Ho Tzu Nyen: Time & the Tiger

June 22, 2024 – December 1, 2024
Hessel Museum of Art

Bard College
Annandale-on-Hudson, NY

Ho Tzu Nyen, One or Several Tigers (2017), video, smoke machine, automated screen, show control system, 14 wayang kulit puppets in aluminum frames. Video, two-channel HD video projections. Duration: 33 minutes. Courtesy of the artist.

Ho Tzu Nyen, One or Several Tigers (2017), video, smoke machine, automated screen, show control system, 14 wayang kulit puppets in aluminum frames. Video, two-channel HD video projections. Duration: 33 minutes. Courtesy of the artist.

Ho Tzu Nyen: Time & the Tiger marks the first in-depth examination of artist Ho Tzu Nyen’s multifaceted practice (b. 1976, Singapore) in the United States. Widely considered one of the most innovative artists to emerge internationally in the past 20 years, Ho creates complex and compelling video installations that probe reality, history, and fiction rooted in the culture of Southeast Asia. Time & the Tiger features five immersive film and multimedia installations spanning two decades that draw from historical events, documentary footage, art history, music videos, and mythical stories to investigate the construction of history, the narrative of myths, and the plurality of identities.

Ho works across a variety of media, including film, video, installation, painting, writing, and performance to critically examine how histories—be they state, cultural, or personal—are continually imagined, negotiated, and performed. Commenting on the cross-culturalism of Southeast Asia, Ho invokes and unravels a vast range of subjects, from pre-colonial and colonial myths, to European Renaissance paintings, to modernist narratives and geopolitics, to cinematic representations of a hybridized and unstable present.

The exhibition opens with Utama – Every Name in History is I (2003), a single-channel video exploring the “double founding” of Singapore, first in 1299 by Sang Nila Utama, said to be descended from Alexander the Great, and again in 1819 by British colonizer Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles. Drawing parallels between these founding narratives and other case studies, the video weaves in the stories of Christopher Columbus, Vasco da Gama, and Zheng He.

A centerpiece of the exhibition is the large-scale installation One or Several Tigers (2017), a signature work in Ho’s oeuvre. Blending the techniques of shadow puppetry and digital animation and, drawing on more than a decade of historical research, the work centers around a lithograph entitled Interrupted Road Surveying in Singapore (c. 1865-85) by German illustrator Heinrich Leutemann. This print depicts Irishman George Drumgoole Coleman, who is credited with designing and constructing modern-day Singapore, encountering a tiger while conducting surveying work in the jungle with a group of prisoners. In Ho’s imaginative restaging, the tiger represents the colonial imaginary, with the workers clearing the jungle to make way for what is today a hub of global capitalism and, as the artist references, a so-called “Asian Tiger” state.

Marking its U.S. debut are the new works T for Time and T for Time: Timepieces (both 2023–ongoing), co- commissioned by Singapore Art Museum and Art Sonje Center with M+, in collaboration with Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo and Sharjah Art Foundation. These video installations draw from the many traditions and histories of time and timekeeping across Asia. Representing a summation of Ho’s previous work exploring the heterogeneity of Southeast Asia, T for Time and T for Time: Timepieces reflect on our contemporary experience of time as stemming from European notions of linear progression, regulated by the Gregorian calendar and networked by computers. In it, Ho asks whether we can recover the different experiences of time that were evident in Southeast Asia before Western influence.

Other works on view include The Nameless and The Name (both 2015), which extends Ho’s inquiries into the pluralism of identities as they relate to Southeast Asia, in this case the story of the triple agent, Lai Teck, the Secretary-General of the Malayan Communist Party from 1939 to 1947. The region’s histories and tropes are further explored in CDOSEA (2017–ongoing), part of a larger, ongoing project entitled The Critical Dictionary of Southeast Asia. In CDOSEA, Ho amasses a rolling database of sounds and images—organized around the 26 letters of the English alphabet—that, together, speak to the complexities inherent in Southeast Asia. This seemingly disparate information is processed through an algorithm in which video, music, and narration loop in endless variation, constantly reconstructing the piece anew. F for Fold (2021), an expandable dictionary created by the artist, serves as a reference for the terms described in the video.

The first major survey of Ho Tzu Nyen provides a captivating and complex picture of a region in flux, raising questions about historical processes, collective myths, and national identities.

Ho Tzu Nyen was born in Singapore in 1976. He has had solo exhibitions at Substation Gallery, Singapore (2003); Artspace, Sydney (2011); Mori Art Museum, Tokyo (2012); Guggenheim Museum Bilbao (2015); and Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo (2024). He also represented Singapore at the 54th Venice Biennale (2011). He has participated in numerous international film festivals including the 41st Directors’ Fortnight at the Cannes International Film Festival in France (2009) and Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah (2012). Important group exhibitions include Singapore Biennale (2006); Thermocline of Art: New Asian Waves, ZKM Center for Art and Media, Karlsruhe (2007); Asia Pacific Triennial, Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane (2009); Autonomous Zones, Times Museum, Guangzhou, China (2013); 2 or 3 Tigers, Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin (2017); Aichi Triennale (2019); Sharjah Biennial 14, UAE (2019); Home Works 8, Ashkal Alwan, Beirut (2019); Nation, Narration, Narcosis: Collecting Entanglements and Embodied Histories, Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin (2020); Schéhérazade, at Night, Palais de Tokyo, Paris (2020); and Thailand Biennale (2024). Ho earned a B.A. in Creative Arts from Victorian College of the Arts, University of Melbourne (2001), and an M.A. in Southeast Asian Studies from the National University of Singapore (2007). Ho lives and works in Singapore.