If the museum is a trustee of the nation’s cultural and intangible heritage as its broadest function, Bloodline of Peace 2015 can be likened to a museum without walls. Occurring as a floating grid architecture that extends through the space in cascading folds, it comprises 11,520 lens units each of which encloses a drop of human blood, precious corporeal offerings that occupy the tiniest airless space in a land-scarce city.
If the museum is a trustee of the nation’s cultural and intangible heritage as its broadest function, Bloodline of Peace 2015 can be likened to a museum without walls. Occurring as a floating grid architecture that extends through the space in cascading folds, it comprises 11,520 lens units that each feature a single drop of human blood (along with its genetic material) sealed within - the communities’ precious corporeal offerings of peace that occupy the tiniest airless space in a land-scarce city.
As part of a national impetus to audit the narratives of identity and nationhood on the momentous occasion of Singapore’s 50th year of independence, Bloodline of Peace 2015 was commissioned by the Singapore Art Museum to reflect upon Peace, one of the values symbolized by the five stars in its national flag. A transient state, Peace is often defined in terms of absence - as the absence of war and bloodshed or as a state of mind in the absence of personal conflict and turmoil. For peace to be meaningfully present and sustainable at a collective level, it demands active and creative construction, education and maintenance, oftentimes carried out by legions of armed forces and medical personnel with the ongoing efforts of civilian populations. Not least is the secure access to a standard of life that meets basic human needs (food, water, education and safety from harm) but human rights as well. Peace is not simply a cessation of war.
Bloodline of Peace presents as a monumental quilt made of square Fresnel lenses with a running length of 40 metres by 2.2 metres wide. Stainless steel pins link them into a flowing grid architecture of 11,520 lens units with a drop of human blood sealed within. This inbuilt flexibility manifests as undulating waves and sweeping spans of varying depths, originating from as high as 4 metres within the given space. Due to this fabric-like design attribute, it remains reconfigurable in shape, size or undulation in future venues.
Suspended from the ceiling, the veils of lenses magnify fragments of the environment as light passes through them, gifting the audience with splintering stars like virtual fireworks. Its physical dimensions and materiality compels the audience to wander between its folds or under its overhanging canopy to behold or explore up close as well as from afar its perceptual and sensory qualities, at once intimate yet see-through, private and completely public. As the viewer moves in and out of hidden spaces within the work, these flares appear to follow suit, “stalking” the viewer, seamlessly presenting exciting sequences in tandem with changing perspectives and profiles of the work. Remarkably and intentionally, this creates in the audience the sensation that he or she is the centre of experience. This effect of the work “looking back” at the viewer occurs immediately upon entry into the space and continues until each is out of the other’s perceptual field.
The veil is commonly understood as a means to obscure, protect or hide and conversely, to show, expose or display what is only to be half-seen. The work’s material transparency allows the environment to come through and be seen, but in fragments, framing how and what “pieces” of the surroundings are to be magnified and focused upon. In a language of chiaroscuro, the light “harvested” by the lenses re-registers the artwork’s grid formation as shadows upon surrounding walls and floor surfaces - the antithesis of light. In this sense, Bloodline of Peace 2015 hovers conceptually between a sculpture and an ephemeral painting by light, ever-shifting between the three-dimensional and the two-dimensional, transparency and opacity, concealment and disclosure.
The human blood featured between the lenses was freshly sourced and drawn from individuals in a highly medicalized “crowd-funded” ritual. As the force of life itself, blood is often shed in violent and aggressive warfare but also freely given to save the lives of complete strangers. In this project, representatives of key communities ranging from the armed forces, medical and civil defence, the arts as well as the pioneer generation were invited to donate life’s most precious gift for careful collection and display, sealed between the lenses as tiny yet conceptually rich and complex symbols of the sacrifice that peace entails, and by implication, its fragility.
Life-giving because it is in fact alive (for a window of time), the donated blood is living matter, teeming with active cellular material at the point of extraction and collection. Thus, it can be said that Bloodline of Peace is made of and with living art material while also its subject matter and content. As blood autographs, they formalize the individual donor’s will and expression rather than that of the artist per se. Collectively, the individual donors make peace in the context of a wider public performance.
Each little airless space between the lenses of Bloodline of Peace is comparable to a Foucauldian network of micro-heterotopias that display and bear open witness to the sealed tension of delaying, and conversely, prolonging the blood’s life cycle from freshness to expiration, in real time. The intervening period from fresh blood red to a perished red-brown marks the short-lived boundary between the artwork as a live document transitioning into a historical bio-relic.
Bloodline of Peace also references the Changi Quilts currently held at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra to keep alive the memory of the ingenuity of women prisoners of war. As a patchwork quilt itself, Bloodline of Peace honours the crafting of one of the most profound series of objects to be handmade by women prisoners in a confined political space. Conceptualized by Mrs Ethal Mulvany, these fabric quilts were made by women interned in Changi Prison by the Japanese during the fall of Singapore on 15th February 1942. Quilt-making in this context was intriguingly much more than a way to boost their own morale and relieve boredom. With the scantiest of resources, and without violence, these women kept their loved ones in other camps psychologically alive by smuggling secret messages in plain sight – visibly sewn onto the quilt patches!
The Fresnel lens material bear a provenance of use for scintillation and magnification in the artist’s work since 1997 when it was used in the installation “Third World Extra Virgin Dreams” at the 6th Havana Biennale in 1997. They were later utilized into a screening interface between audiences and pictorial narratives behind them to create perceptual and cognitive effects for an 8m mural portraying a fictionalised national family for the artist’s solo show “Imprint: New Works by Suzann Victor” presented by STPI in 2015, Singapore. This was further utilized to front circular paintings developed from the personal photo archives of this artist’s friend when she traumatically discovered her grandmother painful and secret past as a coerced Comfort Woman sexually enslaved by the Japanese military in WWII during her teenage years (She’s Closer Than You Think 2019, She’s Dearer Than You Think 2020).
The artist is grateful to the following for their valuable contribution to the Peace Quilt Project:
Curator: Joyce Toh | Project Medical Advisor: Dr John Chia | Head Technicians: Martin Kirkwood & Ambrose Victor, Assistants: Tan Wei Luen, Melissa Wong, Stellah Lim and Jenny Edgar | Head/Exhibitions: Heleston Chew | Head/Lighting: Derrick Yam | Lead Installers: Jumari Sanion & Roslee M. Noor | Key Community Blood Donors: Stephen Toh (Pioneer Generation), Dr John Chia (Medical), Ambrose Victor (Military), Louis Ho (Art), Stellah Lim (Artist/Education), Brian Pang (VC Industry), Tan Wei Luen (Graduate), Joyce Toh (Arts), Matthew Yeo (Industry, Engineering), Suzann Victor (Artist) | Video Documentation by Arron Teo Art//Photography | Images by Simon Marshall