Exhibition Review: Foetus – Birth and Death

Foetus – Birth and Death. A review by Justin Lebrun.

Every living thing was born. Every living thing will die.

As a society, we often don’t think deeply into the duality of birth and death. We’ve oversimplified and categorised the two words. Birth is good, death is bad. In truth, birth and death are just the two sides of the same coin. As soon as someone is born, they have simultaneously begun on a path that leads directly and inexorably to death.

We fill our lives with content, hoping to prolong life as far as we can take it. Some may walk the road of life for many, many years. Others reach an impasse unexpectedly after only a few months. What happens when you take this path, and shrink it to the point where birth and death nearly coincide? Intense anticipation and joy, immediately followed by pain and grief: can there be beauty in a stillbirth?

These are a few of the thoughts that I reflected upon after my visit to the exhibition Foetus – Birth and Death by local Singaporean artist Kenny Leck. Some of you may recognise the name – Kenny is the founder of the popular local bookstore BooksActually, which is located only a few minutes walking distance away from Grey Projects, where the show is being exhibited. This being his first solo show in three years, I was understandably excited to see how his artistic perspective has evolved.

The work itself is composed of a multitude of small metallic boxes resting on a large wooden installation.

Each box contains different found/rescued objects, often juxtaposing items which would never comfortably be in proximity to each other. Sometimes, this juxtaposition is clear and direct, such as in the case of one box’s contents: a baby doll with nails in her hands, particularly poignant for a Christian audience.

Other times, the juxtaposition is more subtle. In this beautiful piece, a bee, immortalised in death, has landed upon what seems to be a piece of freshly birthed pincushion-like coral.

Another box contains little more than previously lit candles, now slightly melted. I am not sure what Kenny was specifically trying to portray, but I saw a bitter irony in such a simple display. These candles, often thrown away right after they are blown out by a birthday girl or boy, have finally achieved permanence as a work of art. If preserved, they could long outlast the life for which they were manufactured to celebrate.

Regardless of how conceptual or direct each box is, they all share a common theme and evoke in me this message: Life is full of pain and loss… and yet, if we can take a step back and box our feelings, we should not lose track of their eventual beauty. – Justin Lebrun.

Foetus – Birth and Death is freely viewable at Grey Projects, 6b Kim Tian Road, located a short walking distance away from Tiong Bahru MRT station. The show runs until October 26. Gallery opening hours are from 1-7pm Mondays through Fridays, and 1-6pm on Saturdays.

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