Accepted paper:

For lack of Institutional Memory: Archiving as Artistic Practice in Singapore


Nora A. Taylor (School of the Art Institute of Chicago)

Paper short abstract:

This paper examines the Singapore Art Archive Project founded in the 1980s and managed by artist Koh Nguang How (b. 1963) a trove of thousands of documents pertaining to artistic events that took place in Singapore prior to the establishment of museums.

Paper long abstract:

For the past 25 years, artist and independent research Koh Nguang How (b. 1963) has been photographing, recording and collecting newspapers and documents pertaining to art events in Singapore. Inspired by the creative spirit initiated by artist Tang Da Wu (b. 1943), Koh followed the community of artists clustered around the Artists' Village with a camera and a tape recorder in part to counter the absence of art institutions in a country that paid little attention to contemporary art until the mid 1990s. In the fall of this year, the soon to be inaugurated National Gallery of Singapore, has offered to purchase Koh's archive of Singapore Art as a "work." Koh's archive is of scholarly interest for several reasons that go beyond the content of the archive proper. For one, it poses an ontological question, that is, what exactly constitutes this "work" that Southeast Asia's largest museum is acquiring? For another, it prompts reflection on the institutionalization of artistic practices that were once marginalized by the very type of institutions that is taking possession of it. What does Koh's archive then say about the writing of art history?

panel P029
Bodies of Archives/Archival Bodies