Poesy Liang at Art Stage 2018

by Petula Richardsen

A shining star

Malaysian-Taiwanese artist Poesy Liang enjoyed wild success at the Art Stage 2018. For Singapore’s 8th edition of Art Stage, the art fair founders Lorenzo & Maria Elena Rudolf invited the Kuala Lumpur-born interdisciplinary artist to present a social message titled Poesy Empathy – Hidden Messages.

Story by Petula Richardsen

Poesy Liang has been making heads turn internationally for at least a decade but her latest offering at the Marina Bay Sands was her debut in the art world. She received rave reviews and attracted a thick crowd for the 4 days that Art Stage was held in the expo halls. Her special exhibition presented a social message that promised “A whimsical walkthrough installation to trigger an awakening of extraordinary abilities” without offering any further explanation. A social media following familiar with her antics turned up in flesh.

In an official release leading up to Art Stage, the press were informed :

Please take note : We stubbornly prefer not to reveal that there are disabled people in the team.

Poesy said,
“Some people are differently abled. Everyone has something that they are good at. Some people have extraordinary abilities but don’t know it, while some able-bodied people have emotional and/or mental disabilities but don’t know it either.” 

Without being too rude about it, she created the show to help us visit our inner self.  

6 members of the Poesy Empathy crew are blind or visually impaired.

Note : The texts in this article were adapted to an enlarged format for our visually impaired readers.

During the Art Stage VIP Collectors dinner where she was formally introduced, Poesy comically declined to describe her project to an exclusive list of 120 South East Asian art collectors who flew in from all over the world. The private event was held on the eve of the vernissage of Art Stage at the Swiss Residence overlooking the golf course of the Singapore Island Country Club. It was hosted by the Swiss ambassador of Singapore His Excellency Thomas Kupfer, in honour of Lorenzo & Maria Elena Rudolf, Swiss founders of Art Stage.

Art Stage is the leading international art fair with a South East Asian focus, held annually in Singapore & Jakarta. Singapore’s 8th edition opened for VIP preview on Thursday and the Poesy Empathy booth began attracting a thick crowd for the entire duration of the fair. The hour-long queue to get into her special exhibition did not deter fair visitors from crowding up her booth for the 4 days of Art Stage. This year the fair received 26,500 visitors. There were 97 galleries from 38 cities in exhibition.

Poesy Empathy’s clever plot was masked by a deliberately misleading facade of whimsical artwork, with floor coverings of 42 attractive QR codes that visitors on her queue could scan to keep themselves occupied with digital contents. Her booth was fronted by Nice the Japanese Guide Dog in a tutu dress and a cute blind girl in cosplay named Hana-chan, both drew a curious crowd.

However the main meat of the show was presented inside a blackbox without sight and fair visitors who lasted the wait were surprised with an installation of experiences led by guides who were visually impaired. The artist’s intention was to present a world without judgement, by toying with fair visitors initial perception.

Public reaction swung in many directions, while there was a small stir around the exploitation of Nice (dog) by animal activists who were quick to jump to accusations. It turned out that Nice (pronounced like the French town ; or niece) was offered a moonlighting job to sell books for a cat named Harry Putter while she waited for her blind owner Lee Lee on duty inside the blackbox. Poesy Empathy also helped educate the aroused art visitors about working dogs.

The press release further included :  

Fair visitors are strictly prohibited to distract the dog while she is performing her duties. Art Stage is not a petting zoo. No.

Although it is no big secret that Poesy is an animal lover, a Malaysian gallerist accused the production of sedating Nice the Japanese Guide Dog. A letter by SPCA Selangor followed shortly after.

The dog’s blind owner, Lee Lee told us,
“Sight can be very deceiving. Nice is a guide dog. When I am working so intensively, she needs a place to rest so this is actually a resting place for her. Nice is happy, she is not sad. She looks forward to come here everyday and she can guide me here from the entrance to the booth. I am happy that Nice can be part of this show. It really blew my mind with the outfit Poesy made her.”

Poesy said,
“Actually, my intentions for Nice was an afterthought. Her owner is Lee Lee Lim my trainer for the blind team. I did not want to put Nice under a table or a chair for such long hours when Lee Lee is on duty. So I created a role for Nice so she can comfortably earn a salary too. Art Stage was kind to approve my request to build Nice a platform where she can wait for Lee Lee comfortably – she was a natural crowd puller so I felt that it was the best opportunity to drive an important message about how we should never distract a working dog, be it a guide dog or a police force K9. I concised the message down to 6 words : DO NOT PAT DOG ON DUTY, and printed that on the wall as well as on Nice’s dress.”

When asked for comment, Lorenzo Rudolf said,
“A well treated dog becomes her patron’s best friend. And in the case of blind people, a well trained dog becomes her blind patron’s partner and guide who will not leave her side. Poesy’s socially very engaged art project worked with blind people, and the dog was the blind trainer’s guide; and, logically, the dog wanted to always be at her side.  So, being a real artist, Poesy integrated the dog into the art project, enabling this way that the dog and it’s blind patron could be all the time together; and both were very happy about it. Before we start to criticize something, we should first take some time to know the facts and to reflect them. Then we all would come to the conclusion, that the real mistake, the real cruelty, would be to separate the blind person and her best friend/partner, her dog. And if the dog would be able to speak, she would probably tell you very clearly the same thing …”

Lorenzo further added,
“Art Stage Singapore is not only a market platform. As the leading art fair in Southeast Asia, still a very emerging region, Art Stage has the clear goal to be Southeast Asia’s bridge to the ceiling of international art world and, in this context, also to foster and support good young artists of the region. I know and observe Poesy and her artistic and social engagement since a certain time and I’m convinced that now she’s ready for a next, international step. Therefore it was nothing than natural that I invited her to Art Stage. And knowing her conceptual way of thinking and working, it was also clear for me that she has to showcase not only some works but to present herself with an interesting and comprehensive project. I must say, she fulfilled my demands in a very impressive and successful way.”

Heavyweights of the art world weighed in too..
“Poesy was producing a lot of cats when I met her. However she spends most of her time upholding a number of social messages through projects based on her core theme of humanity & media reform. Over the years I have been impressed by her ingenuity & skillful means to turn around adversities, and create impact with her artistic activities. I personally look forward to see her prolific attempt to bring back the traditional Asian family values through another upcoming installation on filial piety addressing the modern audience with a combination of eastern and western contexts. She is persuasive with her self-narration and tells a powerful story to offer the world a message of healing.”
Dr. Uli Sigg, industrialist, former Ambassador of Switzerland to the People’s Republic of China, owner of Sigg Collection (largest collection of Chinese Contemporary Art worldwide),
Founder of Chinese Contemporary Art Award, 72, Switzerland

“This is not my first time viewing Poesy’s work.  The first time viewing Poesy’s work was on a journey in the rain in Switzerland, when Poesy unrolled her scroll of the story, the story of a girl. The story continued through time and space.  I came to Art Stage to connect with local collectors from the region.  My first time coming to Art Stage was at its inaugural edition.  Art Stage Singapore is original, fresh, sincere, dynamic and connective.  Art Stage is a stage for local artists, for regional artists and for international artists. When I planned to come to Singapore, Poesy was the first person I contacted. She told me immediately that she would have a show.  My first stop this time was also at Poesy’s booth.  Her art form is what we call installation art and performance art. She wanted me to experience.  I let go of my time, my eye sight, to be in the blackbox, led by her blind colleagues.  In the room of darkness, I touched, smelled, connected, walked, searched, imagined, guessed, spoke, communicated…. Every action, every word, every touch was special, every step is no longer normal, it is becoming something beyond its ordinary meaning and purpose.  In the darkness, we discover our potentials, we hear others, we depend on the dependent origination, we imagined…”
Xiaoming Zhang, global modern/contemporary art specialist, USA/China

True art delivers beauty. Poesy Empathy – Hidden Messages presented a mysterious story that evoked inspiration to lead a life filled with compassion, kindness & empathy. The artist has a team that were mostly blind people, a dog and only 2 sighted production assistants. 

Good feedbacks from the team..

“Poesy specially designed the role for me to host in cosplay. It was highly challenging because this is only my second job and I also had to manage the crazy crowd outside the blackbox. There was a long line everyday. We were tired by the end of each day but it was fun and I learned so much! The teamwork was just amazing and I am glad to have this opportunity to work with blind Singaporeans.” 
Hana, partially blind host of Poesy Empathy front of house, 28, Malaysia

“It has been a mad rush to get the blind team together – hardly one month, the fact that we pulled through was just amazing. It was such a joy that we took this challenge. As a guide team, we worked very well. When we see each other in need, we will go in and lend a helping hand. Our teamwork coordination was seamless inside and outside the blackbox. I wonder when we can ever assemble such a team again. We delivered. I am very happy that Poesy has chosen this topic which will help the blind community in Singapore, and at large. Empathy is what the world needs.”
Lee Lee, blind trainer of Poesy Empathy guide team, 50, Singapore

“I love it. I only wish we had more time to show more people. My Singaporean wife is totally blind while I am partially blind. It is important work to be creating the awareness with the public about blindness. Although we were extremely busy receiving the throngs of people spilling into our blackbox, I didn’t feel tired at all. Thank you Poesy for doing this for the blind, whatever made you do it, you did good!”
Marzuq, Poesy Empathy partially blind guide, 63, USA

“Great team work!”
Hendry, Poesy Empathy partially blind guide, 36, Singapore

“I am glad to be part of the Poesy Empathy team. I like meeting new friends and having new experiences. I also like to share with the general public about abilities in disability. If there’s a project like this again, I look forward to it.”
Robert, Poesy Empathy partially blind guide, 52, Singapore

“I only worked for 1 day, made new friends and met an old colleague who remembered me from 20 years ago.”
Zaimoon, Poesy Empathy partially blind guide, 53, Singapore

“It’s an honour to be part of the team. Definitely an eye-opening experience to work with the visually impaired (fully and partially) team mates. There was a massive crowd everyday.”
Mar Ibrahim, Poesy Empathy sighted production assistant, 34, Malaysia

“Unbelievable twists and how the journey unfolds for this empathy based production. I am grateful that I was given the chance to get to know more people. Tapping attentively into my other senses beside my sight ability, and using all of them happily. I salute those disabled people who rise above to lead their lives more independently and well enough. May we grow more with honesty, kindness, compassion, love, and compromise within ourselves. Thank you to the artist, Poesy Liang; for this opportunity.” 
PuiSee Chu, Poesy Empathy sighted production assistant, 39, Malaysia

The unusual choice in production crew was not the only thing that was beautiful about Poesy Liang’s solo showcase at Art Stage 2018. We have compiled visitor reviews of Poesy Empathy that are still pouring in weeks after the 8th edition of Art Stage delivered Poesy’s Hidden Messages.  

“Intriguing, thought-provoking and challenging.”
Valerie Lim, Miss Universe Singapore 2011, Entrepreneur, 32, Singapore

“Poesy Empathy has much going for it, exploring our otherwise under-used senses of smell, touch and hearing. The true meaning of art – the experience.”  
Chris Yap, artist, 49, Singapore

“I flew back from Beijing to queue 1.5 hours to get into the Poesy Empathy booth. Absolutely no regrets!” 
Patrick Chen, Area Manager of Compressport Asia, 52 yrs, Singapore

“The exhibition was a real eye-opener (no pun intended).” 
Matthew Lau. student, 19, Malaysia

To me, this project took art beyond five senses experience. By being really open, seeing from the heart and sensing everything beyond the eyes, it opened up genuine human connections. It connected even with ourselves in that moment. Empathy is a gateway to compassion and Poesy Empathy simply demonstrated that for the audience.” 
Jess Tansutat, life coach, 42, Singapore/Thailand

“Poesy is an artist of diverse talents. She never stop amazing me with her new projects. Her latest Poesy Empathy project is yet another new dimension of how to design an immersive experience of empathy for the visually impaired.” 
Jack Sim, Founder of World Toilet Organisation,
Creator of UN World Toilet Day, 61, Singapore

“I had a chance to appreciate Poesy’s experimental art at Art Stage Singapore 2018. This piece of art has multiple layers from social, psychological and artistic perspectives. At a glance, it seems to deliver a shocking effect being led by the blind. However after the journey is complete, the reality hit you hard with awe, that very moment lead you to multiple awakenings, both public and private. Definitely hope to see more work similar to this particular one from Poesy. This is just great! I wish Poesy to be invited to major museum shows around the world.” 
Clara Shin, CEO of BbuzzArt, 38, Korea

“My ex-colleague Zaimoon who is half blind was working in the Poesy Empathy booth. From my experience, she is a very fast worker. Even people with sight cannot catch up with her.” 
Tang, security team of exhibition venue, 42, Singapore

“It was my first time visiting an experiential exhibition, an eye opener which uses all other senses except my eyes to view Poesy’s work. With the darkness, i was  amazed how all my other senses kick in the help me see her amazing work! I was led by a blind person thru the experience only to know it at the end of the tour! Just amazing!! Really, thank you for the experience! Great work, keep it up!!!” 
Tony Chua, Sales Manager of Catalyste, 49, Singapore

“Through Poesy Empathy, the multi-talented Poesy reminds us to live life with compassion, especially towards those with disabilities. Well done Poesy!” Patricia Chang, Regional Head of Client Management, Life & Health, Allianz Re, 48, Singapore

“I must say it was unique. I did not know what to expect. When I journeyed through, I felt deeply touched & became greatly aware of the sense of feel & touch. In the dark, one almost feels scared but the smooth voice of my assigned guide was soothing & reassuring. More people should experience this & be so thankful for whatever faculties they have & to have greater empathy and understanding for those with challenges.” Angela Lee, lawyer, 71, Singapore

“Utterly enlightening Poesy. A real treat to witness your work.” Rachel Kelly, paediatric optometrist, Singapore/Ireland

The artist often appears in an Indian saree.

You can discover more stories on Poesy’s Instagram or her many social media channels.

Photo of Poesy Empathy Art Stage 2018 booth before the expo halls opened to public every morning

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