Credit Suisse: Innovation In Art Series Video, An Art, A History 1965 - 2010 A Selection from the Centre Pompidou and Singapore Art Museum Collections

Can videos be art?

The apt answer: Yes, anything can be art.

But I can't seem to reply with absolute conviction. Video art is so avant garde, rather unfathomable - at least to me.

It abandons all traditional tenets of aesthetics. It is mechanical, devoid of human imperfections and coolly aloof. Like other expressions of technology, it entertains while leaving an eventual sense of deprivation.

It is one of those art forms that inspire ambivalence and in the resultant space of confusion, finds its niche.

Why not take a look at one blockbuster exhibition in Singapore Art Museum?
My friend and I spotted a rather charming video installation.

Images project on two puppets and they converse in curmudgeonly tones. Their voices are gravelly with age and disdain. They sound like uncles in a wet market, something that I could unfortunately relate to.

The puppets are placed in obscure corners. Delightful to spot them as they lurk about. Somewhat enchanting.

It's an excellent concept, to give faces and voices to puppets. Eerie but inspired.
The following installation is by a Singaporean artist.

On first glance, it looks like a crumpled snake. In the background, a relentless stream of plaintive complaints issues.

Turns out that we're supposed to pull the circular hoops further to peek at a video of a berating Singaporean. A very literal interpretation of having tunnel vision... -.-

Didn't spend much time in this section. The pitched voice resonating in the room is unnerving.

We get to fill up a questionnaire.

What makes a world class society? Is Singapore one?

Out of gormless boredom, I decided to answer one. To my surprise, the museum attendant rewarded me with a badge. An unexpected gift.

I was shocked to see the works of Nam June Paik and Bill Viola in SAM.

They're the pioneers of videoart. They pushed the frontiers of aesthetics then. They're people who I studied in my H2 Art History syllabus. Awesome to finally behold works by them.

The following presentation of flesh and flash is disconcerting. Colours flare as people dance madly. Perhaps this videoart is a social commentary on the moral degradation with the onset of technology?

The below sequence of a fading moon turns out to a series of adjacent televisions. An interesting optical illusion.

Had to stand really close before I could see the individual outlines of the TVs. The silence and darkness of the exhibition space lends a meditative aura to the artwork.

Bill Viola's Portrait stretches the traditional definitions of representational art.

In the past, way before we were born, way before cameras exist, people painted to document events and characters. Art then was functional. It has a purpose.

Wealthy families could afford residential portrait artists. They paid handsomely for their images to be immortalised. With the advent of technology, art became less realistic and more liberal. Realism gave way to other isms - Surrealism, Impressionism, Fauvism, Abstract Expressionism and more.

Viola's take on portraiture is cheeky. In comfy armchairs with earmuffs, his audience sit and stare at recordings of people. There is little action.

There I was, staring at virtual people who were staring right back at me. I observed them and they, in turn, appeared to appraise me. I could only imagine how they must have felt as they gazed into the mechanic eye of a camera. Vulnerable? Bored, tired? Confrontational?

I like Bill's idea, this very playful reinterpretation of a traditional aspect of art - portraiture.

It gives art a continuity.
As I sit and write now, I realise that it doesn't matter what I think about videoart. It will exist with or without my opinions.

Well, this art form challenges many of the preconceived ideas I had. It is confrontational in its subtlety. It lacks all aesthetics; it isn't really pleasing to the eye. But it makes me think.

Methinks that I can learn to like it.