sighted due to optic neuritis, the tactility of sculpture has allowed him to shape his expressions into concrete form. Although a ceramics major, Victor had already begun experimenting with wire in his first year of studies (1995), starting with less well-defined creations, but evolving quickly to discrete figures. Using his own body as a basis for obtaining human proportions, the vast bulk of his output is in the male form. The early work focused on sitting and kneeling figures, then as he became more adept, Victor’s figures found their feet, exploring balance and posture in increasingly dramatic compositions, and in the current exhibition, movement. For wire, he has utilized galvanized steel, copper, brass, and now, stainless steel, which gives his figures a shiny, flexible resilience.

After completing his diploma, Victor spent an additional year to obtain his Bachelor of Arts in Fine Arts (Sculpture) from the RMIT, and in 1999, became the first Singaporean to win the Commonwealth Arts and Craft Award, leading to a 6-month residency in London with the sculptor Bryan Ellery. His stint abroad did not change his technique (media such as video and performance remain distant to him) as much as broaden his perspective on life in general. Observing his host’s activities (which included considerable time out of the studio meeting people and arranging projects), Victor has strengthened his resolve to be more interactive socially and pro-active in the management of his career. He discovered that attitudes in the London art world were not unlike that at home, with differing hierarchies of artists, collectors and dealers, just much more diverse and massive in scale.

Victor finds inspiration from his feelings, his interactions with people, and his beliefs, which are rooted in the Buddhist faith. Meditation has heightened his concentration and state of consciousness, making him acutely aware of the here and now. He does not see his work as particularly Singaporean, a trait shared by several local artists who do not proceed from a strong background of traditional culture, and whose work takes on either an internationalist feel or is of an intensely personal nature. Before losing his sight, Victor had not made any particular study of established three-dimensional artworks, so his creations are all the more precious, referencing not any art historical masterwork but arising from his own internal visions. From his initial explorations of relatively formal postures and stances, more inventive compositions have surfaced which suggest intriguing stories behind each work (the two figures reaching out to touch from the ‘Okay’ series at the Singapore Expo, Between Ideas in this exhibition). For his first solo exhibition Born in Gallery 47, Central London (2000), Victor explored issues of creation, single parenthood and the sculptor as mother to his work, giving rise to figures of babies, and more unusually, pregnant men, and men in the process of labour. Between 2 and 3 sees Victor moving into yet another series of work, and establishing himself as one of the more exciting young artists on the Singapore art scene.

The works in Between 2 and 3 can roughly be grouped into four sections:
The Awareness of Being encapsulates the essence of the exhibition. A succession of wire figures presents a man waking up, arising from his slumber, standing up, reaching a wall, and surmounting the barrier to experience an ecstatic burst of wind. The idea of movement is adeptly conveyed using a series of figures, akin to the process of animation. However Victor uses 3D sculptures, not 2D drawings in series, and the movement is captured through wire, not paints nor pen, heightening the duality between 2D and 3D modes of expression.

Each figure also represents a crystallized instant in a series of actions. Victor has attended a number of meditation retreats in Thailand, Myanmar and Sri Lanka, and has learnt that a heightened consciousness can be achieved not just in a static meditative state, but by being deliberately aware of one’s motions. By repeating the words ‘rising – rising – rising’ and ‘standing – standing – standing’ as one goes through the postures, one can also focus to achieve inner calm.

Examining the prone Awakening and Rising figures, one notices freer form and line work, as compared to the Standing series, where the figures on two legs require balance (not easily achievable) to be upright. This is accomplished by subtle strengthening of the joints with wire, a process which tends to give the work a denser appearance. Reaching and Touching describe the approach to the wall; this then leads to the figure Climbing, which includes the larger-than-life dramatic centerpiece to the series. Balancing, Experiencing, Ecstasy and Gratitude phases beautifully capture the figure negotiating its precarious position, then exulting in its achievement. The series can be viewed as a metaphor for artistic creation as one awakens to an idea, familiarizes oneself with it, and overcomes hurdles to attain mastery and joyous fulfillment, until the cycle begins again with the next new idea (represented by a wire mass in The New Beginning).

Dancers in the Wind is a series that segues directly from the joy at the Ecstasy segment of The Awareness of Being. During the course of a day, Victor’s room at the top of Telok Kurau Studios receives a delightfully cooling breeze. At such times, the artist simply stops work to savour the wind, closes his eyes, pretends he is flying off and breaks into a blissful dance. The series captures the movement of air over a dancer’s outstretched arms, and the heavenly experience not inappropriately suggests an ethereal, angelic form.

Snapshots describe the actions, several of running men, captured freeze-frame and attached to a background of black wooden boards. The beauty of the line work is apparent in several wire sketches of varying sizes, again with the ambiguity of a 3D medium set on a flat 2D format. Motion is a large accomplished running figure, which is contrasted with a less well-defined, subtler, near-foetal depiction of Stillness. The Wind in my Hair, the Clouds at my Feet portrays two freely twirling spirits as they waft in the breeze, trailing a substantial flurry of wire coils. The maquettes for ‘Between’; in the exhibition Provocative Things at Sculpture Square (1999) are displayed as a snapshot of the past to show Victor’s continuing preoccupation with the theme. These depict a figure in various stages of finding its way through a frame. Note the appearance in maquette of the large Climbing figure in The Awareness of Being which was originally planned for the same 1999 show. Many other snapshots belong to the Running series, with an older set of four well-defined, dense figures mounted on acrylic in order to portray sequential racing postures, and a new set of adept wire sketches of torsos in an array of running postures.

Free-standing forms on pedestals continue on the theme of running men with Breasting the Tape and Victory. One of the more important pieces of the exhibition, Between Ideas depicts the artist caught in a dilemma between two competing directions in his mind, represented as two divergent figures. Finally, Victor presents a Self-Portrait in the sketch-style of Between 2 and 3. The bust of himself uses free-form contouring to shape the neck and head, but this coalesces into a denser mask-like face, enigmatic, mysterious, haunting, with no hint, save of the object itself, of the genius behind Victor’s talent.

Written by : Dr Pwee Keng Hock 1/8/2001, based on a conversation with Victor on 27/7/2001


2001 Arts Magazine – Review (PDF – 1.2MB)
2001 Lianhezaobao – Review (PDF – 1.2MB)
2001 Shin Nichi Ho (PDF – 172kb)
2001 Straits Times – His Art Sees All (PDF – 139kb)
2001 Today (PDF – 147kb)

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