Is this Art?

I can empathise with how that writer feels. He is frustrated with the abstract works of this year’s Biennale and isn’t shy about airing his discontent.

The interior of a rundown shophouse, ribbons of black rope pinned against the wall, perplexing snatches of videos… How can these pieces be considered art? Art should be beautiful and thought-provoking, not so – dare I describe it this way? – commonplace.

Secret Affair, an installation in 8Q@SAM by Roslisham Ismail, evokes joy, curiosity, wonder – all that and a nagging discomfort that this avant garde piece isn’t art.

Six refrigerators are arranged in a ring, some fully stocked and others, woefully empty. My friends had fun, peering into the compartments and leaving the doors open for a second too long just to feel the fridge’s chilly breezes.

Highly interactive, no doubt interesting. Does this mean that I’ve a priceless artwork at home – my gray-green 5 years-old fridge – and, shamefully, did not appreciate its beauty all this while?

This begs the question: is this Art? With a little imagination, the tenets of 19th century aesthetics can be applied to our 21st century Biennale piece.

Light sources are placed beneath the six fridges, creating a shifting web of shadows. Leonardo da Vinci would have found this a fascinating mastery of Chiaroscuro.

Each fridge has an identity. Some are lovingly stocked with eggs, vegetables and Yakult. Others reflect paranoia, with meat sealed in airtight boxes and labeled meticulously. One of them is clean, almost empty, hinting at the owners’ loneliness. The deliberate composition of food lends shades of meanings to each piece.

In classical paintings, each element contributes to an overarching theme that the artist is exploring. Choice of colours, motifs and their arrangements play an integral role in understanding such works.

It makes sense, therefore, to understand this cyclic set of six refrigerators from the arrangement of food within them. I can sense warmth, from the clean, filled fridge and quiet desperation, in the repetitious stacks of airtight containers

Refrigerators, it seems, are mirrors reflecting our urban society.

Like traditional masterpieces, this installation carries multiple layers of meanings, allowing room for us to interpret it from our unique perspectives. It manages to communicate privately – yet, universally – with each viewer.

So, is this art? It doesn’t really matter – not to me, at least – if some people don't consider this installation as art. It made me think, gave me a voyeuristic joy and left me strangely energised. It was awesome and still is.

"Art” is nothing but a term. If we are willing to change our perspectives, anything can be beautiful, thought-provoking and a masterpiece.

In giving the artwork a chance, I gave myself an opportunity too.

Now, I’m going to take a good look at my fridge, to see what it reflects about my family and for a can of Coke.

P.S. take a closer look at your fridge too.