Faris Nakamura Solo at Richard Koh Fine Art

Singapore artist explores politics and poetics of space
By Ho See Wah

Faris Nakamura, ‘The Dark Spaces In Between’, 2019, enamel on treated wood, 70 x 70 x 12cm. Image courtesy of Richard Koh Fine Art and the artist.

Faris Nakamura, ‘The Dark Spaces In Between’, 2019, enamel on treated wood, 70 x 70 x 12cm. Image courtesy of Richard Koh Fine Art and the artist.

Faris Nakamura is a surveyor of space. Born in 1988, the Singapore-based art practitioner belongs to a generation of young contemporary artists whose works seek to unravel the undercurrents of society. The focus is not just on artistic technique and aesthetics, but on making a statement about their milieu. In Nakamura’s case, his body of work centres on the study of spaces and their multitude of meanings. He will have a solo show at Richard Koh Fine Art titled ‘Remember This Place, For We Will Be Back Here Again Someday’ from 4 to 19 October. Speaking about what drew him to the young artist’s work, Richard Koh says, “I was intrigued by his artistic language, specifically the manner in which he unfolds the politics of spaces.”

This line of inquiry developed from his simultaneous feelings of attachment and detachment towards the bedroom he shares with his brothers, where there is a lack of privacy. When seeking out alternative sites for purposes such as studying or leisure, the artist was often met with the phrase, “you can’t do that here,'' despite the site’s lack of usage. Such incidents gave rise to his ongoing investigation into the relationships between spaces and those who occupy them, boundaries that are often invisible to the point of transgression, and the multitude of meanings that a single space can possess. Viewed in the context of Singapore, where the scarcity of space and hence the importance of productively utilising it is weaved into our national narrative, he invites us to take a closer look: who dictates how space is used in Singapore? How do we, as individuals, relate to these constructed spaces, or the lack thereof? 

Faris Nakamura, ‘Amid The Silence, Unquietly We Frolic’, 2019, enamel on treated wood, metal pieces and acrylic plastic, 90 x 130 x 18 cm. Image courtesy of Richard Koh Fine Art and the artist.

Faris Nakamura, ‘Amid The Silence, Unquietly We Frolic’, 2019, enamel on treated wood, metal pieces and acrylic plastic, 90 x 130 x 18 cm. Image courtesy of Richard Koh Fine Art and the artist.

Nakamura does not attempt to provide steadfast answers to these queries. Rather, for his show at Richard Koh Fine Art, the artist appeals to our personal exploration of and sentiment towards spaces for us to elucidate our own self-realisations. The nine sculptural works, with prices ranging from SGD2,900 to SGD6,500, reveal the materiality and presence of a space by stripping away all other elements, such as multiple colours, textures and adornments. What is left is the structure itself, and we are made aware of the compositional forms that shape the world we live in. Coupled with the works’ poetic titles, which evoke imagination and emotions as poetry often does, the audience is invited to be more conscious of these forms that pervade our everyday lives.

A captivating work is ‘Amid The Silence, Unquietly We Frolic’. This sculpture acts as a composite of a building’s key elements, including from the ubiquitous Housing and Development Board (HDB) blocks. He says, “I abstract these various and informative key building features and splice them together in different creative ways.” He further explains, “The sight of a right-angle triangle at HDB void decks would indicate a white space that exists underneath an ascending stairwell, a vacant space with no actual function. Also, the commonly seen two walls that are built closely parallel to each other designates a space that houses and hide just a singular pipe, but it is certainly big enough to be a usable space for someone.” When conceptualised as such, Singaporeans may discover a fresh new way of thinking about such spaces that are often relegated to the back of our minds. 

Faris Nakamura, ‘If We Sit Here and Look Up, I Wonder What Will We See?’, 2019, matt enamel coated mild steel, 90 x 52 x 42cm. Image courtesy of Richard Koh Fine Art and the artist.

Faris Nakamura, ‘If We Sit Here and Look Up, I Wonder What Will We See?’, 2019, matt enamel coated mild steel, 90 x 52 x 42cm. Image courtesy of Richard Koh Fine Art and the artist.

For ‘If We Sit Here and Look Up, I Wonder What Will We See?’, Nakamura replicates the form directly, a practice he does for buildings that are soon to be or already demolished. In this instance, the works are tinged with nostalgia, as the artist views this exercise as a documentation of spaces that, he divulges, “I once knew, I once loved, and/or I once used.” When viewed in tandem with the titles, which are permeated with pure wonder and curiosity, a subtle tenderness comes through. 

The viewers’ interactions with the works play an important role in how the sculptures are perceived. Nakamura says, “These works put the viewer in a position of an active participant discovering spaces for themselves, and as they squat, tip-toe, press their faces against the gallery walls and get into other positions they may not be comfortable with, they would get to experience the excitement of a reveal, the joy of a find, along with the discomfort and pain of achieving that.” In this manner, we are made aware of these nooks and crannies and consequently form our own meanings of the space. 

While there is heavy emphasis on one’s personal relationships and towards various spaces, the artist hopes that the audience can deepen their understanding and empathy towards individuals who act outside of the spaces’ “official” use. Ultimately, Nakamura does not impose this idea on us. Rather, he acts through his sculptures to deconstruct standardised ways of viewing space, so that one can realise the numerous ways of interpreting space usage. Such is the subtle sophistication of his works. 

‘The Camouflaged Man: Invisibility and Mimicry’, 2018, exhibition installation view at S.E.A. Focus, Singapore. Image courtesy of Richard Koh Fine Art and the artist.

‘The Camouflaged Man: Invisibility and Mimicry’, 2018, exhibition installation view at S.E.A. Focus, Singapore. Image courtesy of Richard Koh Fine Art and the artist.

In the spirit of promoting intersubjective understandings, Nakamura plans to expand his reach towards the region, and to engage in multidisciplinary projects. He speaks fondly of working with his musician brother Firdaus Nakamura to create something that welds art and music together. “I hope the local art scene will continue to have amazing collaborations, especially those that involve the community and are inclusive of people with disabilities,” says the artist. “Collaborations like this are one of the most effective ways to introduce and educate the public on contemporary art.”

'Remember This Place, For We Will Be Back Here Again Someday’ is on view at Richard Koh Fine Art, Singapore from 4 to 19 October 2019.