On January 21 Melati Suryordarmo will spend 12 hours at Singapore Art Museum grinding a roomful of charcoal to dust. It's in a city state that at one time banned performance art, which ensured the practice still has currency in the region that may be absent in more jaded art capitals.
The work is the Indonesian artist's contribution to the Asia Pacific Breweries Foundation Signature Art Prize, one of the region's biggest.
Only 15 artists of 105 on the long list made the final cull, including New Zealand's Lisa Reihana. Come January, the judges, including former Auckland Art Gallery director Chris Saines, will relook at each work to pick the winner of the $60,000 main prize.
There are also two jurors' prizes and a people's choice prize, which can be voted for online.
The process, in which curators from countries from India to Aotearoa put up nominations, has come up with not the young, emerging artists of recent Walters Prize selections, but "experienced" artists with established, solid track records. It's also come up with a fine show, enhancing SAM's place as one of the leading showcases of contemporary art. Several pieces have performative aspects, an indication of how much it is part of the DNA of contemporary art in the region.
Most of the visitors will see Suryodarmo's work I'm a Ghost In My Own House as a room filled with sticks of charcoal, with the grinding block in the centre and the white dress worn by the artist at the original 2012 performance, black with charcoal dust, suspended above.
The video of the performance playing alongside can only hint at the extremes the artist will put herself through.
The metamorphosis of wood into charcoal becomes a metaphor for psychological transformation. Ideas about home, work, identity and the environment emerge.
The work incorporates questions about what is home, about the artist's role, the environment. The psychological aspects of performance art weigh heavy with Suryodarmo, and her lengthy performances become a test of body and mind.
She studied art at Braunscheig in Germany, first under Japanese Butoh dancer Anzu Furukawa then with performance artist Marina Abramovic. She says Furukawa taught her how to use the body and place it in space.
"Marina taught me to be responsible for the work." That means lots of research and consideration. "There is no proper education at art school for performance art. Still, I consider it a very serious genre," says Suryodarmo, who runs an annual performance art laboratory in her home town of Solo in central Java.
Suryodarmo's Butter Dance, in which the artist, in a black dress and red shoes, dances for 20 minutes on pieces of butter, slipping and falling repeatedly, became a surprise YouTube hit after someone dubbed the Adele song Someone Like You on to the original video.
Australian artist Owen Leong's contribution to Signature is a video of a performance of the artist lying down with a dental retractor holding his mouth open.
Above him a heart made of frozen milk slowly melts, splashing his face. In a world in which water torture is euphemised as "enhanced interrogation", Infinite Love works on a number of levels, soliciting horror and empathy until the dripping finally becomes a maelstrom of milk.
Melati Suryordamo's I'm a Ghost In My Own House.
Choe U-Ram, from South Korea, has a mechanical performance going. His Custos Cavum (Guardian of the Hole) is a sea-lion-sized beast with metal ribs which breathe up and down. Rods come out of its back end in feathery fingers, which wave gently.
Last year, South Korean factories used 437 robots for every 10,000 workers, the highest number of any country in the world, so the move of robots into its art galleries seems a natural shift.
Lisa Reihana uses other people's performances in her two-screen video In Pursuit of Venus. Using an 18th century wallpaper of an idealised Oceania, she has inserted dancers from various Pacific islands to question European colonial representation of Maori and Pacific people.
Farida Batool, from Pakistan, uses what seems in contrast an extremely low-tech approach to capturing a performance. Her Kahani Eik Shehr Ki (Story of a City) is a lenticular print, the sort of flickering double image used on novelties like stickers and bookmarks.
Choe U-Ram's Custos Cavum.
Walking alongside the 21m work, you see the artist appearing and disappearing as she walks the streets of Lahore.
Nguyen Trinh Thi has an effectively simple piece, Unsubtitled, featuring videos of 19 fellow members of Hanoi's art scene projected life-size on to cut-out panels. Each artist stands eating a favourite item of food, then announces their name and what they just ate, an action that suggests interrogation or self-criticism.
She says it was done in response to regular crackdowns by Vietnamese authorities, including attempts to shut down the experimental art spaces where people gather to socialise.
Performance art or experimental theatre have often been ways to protest against repressive regimes. Politics and the role of art versus the state are regular themes in the contemporary art of the region.
History is a contest between the official narrative and the stories coming from below. Education is subversive.
Taiwan's entry, by Yao Jui-Chung + Lost Society Document, draws on all those elements of art activism. For Mirage: Disused Public Property in Taiwan, Yao used students to find and photograph buildings that had been built or partly built by companies given government contracts after backing winning politicians.
The structures - halls, markets, offices, swimming pools, transport hubs, reservoirs, even a whole industrial estate on an artificial island - are known as "mosquito palaces" because they lie empty.
The photographs are stacked up the wall, chronicling the waste generated in the quest for economic progress. The work resulted in an order for government departments to inspect such buildings and either put them to use or demolish them.
Arin Rungjang, from Thailand, explains how globalisation is no new thing by telling the story of how a popular egg yolk dessert - thong yod or the Golden Teardrop of his title - had its origins in a recipe devised in a Portuguese convent 600 years ago.
What makes this work more than the social studies projects that are all too common in contemporary art is not the video, fascinating as it is, but the sculpture it explains, 7000 brass teardrops strung on wires suspended from a framework of recycled wood and iron to make an orb.
The two entrants from China also draw on history, but in a more oblique way.
Peng Wei's Letters From a Distance is a collection of scrolls and album leaves presented in the style of traditional shansui landscape painting, but whose words are translations into Chinese of her favourite essays and poems by European artists and writers.
Liu Jianhua's Trace, for which the stairwell at SAM had to be reinforced, alludes to the calligraphic practice known as wu lou hen or "water stains on the wall", for which artists use naturally occurring phenomena or blemishes as a starting point for creation.
Liu's calligraphic marks are rendered as black porcelain drips which scale the two-storey wall and leak on to the landing. It changes the space.
Almost all of the works featured in the competition had their own spaces, meaning each installation could address the viewer on its own terms.
Ranbir Kaleka's video, House of Opaque Water, is presented on three screens rising from a polished floor, so the viewer is immersed in the watery world of the islands of India's Sundarbans Delta, which are subject to accelerating erosion because of climate change.
There are echoes of Brett Graham's and Rachel Rakena's flood work, Aniwaniwa, which was shown at the 2007 Venice Biennale, and also of films by Chris Marker and the post-apocalyptic zone of Tarkovsky's Stalker.
A beautiful and moving work.
What: Signature Art Prize
Where and when: Singapore Art Museum, to March 15
• Adam Gifford traveled to Singapore with the assistance of the Singapore Art Museum and the Asia Pacific Breweries Foundation.