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Ho Tzu Nyen
b. Singapore, 1976
Ho Tzu Nyen was born in Singapore in 1976. He earned a BA in Creative Arts from Victorian College of the Arts, University of Melbourne (2001), and an MA in Southeast Asian Studies from the National University of Singapore (2007). He works primarily in film, video, and performance, and has recently developed environmental multimedia installations. He has also written extensively on art. Ho appropriates the structures of epic myths, invoking their grandeur while revealing them to be not merely stories, but discursive tools. He is particularly concerned with those moments when contemporary figures imagine and invent the past in order to serve the needs of the present. These conditions are especially salient in the context of Singapore, which was established as an independent nation in 1965. A series of occupations and settlements by regional groups constitutes the history of the strategic port archipelago prior to 19th century British colonization. A desire to redress the country’s unaccounted-for history indicates the rise in nationalism that has emerged in parallel with accelerated economic development.
Ho’s work Utama—Every Name in History is I (2003), which consists of a video and twenty portrait paintings, images the quixotic pursuit of the distant past. Depicting the 14th-century figure of Sang Nila Utama, a discoverer of the island nation, the video weaves together apocryphal relationships with other historical regional leaders to boost the legitimacy of the founding narrative and collapses time by employing the same person to play other explorers including Christopher Columbus, Vasco da Gama, Zheng He, and Singapore’s British colonizer Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles. The work simultaneously assembles and dispels myth. Ho is also invested in establishing a tradition of Singaporean contemporary art; in 2005, he produced 4x4—Episodes of Singapore Art, a series of four documentaries on native artists that was aired on Singapore Television.
In 2006, Ho completed Sejarah Singapura, a commission for the National Museum of Singapore that features an immersive, panoramic audiovisual representation of precolonial Singapore. His first feature film, HERE (2009) is an allegory of historical reckoning. Shot in the style of a documentary and set in a mental institution, the film features a protagonist undergoing an experimental “videocure” treatment, a plot inspired by the writings of French theorist Félix Guattari. Ho’s character reenacts a traumatic personal event before the camera, altering its course to generate a positive outcome. He then watches himself on film to complete the therapy—empowered by the fictitious revision, he must confront the consequences of unreconstructed reality.
Ho has had solo exhibitions at Substation Gallery, Singapore (2003); Contemporary Art Centre of South Australia, Adelaide (2010); Artspace, Sydney (2011); and Mori Art Museum, Tokyo (2012). 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 Biennial (2006); Video Killed the Painting Star, Contemporary Center of Art, Glasgow (2007); Thermocline of Art: New Asian Waves, ZKM Center for Art and Media, Karlsruhe (2007); Asia Pacific Triennial, Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane (2009); No Soul for Sale, Tate Modern, London (2010); transmediale.11, Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin (2011); Surplus Authors, Witte de With, Rotterdam (2012); and Autonomous Zones, Times Museum, Guangzhou, China (2013). Ho lives and works in Singapore.