SB2011 Part 2 - review - Charles LaBelle

This is part two of a three-part post, consisting of my reviews of the 2011 Singapore Biennale written for Asian Art News. Note these are the unedited versions of those reviews, with related images - not taken from the edited and published versions in the magazine.
(also see: Part 1 and Part 3)

Charles Labelle at SB2011

The invitation of Charles LaBelle to participate in this year’s Singapore Biennale can be called a stroke of genius, a simple yet great idea that arose from the event’s curators doing their work well. Originally from the US and now based in Hong Kong, LaBelle produces art that speaks of global citizenship and of the artist’s own wanderlust which very much embraces Asia. For the purpose of this event, it does so with partial focus on Singapore. Covering many bases of the Biennale organisers’ themes and intentions, LaBelle’s work contains thought-provoking elements including the artistic process, the personality of the artist, contemplation of physical environment, and a type of universal existential awareness, all within the conceptual framework of one ongoing, individual, originally-American life. LaBelle’s project is of works on paper, in operation since 1997 – a drawing of every new building he enters. It is both massive in its undertaking and implications, and understated and beautiful in its simplicity. LaBelle’s drawings are shown in three groups at SB2011: Public Intimacy (Singapore), 115 drawings from a visit in 2010; and selections from Corpus, which includes buildings somehow related to human physicality, and Guilty, which includes buildings somehow related to searching for enlightenment. His allocated room, off one of the highschool-esque corridors of the old Kallang Road airport, contains so much information and so many entryways, both visible and invisible, into philosophical musings that it offers a major gift for visitors - they will surely contemplate it later in their minds in daily life, not just there in front of the work. The drawings’ appearance at surface level, in other words, gives little indication of the depths to which the project reaches. Public Intimacy (Singapore) gives the viewer myriad angles from which to reassess the city they are in. The comparative meaning of a 7-Eleven when considered at the same level (another building entered) as bigger or supposedly more important buildings such as the Raffles Hotel, Cathedral of the Good Shepard, or La Salle Academy is one. There is another in contemplating buildings like Ben & Jerry’s on the night safari, or the Hard Rock Café, which reawaken (or not) fun and possibility and social connections.  Another invaluable component of the work is the insight in can provide on the personality of the viewer. It can ignite within them an awareness of their own preferences, joys and sadness, their personal opinions and emotions linked to various types of building. This reviewer for example, gets about as much joy from Charles LaBelle having visited a museum or library as having visited one myself, and so, I am an intense museum and library lover. Of course, I knew this, but now it is kind of official, and although it may seem trivial, it is hardly so at all. The work develops an interactive component, another layer to add to its layers upon layers of meaning, and at SB2011 viewers can contemplate their personal reactions to such buildings as churches, tattoo parlours, brothels, schools, train stations, and hotels luxurious and basic, and discover the inner stories and associations they hold about them. It can be general: a whole city and its energy, an entire category of building, or particular: that noodle house on that street that one time. Although the process of making and cataloguing and record-keeping must get tiresome, such involvement tells of the patience of the artist and indeed of artists in general. On display at the Singapore Biennale the project proves an ever-evolving relevancy from exhibited context to exhibited context, and in turn attributes purpose to the event itself. LaBelle’s unique brand of current-day conceptual art and the stability of the installed drawings, a mere segment of the entire, larger project, is spotlighted here in the company of newer, more temporary efforts of other great artists.