Ho Tzu Nyen, The Nameless, video still, 2015
Ho Tzu Nyen: A for Agents
Apr 6 – Jul 7, 2024
Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo / MOT
Tokyo, Japan

Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo presents a solo exhibition of Singaporean artist Ho Tzu Nyen. Ho’s films, video installations, and performances traverse historical events, political ideologies, subjectivities, and cultural identities of Southeast Asia. Drawing from existing film footage, archival material, and documentation, rearranged into abstract yet evocative images, his work renders the complexities of geopolitical histories palpable. Ho’s work has been presented in numerous art institutions and biennials as well as theaters and film festivals worldwide. In Japan, he has participated in exhibitions including Time of Others at the Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo in 2015, and he has produced new work for the Performing Arts Meeting in Yokohama (TPAM) in 2018 and again in 2021, Aichi Triennale 2019, Yamaguchi Center for Arts and Media (YCAM) in 2021, and Toyota Municipal Museum of Art in 2021–22.

This latest exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo, Ho Tzu Nyen: A for Agents, traces the trajectory of the artist’s practice, presenting six film-based installations alongside a new work. The exhibition includes Ho’s earliest video installation, Utama – Every Name in History Is I (2003), which challenges the modern narrative of Singapore’s foundations by tracing its precolonial origin to Sang Nila Utama, who is said to have named the land “Singapura” (Lion City, in Sanskrit). Singapore’s past also features in One or Several Tigers (2017), where 3D animations of a tiger and a human morph into various instances of the ruler and the subjugated, including the precolonial tiger as ancestor spirit and the mythological weretiger; the colonial encounter of a tiger and the road surveyor George D. Coleman who served the British administration in the nineteenth century; and the battle between the British army and the “Tiger of Malaya,” Japanese military commander Tomoyuki Yamashita, during World War II.

A pair of works in the exhibition, The Nameless and The Name (both 2015), use existing film footage to speculate on two enigmatic individuals from Malaya’s tumultuous political past. The Nameless sheds light on Secretary-General of the Communist Party of Malaya, Lai Teck, who operated as a triple agent for the British, French, and Japanese during World War II, while The Name takes up the story of Gene Z. Hanrahan, who authored publications on the Malayan Communist Party using highly classified information – some believe him to be a ghostwriter.

[ . . . ]

T for Time (2023) marks a new chapter in Ho’s practice. It will be shown in Japan for the very first time. Based on an algorithm, the work generates sequences of images from multiple fragments of sampled footage to animate various aspects and scales of time: from elementary particles to the life span of different organisms to the vastness of the universe. The sequences evoke a multitude of meanings, sensations, and narratives, while questioning what is time, what mediates time, how do we experience it, and what could we imagine time to be?

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