Expansive in scope and spirit, yet intimate and personal, Bloodline of Peace carries the imprint of an invisible performance by a community of individuals whose blood (and DNA) provided the artwork with its corporeal  materiality in all its bio-social, political and symbolic dimensions.  

Artist Statement

Expansive in scope and spirit, yet intimate and personal, Bloodline of Peace carries the imprint of an invisible performance by a community of individuals whose blood (and DNA) provided the artwork with its corporeal  materiality in all its bio-social, political and symbolic dimensions.  

Commissioned by the Singapore Art Museum to mark the momentous occasion of the nation’s 50th year of  independence, Bloodline of Peace was tasked to engage with Peace, one of the humanist values symbolised  by the five stars in the national flag. In this unprecedented national conversation initiated by the Museum,  the focus centred around the founding ideals upon which post-colonial Singapore was seen to have  flourished into the city-state of today. This was amply reiterated by the show’s titular manifesto “5 Stars - Art Reflects on Peace, Progress, Justice, Equality and Democracy” that pledged to re-appraise the narratives  of nationhood and identity through the lens of contemporary art.  

A transient state, Peace is often defined in terms of absence - as the absence of war and bloodshed (nation)  or conflict and turmoil (individual). To be present and sustainable, peace requires active construction,  education and maintenance, usually carried out by legions of armed forces and medical personnel with the  ongoing contribution of civilian populations. At times, only the most basic of human needs are safeguarded,  leaving regressive mechanisms of structural (economic, societal, political) and cultural violence (denial of  diversity, growth, equality etc) intact or unchallenged. Hence, an acceptable standard of life should be more  than basic human needs such as food, water and shelter, but human rights as well. Peace is not simply a  cessation of war. 

Bloodline of Peace undulates through the space in sweeping spans and cascading folds. Assembled into a matrix of 11,250 Fresnel lens units, each contains a single droplet of human blood displayed in full view. “Crowd-sourced” in a highly-medicalized process under the expert supervision of noted medical oncologist and researcher, Dr John Chia, the blood was derived from donors who agreed to undergo stringent preliminary testsfor the health safety of exhibition handlers. Each donor’s blood was extracted by registered nurses, while the meticulous depositing of single blood droplets between lenses was executed by a team  under the leadership of Emmanuel Victor over several weeks.  

As the force of life itself, blood is often shed in violent and aggressive warfare as well as cycles of birth, death, sickness or wounding. But it is also freely given to save the lives of complete strangers. In this project,  representatives of key communities such as the armed forces, medical and civil defence, the arts and the pioneer generation - contributors to the wider performance of nation-building post-independent Singapore  - were invited to donate life’s most precious gift for careful collection and display in the artwork. Sealed  between lenses, these blood droplets present as tiny, yet rich and complex symbols of the sacrifice that  peace entails, and by implication, its fragility.  

If the museum is a custodian of a nation’s cultural heritage as its broadest function, Bloodline of Peace can  be likened to a museum without walls. In thisfloating grid architecture entrusted with the personal corporeal  offerings of individuals, each blood signature occupies the tiniest airless space between lenses in a land scarce city, whilst also traversing the short-lived boundary between a live bio-document and a historical bio relic. 

Life-giving because it is in fact alive (for a window of time), human blood is biological matter teeming with  active cellular and genetic material at the point of extraction and collection. Thus, it is with this living  material that Bloodline of Peace began life as a community performance - a lineage of blood autographs  that also served as the work’s content and subject.  

From a patchwork quilt to a patchwork code, each sealed blood droplet is also a deposit of genetic information being conserved by the museum –in this case, a biological codex that is imprinted with the data of an individual’s genetic instructions for development and functioning, as well as the potential to predict illness or well-being.  

Blood also dies in real time. In this Foucauldian network of micro-heterotopias, each pair of lenses bear open  witness to the sealed tension of the blood’s expiration in real time. In this bio-performance between aliveness and preservation, the slow death of blood cells plays out behind lenses as a gradual decline in  luminosity before one’s very eyes. Each droplet changes from an oxygen-rich bright red to a depleted brownish-red, the power and meaning undiminished.  

The museum itself also animates just such a form of heterotopia because of its relationship to real objects  in time. Outside the museum in the external world, objects are subjected to the corrosive forces and action  of time. Inside the museum, they acquire a new and different status as a result of their perceived uniqueness - the aura of rarity and desirability. Even the most mass-produced object becomes a ‘diamond’ within the  institution once its copies expire. In the museum’s heterotopic space, objects are caught in a premature  archaeology, enclosed 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. Everyday objects within the museum become the  signifiers of epochs that, in turn, stand in for the hands that might have touched or caressed them, its  utilitarian function, a beauty in the design, a reason to possess.  

Suspended from the ceiling, the veils of lenses magnify fragments of the environment as light passes  through, gifting the audience with splintering stars like virtual fireworks. At once intimate yet see-through,  private while public, its physical dimensions and materiality compel the audience to wander between its  folds, or under its overhanging canopy, as they behold its perceptual effects from up close and afar.  

With eyes upturned, the flares of light appear to “stalk” the audience at each and every turn, creating in the  viewer the remarkable sensation that he or she is the centre of experience. Looking at the work becomes  an act of being looked at by the work, as the phenomenologist Merleau-Ponty discovers - every scan, glance,  glimpse or stare is returned – cross-gazing between the watcher and watching-work - all played out upon  entry into the space, until each is out of the other’s perceptual field. 

The notion of a veil commonly relates to the function of obscuring, protecting, or hiding what should remain  unseen. Intriguingly, veils also unveil, by displaying or exposing what is to be half-seen. The lens material’s  transparency allows the environment to come through and be seen, but in fragments. The artwork takesthe  lead in how or what “pieces” of the surroundings are to be magnified and focused upon.  

In the language of chiaroscuro, the lenses harvest light to re-register the artwork’s grid formation as shadows on surrounding walls and floor surfaces. As the antithesis of light. In this sense, Bloodline of Peace 2015 hovers conceptually between a sculpture or an ephemeral painting made by light and shadows, restlessly  shifting from the three-dimensional to the two-dimensional, from transparency and disclosure to opacity and concealment.

The quilt’s glass-like transparency co-opts the surroundings as part of its appearance, and more. To  experience the work is to reshape vision, and by extension, phenomenological experience. The focal length  of the lenses re-presents the environment as distortions of scale through magnification. It also disrupts with narrative discontinuity by fragmenting what one sees through them. Even perspective, proximity and  distance go awry, such that anything within its vicinity eg walls, people and objects appear closer than they  actually are. The blood droplets however, are seen in true scale against a context that is contrastingly ever shifty and shifting.  

War, as much as peace, entail acts of creativity for its own ends. Bloodline of Peace pays tribute to the wartime creativity of incarcerated women as embodied by the Changi Quilts. Bloodline of Peace serves as a  visual quotation of these quilts, currently held at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, to keep alive  the memory of the ingenuity of women prisoners-of-war in Changi Gaol during the fall of Singapore to the Japanese on 15th February 1942. To circumvent the prohibition of any contact or communication with the  men (husbands and relatives) in neighbouring camps, Mrs Ethel Mulvany roused fellow women internees into realising her idea of crafting a set of three fabric quilts, ostensibly for the sick in Red Cross military camp hospitals nearby. Quilt-making in this setting was much more than a way to boost morale or relieve boredom. With the scantiest of resources, and without violence, these women prisoners kept loved ones  in other camps psychologically alive by smuggling secret messages in plain sight - visibly embroidered onto  each quilt patch. This risk-taking performance produced one of the most profound craft-objects made by  women during wartime in a confined political space.  

It is a dream project for a kept and conserved artwork to be re-enlivened with freshly crowd-funded blood at future locations to re-engage the public anew. In times of peace, or radical change.  

Fresnel lenses bear a provenance of use for scintillation and magnification in Victor’s practice since 1997 as  seen in the ten-metre lens quilt Third World Extra Virgin Dreams shown at the 6th Havana Biennale. To harness the optical material’s propensity to problematize vision by enlargement, distortion, splintering or even obscuring what is placed before it, lenses were linked to form a screen-interface through which  aesthetic encounters between the audience and the artwork came to be conducted in later works. Fronting  the image, object or the surroundings in this way produces discontinuous ways of seeing and interpretation,  notably also bringing into view the kinetically-engaged viewer in responses to the Comfort Woman series  (She’s Closer Than You Think 2019, and She’s Dearer Than You Think 2020, Unequal Innocence 2020)  comprising pictorial narratives developed from personal photo archives of a friend’s traumatic discovery of  her grandmother’s painful secret past as a coerced Comfort Woman sexually enslaved by the Japanese  military in WWII during her teenage years, the more recent River Bank series (River of Returning Gazes 2022), or imaginary national portraits (I Was Like That Myself… We All Held Each Others’ Hands 2015 - 8m  Mural and Oval Lens series) presented at Victor’s solo show “Imprint: New Works by Suzann Victor” in STPI  in 2015. 

In a cultural response to the city of Fukuoka during a special residency awarded to Victor by the Fukuoka  Asian Art Museum in association with the Sunshower Exhibition, large lenses were assembled into an  outdoor enclosure (A Thousand Skies 2017) in dialogue with the architecture of the one thousand-year old  Jyotenji Temple. In the Celestial series, 4m diameter lens-screens were erected through which audiences  were invited to optically luxuriate in the repetition and fragmentation of the fecund beauty of seasonal  outdoor environments during the Cherry Blossom Season at Fukuoka Castle Ruins in Rising Sun 2018, while Rising Moon 2020 reprised a similar visual indulgence of artworks at Gajah Gallery’s Navigating Entropy exhibition indoors.

The artist is grateful to the following individuals 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 of 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: Arron Teo Art & Photography. Photos: Courtesy of the Singapore Art Museum and Simon Marshall. 

*Blood (and DNA) continues to mutually shape traditional beliefs and contemporary attitudes in the fields of bioethics and the  biosocial. Featured in socio-cultural or religious practices world-wide, the shedding of blood carries transactional value, such as in the secret ceremonies of Aboriginal Australians or Aztec rituals. Navajo beliefs go so far as to deem separated parts of  the body to retain un-severable links to the essence of the whole (including fingernails or hair lest they be misused); along  these lines, sprinkled blood (or the Old English bleodsian that evolved into Catholicism’s blessing or to bless) on walls, statues  or bodies carries the potency of its origin/source in Indo-European paganism.  

Peace is optimally a collective act of non-violence in all layers of life, where human rights and dignity take precedence alongside  unimpeded freedoms of speech and information. At times, only the most basic of human needs are safeguarded, leaving  regressive mechanisms of structural (economic, societal, political) and cultural violence (denial of diversity, growth, equality etc) intact or unchallenged.


human blood, Fresnel lenses, pins
Singapore Art Museum
Singapore Art Museum Collection
Reconfigurable Installation
Joyce Toh & Susie Lingham (Curators), Dr John Chia (Medical Advisor), Martin Kirkwood, Ambrose Emmanuel Victor (Lead Technician), Heleston Chew (Exhibition Design), Derrick Yam (Lighting), Jumari Sanion & Roslee M. Noor (Lead Installers), Tan Wei Luen, Melissa Wong, Stellah Lim and Jenny Edgar (Assistants). 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 (Woman Artists) | Video Documentation: Arron Teo Art Photography