The Singapore Biennale: On Exhibition Sites

Updated: Oct 20, 2021

Abstract paper submitted to the Thirteenth International Conference on the Arts in Society: Social, Political and Community Agendas in the Arts

Inside the hotel. Tatzu Nishi, Merlion Hotel. 2011, Mixed media installation. Singapore Biennale 2011. From: http://www.tatzunishi.net (accessed October 15, 2016)


Biennales are everywhere. It has become a brand of art exhibitions that has spread even across Southeast Asia. Yet, each biennale was created from different rationales. They also have both general and particular issues that arise from them. In this paper, we can expect a general understanding of the contemporary definition of a biennale, how its structure has morphed today, and what are the critical discussions surrounding it. These will be discussed in the context of the Singapore Biennale.


More specific for the Singapore Biennale itself is its challenges concerning the exhibition space. Singapore is known to be an economically developed country. Hosting and, more importantly, sustaining a biennale is financially feasible. However, such a small island lacks cultural spaces. Strategies used to solve this issue is unpacked by using theories of Henri Lefebvre and Doreen Massey, that is, the appropriation of space as semantic systems of late capitalism and neoliberalism. This demonstrates how the Singapore Biennale chose to create exhibition spaces that circumvent their limited geography. At times, issues such as gentrification arise when the Singapore Biennale overlaid historic and cultural sites as exhibition sites. To critique this, the paper will look at two artworks: the Magic Carpet (2006) by Xu Bing and the Merlion Hotel (2011) By Tatzu Nishi. Both critiques of the artworks will focus on how the exhibition site affected viewership. How the biennale negotiated between the artwork, the site, and the audience will be made evident in this paper.


With more Southeast Asian countries riding the biennale brand, the paper finds it important to study how the biennales function in the region's context. It focuses on Singapore Biennale's spatial form through its exhibitions to grasp its function and relevance. The exposition on critical issues of space under this context hopes to unpack the negotiations between the site, the audience, and the biennale.