By Jacqueline Ambrose
As we approach the hanger, we immediately take notice of its sheer size. We know hangars to be big, of course, since they house planes. But for that reason it makes the barn look small… or does the barn make the hangar look big? It’s merely a matter of perspective. The deliberate placing of an irrelevant object like the barn inside a huge hangar makes one slight the barn at first. Unintentionally of course, because what is big will always capture the attention of the audience first.
We can’t help but let a guilty pleasure wash over us. The artworks viewed in the main building, the East wing and the West wing of the Old Kallang Airport are all next to each other, neatly packed, organized and orderly. It builds up a kind of tension within, a tension that causes you shortness of breath. It’s subtly suffocating, but one doesn’t notice because she’s too busy looking at all the art, it was as though she forgot to breathe. Suddenly, this tension is released with the overwhelming space of the hangar. It feels like freedom, the refreshing sort. One can finally draw a deep breath, and after sighing in relief, return to the real reason for our entering the hangar in the first place.
And there it is, standing in the midst of spaciousness.
The placement of the barn strikes as an oddity in a hangar. Of all places, of all things even, why? It’s unnatural. Just as the hangar gives us a sense of awe, the barn gives us a sense of curiousness, at an equal depth. And the synergy of these two elements heightens the entire experience. You feel caught between the space of these two elements that are the opposite of each other yet equal. Caught between wonder at the hangar the desire to see the barn, but to enter the barn means ‘leaving’ the hangar, the newfound freedom, only to be contained by a barn. It would that seem at this point, however impossible we know it in our minds to be, the hangar has now become a part of the artwork, and in truth, the space it stored.
The curious space created between the hangar and the barn also provides respite. It seems highly likely that the barn is be one of the last pieces to be seen on the site. It is important to have a space of quiet, unadulterated peace to clear ones mind of past things and really get absorbed into the art. When ready, enter the barn and awaken the senses with the smell of hay and the sight of live subjects lounging around.
Just before entering the barn, the angle that the doors are opened to reveals another telling point, that placement is critical in this piece and deserves to be thought about. The half opened doors don’t let you see what’s inside from far away, only by getting close enough (that’s about one foot from the barn) would one be able to see what was in the barn. A clever ploy to prevent misconceptions of any kind till one saw it directly.
According to the ‘Youth Text’ on the wall, it’s black and white design symbolizes the colonial houses still in Singapore and it questions the validity of its existence. The colours of the German barn certainly create the colonial look, and the artists want to explore how the previous power has become irrelevant, just like the barn in the hangar. The clash of a historical idea with modern context is just as jarring as a German barn in an abandoned Singaporean hangar. They simply do not belong. And yet in both not belonging, in not having a real purpose, they begin to resonate with each other. This fluid creation of similarity and difference is all the more poignant with the curious space acting like a viscous liquid separating the two elements.
And all the while we enter the barn wondering what the sheep would have sounded and smelled like if it was actually alive. Something else stirs, it’s the realisation of the living mixed with dead. On the hay are living Asian boys, no more than teenagers, dressed up in traditional German farmer outfits, and then you have the goat, frozen in motion, chewing hay. The barn was so artificial yet the smell of hay was so real, and then of course the living boys who sat there. The rest of the things certainly were real, in the sense that they were tangible, and yet they made no sense in Singapore, and therefore it feels fake. If however, this barn were visited in Germany, one wouldn’t think twice about it being real or authentic.
The real issue here is that placing an authentic German barn in another context, renders it artificial and it loses its original meaning. It creates an alternate meaning however, and one that flows with purposes in Singapore.