STPI Gallery kicks off its 15th anniversary celebrations and Singapore Art Week (SAW2017) with We Are the World – These Are Our Stories, the first solo exhibition at the gallery by celebrated Singaporean artist Amanda Heng. In this unique presentation of a single work made up of 24 prints and their digital extensions, Heng applies her collaborative and process-driven approach to printing and papermaking techniques to highlight the power of storytelling and collective art making. This is the first time that both Heng and STPI embark on a project that extends beyond the traditional artist residency and the physical institution itself.
Heng worked with the STPI Creative Workshop and twelve individuals of diverse backgrounds and communities to produce this truly collaborative piece that encompasses performance as well as visual elements. During her first residency at STPI, Heng conducted her seminal performance piece Let’s Chat with the collaborators, engaging them in a conversation over plucking the tips off beansprouts (an act that resounds with locals as a domestic communal task). Using a treasured object or heirloom chosen by each individual as a starting point for an exploratory process of sharing (or “performances” as Heng calls them), Heng took a back seat and listened in order to build the mutual trust necessary for her participants to lower their personal barriers and perform their storytelling with the utmost honesty and vulnerability possible. Each individual then had the creative freedom, under Heng’s guidance and direction, to explore and reconstruct his or her memories using printing and papermaking.
The resulting prints are intensely private, personalised, yet undeniably relatable and universal, woven by the pathos of nostalgia into a tapestry of shared human experience. Yet the collaborative element of the work doesn’t end there, as for the first time in her practice Heng pairs an arresting QR code with each print to transport the work from the gallery space into the digital realm at the viewer’s wish. More than just a tool that lends a multilayered dimension to the work, for Heng, the QR codes are also an integral part of the viewer’s experience that transforms their passivity into active “participants,” as they enter and delve deeper into each storytelling experience beyond the boundaries of the physical space through short videos, interviews, and slide shows online. As Russell Storer, senior curator of the National Gallery, puts it, We Are the World – These Are Our Stories is “a bold statement about agency. It expresses that we, collectively, define the world around us, and that this task can be undertaken with the most modest of means, and in the most fundamental, universal way – the telling of stories.”