I was at Expo for lunch today, had lunch and took a walk through some exhibitions, notably the “JL sale” bazaar, and the one on interior home furnishing. Not too much interesting happenings in each, not worth written documentation at least.
however, when i was going out towards the MRT station, i was going down the escalator and to my right was a nice art piece on the wall. I hadn’t noticed it coming into Expo the same way cos it was blocked/distracted by brightly coloured banners and blinking 7-11 lights, but it looked pretty interesting so i lingered a while to read the description underneath.
It was a piece by Charles Cham, a renown Malaysian artist entitled Past, Present it was a montage piece made up of 30 pieces of individual paintings put together into a collage of images juxtaposing archaic-type cave wall paintings and more modern abstract shape. As part of his Yin, Yang series of art works, it was clear the contemporary artist was describing the dualities of living in a modern city, symbolic of both the sensibilities of a individualistic, capitalist community, but also a reminder of the historical roots of an Asian tradition.
Though i cant understand this in terms of a Singaporean historical legacy, i can understand the need for an art piece that portrays this overt dualism that the designers of the place must have felt seeing how the multitudes of foreigners thronging in places like these – passing through from Changi, going to exhibitions etc. It is true that foreigners come to Singapore and expect the same kind of traditional intensity that can be found in other Asian countries, and we’ve done a great job attempting to re-create these places for them. What began as community-building town-planning measures have turned into microcosms of civilizational others. i mean, what’s a name like “Little India”, or the franchised “Chinatown”, and now “Little Macau” and “Genting Lowlands” in the IRs that eventually will come up. Is Singapore going to be recognized as a theme park, not unlike the Shenzhen Theme Park that i never want to go to again, with its miniature, simplified re-creations of real places, just instead of just kid’s rides and nice buildings, we also offer tourists a voyeuristic first-hand experience into the life of supposedly natives. Take the MRT then, to be a cheap tram
joy ride through all the attractions of Asia.
only when they get to the stops that actually smell/sound like Singapore, they’d realize we’re actually pretty boring. I love the heartland areas, and i do live near enough to one to be able to go there for my daily meals. And maybe its habit but i dont notice anymore the imposing repetition in town-planning. HDB’s are pragmatic solutions to the housing problems in Singapore, but with every block, corridor, and sometimes even flat looking the same, it’s gotta say something about the stifling of creativity.
Till we can guard jealously our private spaces and mould them into extensions of our characters and sensibilities, then we will find similarities, cohesion, and eventual unity in a Singaporean identity, not an identity that arises because of race – that is sadly just a mirror of geographical boundaries in the wider global context. Although it sounds ironic to encourage unity and a collective identity through the imposition of individualistic gain, it’s not society that shaped people, it was always people that shaped society, and history, and characters of the many civilizations they were part of. Maybe im speaking through my nose, but all i know is that I wouldn’t want my kids to grow up in a city resigned to their fates as pigeon hole inhabitants, living within walls that have the stamp of an invisible hand, as opposed to their own…
I dont know the solution to problems like this, although democratization of at least the small aspects of design to the public might help, as well as bring a significant amount of headache to the administrations involved; but where a collective identity is to be forged, this might help somewhat. Somewhat.
Charles Cham’s beautiful work called for a unity not just between past and present, but also for a review of these to work towards a better future. Perhaps for us, reviewing of the past as well as the collective hope for the future, we Singaporeans would be able to handle the present a little better together.