Bloodline of Peace 2015

Singapore Art Museum Collection

5 STARS - Art Reflects on … | Bloodline of Peace 2015 | Singapore Art Museum Collection

Expansive in scope and spirit, yet intimate and personal, Bloodline of Peace 2015 carries the imprint of an invisible  performance by a community of individuals who generously provided the artwork with its corporeal materiality that is also the content and subject matter -  the human matter of blood in its biological, symbolic and social dimensions. Commissioned by the Singapore Art Museum on the momentous occasion of the country's 50th year of independence , Bloodline of Peace 2015 was assigned to speak to the idea of Peace, one of the universal humanist values depicted by the five stars in the national flag, hence the show’s title 5 Stars - Art Reflects on Peace, Progress, Justice, Equality and Democracy which embodies the curatorial team's impetus to appraise the narratives of identity and nationhood through the lens of contemporary art, calling for an unprecedented national conversation around the titular post-colonial founding beliefs upon which Singapore is seen to have flourished into the city-state of today.

The culmination of a crowd-sourcing campaign, the blood for this project was harvested in a highly-medicalized initial step of extraction where each donor, representing key communities such as the armed forces, the medical profession, civil defence, education, industry, the arts as well as Singapore’s pioneer generation, committed to a stringent health screening test prior to its incorporation into the artwork. Biologically produced 'in secret’ within the body's recesses - and in turn, ‘secreted' into the artwork in a highly-supervised medical process, Bloodline of Peace 2015 relocated the biological and genetic imprint of donors from within the corporeal realm of the body to the museum environment, preserved in the heterotopic vacuum of paired lenses for conservateurs to care for in perpetuity. 

The museum itself animates just such a form of heterotopia because of its relationship to real objects in time. In the external world, objects are subjected to the corrosive forces of time while inside the museum, they acquire a new and different status as a consequence of their perceived value of uniqueness  - the aura of rarity and desirability. Even the most mass-produced object becomes a ‘diamond’ when placed within the museum once its copies expire. In the museum’s heteropic environment, objects are caught in a premature archaelogy, enwrapped not by layers of mud, sediment or earth but by the very air of the institution that captures them like a butterfly pinned to green felt. In this time-stilled environment, everyday objects in the museum become the signifiers of epochs that stand in for the hands that might have touched, caressed or used them - the beauty in the design, a reason to possess. Hence, if the museum is a custodian as its broadest function, Bloodline of Peace 2015 is a museum without walls - a soft gridded architecture carrying the precious corporeal traces of self originating from individuals in an act of peace, and whose cellular DNA occupy the tiniest airless space between lenses in a land-scarce city to escape the ravages of time. 

Life-giving because it is in fact alive, blood is living matter, teeming with live cellular information. With a limited window of time,  each fresh miniscule red droplet is carefully dropped into the 11,500 lens units that are then linked by stainless steel pins to form a forty-metre lens patchwork quilt. Requiring 34,500 square hand-cut lenses to construct into a sea of micro-heterotopias, the quilt undulates in waves and sweeping spans that envelope the viewer in its cascading folds. Offering enclosures yet public and visible, the artwork scintillates with star-bursts of light that "shifts” in synch with any change of viewing position, “stalking” the visitor as he or she moves across the generous space dedicated to its presentation. Evident too is the performance of biological time. Sealed, yet openly transparent, thousands of blood “autographs”undergo a bio-aesthetic gradation from fresh oxygen-rich red to a dull brown, prolonged as much as the sealing action allows. The artwork crosses this marked but short-lived boundary in a corporeal performance of transitioning from the live document it started out as into the historical bio-relic it has become before one’s very eyes. 

These blood offerings stand as the rich complex symbols of the sacrifice/s that the state of peace entails, and by implication, its fragility. Often unaccountably shed in violence and tyranny, exacting untold suffering in warfare that is well-documented throughout history. But when freely given, blood even saves the lives of complete strangers. On a different scale, the profoundly selfless act of laying down one’s life for an other  - another individual, group, tribe or nation, cause or belief - is surely the highest form of sacrifice one can make.  A transient state, peace is often defined in terms of absence - as and in the absence of aggression, conflict, war, and yet, peace is not simply a cessation of war. Neither is it the basic provision of human needs such as water, food and shelter but the right to human rights that open the doors to freedoms eg the freedom from discrimination, to practise a chosen belief and religion, to be educated, treated with dignity and equality and much more. It also demands commitment, conviction and maintenance on a day to day basis within society or at the frontiers of war. 

In this gesture of “making” peace in the present, Bloodline of Peace 2015 also seeks to honour and keep alive the performance of ingenuity by women prisoners of war as epitomised by the creation of the Changi Quilts, currently held at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra. The idea of Mrs Ethal Mulvany, these historic patchwork quilts were made by women interned in Changi Prison by the Japanese during the fall of Singapore on 15th February 1942. They  represent one of the most profound series of objects ever hand-crafted by female prisoners of war in a political space of confinement for whom quilt-making was much more than a way to boost their morale or to relieve the boredom from imprisonment. With the scantiest of resources, and without violence, these women prisoners kept their male loved ones held in other camps psychologically alive by smuggling secret messages in plain sight - visibly sewn onto the quilt patches. 

* The lens material for Bloodline of Peace has a provenance of use for re-distributing light from a single light bulb in this artist’s early work “Third World Extra Virgin Dreams 1997” which was shown at the 6th Havana Biennial. More recently, they were used to  construct an 8m interface for a mural-scale portrait of a fictional national family presented in the solo show “Imprint: New Works by Suzann Victor” at STPI, Singapore. 

* The artist is grateful to the following individuals for their precious contribution to the Peace Quilt Project: Curator Joyce Toh, Project Medical Supervisor: Dr John Chia, Lead Technicians: Martin Kirkwood & Ambrose Victor Emmanuel, Assistants: Tan Wei Luen, Melissa Wong, Stellah Lim, Supporter: Jenny Edgar, Head of Exhibition Design: Heleston Chew, Head of Lighting: Derrick Yam, Lead Installation Technicians: Jumari Sanion & Roslee M. Noor, Key Community Blood Donors: Stephen Toh (Pioneer Generation), Dr John Chia (Medical Community), Ambrose Victor Emmanuel (Military Community), Louis Ho & Joyce Toh  (The Arts Community), Stellah Lim (Artists and Art Education Community), Brian Pang (Industry - VC Community), Tan Wei Luen (Graduate Community), Matthew Yeo (Industry - Engineering Community), Suzann Victor (Women Artists Community). And much thanks and appreciation to Arron Teo for the video documentation and Simon Marshall for image stills. 

Go back to Bloodline of Peace 2015

     © Suzann Victor 2020