Category Archives: Old Kallang Airport

All Lines Flow Out, in more ways than one

By Fareez Ahmad


As a child, I grew up in Sunset Way and attended Henry Park Primary School on Holland Grove Road. I had adventurous friends who liked to explore the maze of drains from Clementi to Buona Vista, simply because we were young and hungry to discover the world around us. For my friends and I, the network of waterways were a kind of alternate reality, a mysterious underground world.

Surprised at having these childhood memories bubble to the surface upon having encountered Charles Lim’s commissioned work for the Singapore Biennale 2011 at the Old Kallang Airport, I decided once again to explore this world, this time through the artwork entitled ‘All Lines Flow Out’, which comprises a video installation as well as an installation of two drainage ‘socks’ suspended from the ceiling of the space. The work takes the form of an urban exploratory adventure which examines the political, geographical and environmental dimensions of water in the Singaporean context.

Drainage socks, I imagine, are installed in various parts of the waterways and act as filters which trap rubbish and debris. The ones on display in the space, each about three meters in length, have accumulated pieces of refuse, but mostly brown leaves, giving them the bulging, organic appearance of Eva Hesse sculptures. The video, looped on a panoramic three-part screen roughly two and a half meters wide and half a meter from top to bottom, features a narrative which explores the drainage waterways as well as the aquatic periphery of Singapore. We see from a first-person perspective different points on Singapore’s waterways, most likely to have been filmed from aboard a vessel, as we occasionally hear the gentle splashes of the paddle as it propels the boat gently on its course.

Each sequence in the video is like a living photograph. In most scenes, the camera makes only gentle movements, allowing the viewers to immerse themselves in the visuals. Beautifully composed, they cast a mundane subject matter in poetic light. Its lingering pace allows one to meditate on the associations conjured up by the images.

The act of navigating a vessel on water alludes to the discovery of Singapore by Sang Nila Utama, who arrived via sea after a tropical storm and soon (re)named the island Singapura. The founder of modern Singapore, Sir Stamford Raffles of the British East India Company too, undoubtedly arrived by ship. It was also he who noted that Singapore was surrounded by very deep waters, and decided that it would make an ideal port for ships travelling from Europe to the Far East. This geographical feature continues to play a major role in shaping the island’s economic prosperity as well as its social landscape.

A bridge appears in each of the film’s ‘navigating’ scenes. It is a deliberate and significant symbol alluding to the massive bridges linking Singapore and Malaysia, the country which the island state used to be a part of and from which it gets a significant portion of its drinking water supply. The Johor-Singapore Causeway, which is a road, rail and pedestrian link also serves as a water pipeline. It is ironic that while tropical Singapore is surrounded by water and receives heavy annual rainfall, its quest for water self-sufficiency persists till the present. Indeed, as the video suggests, the waterways eventually lead to the aquatic periphery of Singapore. In one scene, we are presented with a panoramic vista dotted with kelongs – wooden dwellings built out in the sea for the purpose of rearing fish for commercial consumption. In the distance we gaze upon a familiar landscape which betrays an odd detail, a large white cylindrical structure, which is indeed a water containment tank. Then from behind one of the kelongs, a Singapore Coast Guard patrol boat casually reverses into view, drawing an imaginary line demarcating the boundaries between two territories on the water’s surface.

If each landscape presents a piece of a large puzzle, the people in the video serve to compound the mystery, being referred to as ‘immigrant workers’ whose individual identities are not made known to us. Their motivations are also shrouded in ambiguity as they appear alone or in groups clad in diaphanous raincoats, exploring the aquatic passages, at times appearing in unexpected places and unusual situations, and often we struggle to determine their political or moral affiliation. Having been attributed neither individual identities nor speech, their bodily gestures and movements acquire an enigmatic gestural and performative quality, and even in the scenes when several of them seem to be engaging with the debris accumulated in a canal, one questions whether they truly accomplish anything at all.

The vividly coloured guppies, with their bodily movements echoing the gentle swaying of the aquatic plants with the water currents, suggest a commentary on an environmental issue. Then in one of the most poignant scenes in the narrative, one of the men stands still in the stream of ankle-deep water with his back towards the camera, as an unexpected fluid cloud of white emanates from his feet and soon permeates the water, in a magic-realist act of cleansing. It must surprise viewers who are well acquainted with the popular notion of prosperous Singapore as a clean and green ‘Garden City’ to observe how much rubbish is present floating along its waterways, evident in the video as well as the drain socks in the space.

In contrast to the rich content of the video, the drain socks however, appear to be a rather perfunctory element. But perhaps an artist proficient at teasing our minds into thought by means of suggestion included it as a compass in directing our interpretation of the video and the installation as a whole. They are particularly symptomatic of the postmodern contemporary art condition, being nondescript, utilitarian ‘everyday’ objects removed from their usual context to be displayed in the art space in its unadulterated form, with leaves and pieces of garbage intact and discernible through the netting.

In a city of residents who complain endlessly about the boredom of inhabiting a small island-city state, it is refreshing to witness a Singaporean artist addressing aspects of the local landscape in an attempt to deepen our understanding of it by looking at it through historical, political, geographical, and environmentalist paradigms. And as a photographer who is interested in exploring the Singaporean landscape, I identify with Charles Lim’s situation of living in a cosmopolitan city, the landscape of which is constantly and aggressively changing. Old buildings, for instance, even those of historical significance, often do not survive the onslaught of progress. The Singapore Biennale 2011 is itself partly staged at one of these old buildings, radically transforming its former utilitarian purpose. Not far away, the colossal magnificence of the former National Stadium has been recently retired from existence.

The artwork can be seen as the artist’s attempt to engage with the local landscape in a deeper manner, to quench his thirst for exploration and enhancing his understanding of the subject matter. The process of making the artwork becomes a mode of learning, thinking, and sharing one’s findings and is done out of a need to form a kind of psychological affinity and security about one’s grounding in an ever-shifting external world. The beauty of ‘All Lines Flow Out’ lies in its ability to raise questions and associations, conjuring a certain joy in its artistic yet ambiguous nature and in neither being too direct nor allowing only a constrained, singular interpretation of the artwork. Indeed, beginning with those childhood memories of exploring the mysterious underground world of drains and canals, I found that it was in fact my lines of thought which were flowing out.

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Filed under Charles Lim, Old Kallang Airport, Open House Notebook, Singapore Biennale 2011

Martin Creed and his 39 metronomes

39 Metronomes line-up, Photo By Loh Bi Ying.

by Loh Bi Ying

When the word ‘metronome’ is mentioned, we often would not think about something beautiful, let alone an art work. Yet Martin Creed has effortlessly blended metronomes with music and art. Setting this art work in a particularly interesting environment, he makes something simple stand out amongst the other forms of art work pertaining to music or some element of music in the space.

The uniqueness of the piece is accentuated by that fact that it creates a rustic sound produced by knobs and gears which makes it much more organic compared to an artificially produced sound through electric boards, wires and metals. At the other end of the exhibition space, is an artwork by Rubén Ramos Balsa – in another discrete area – which shows an orchestra of street musicians from different places playing their instruments on small MP3 players. And it really seemed quite empty. While an orchestra is supposed to resonate throughout the space, the notion of the MP3 players with videos doesn’t do justice to the majestic sound that an orchestra produces.

However, the simple sounds of the metronome actually echo throughout the space, and have a unique identity. The presence of the background ‘music’ fused with the surroundings of the Old Kallang Airport, so that one would not notice its existence, is what attracted me to this piece. It accentuates the surrounding sounds like the wind and leaves rustling so that I mistook it’s sound as being part of the natural environment.

It was only when I ventured further into that space and looked below eye level, that I noticed the metronomes, ticking in their own world, swaying in their own space, oblivious to their surroundings, ticking like a clock. As a group of metronomes, as a lone metronome – in different speeds but coming together. It may seem that the different speeds of the metronomes will be somewhat un-unified and initially come across to most visitors as a mass of sounds. Yet, the continuous pace of the ticking soon “dissolves” into a piece of sound that has its own identity – like a rhythm – with the intersection of the beats of a 130BPM metronome with a 50BPM one.

This intersection intrigues me: Sensitive to sounds and rhythm, I could hear the change in rhythm when some of the metronomes stopped ticking; the metal bar suspended in mid air seemed like someone had pressed a pause button. It happened often and especially to the ones with 200 BPM – ticking the fastest – and when the ‘bunch’ of the faster ones stop, it seems that the time around me slowed down. The only metronomes left ticking are the slower ones – each of their metal bars swaying from left to right slowly, tracing a slow semicircle arc. Surprisingly, the sound ‘melts’ in the atmosphere where it becomes much quieter – the slow tick-tock resonates in the atmosphere like a sharp sound as the metal bar ‘cuts’ through the air.

The thing about metronomes is that they need to be wound up often and the faster ones probably need to be would up every two hours. The slower ones can last as long as 5 hours. That is why most of the time the only tick-tock sounds left are the slow ones. The artwork requires constant winding and this reminded me of grandfather clocks or clockwork toys: time comes to a standstill when the clock stops. Toys stop moving and they seem to be frozen and stuck in a moment of time. The winding up of the metronomes also reminded me of the process of starting over –  accentuated with the action of it being picked up, wound and then put back down again where it ‘unfreezes’ and carries on like nothing happened. It’s also like taking something away from the environment, and giving it a new life. When it is put back down, the whole cycle starts again — but there is something different. The rhythm differs from before. The piece of sound will no longer be the same as what was heard previously.

There is something to look forward to every time the metronome is rewound. It is unpredictable, unexpected and contains an element of surprise that keeps me standing there, staring at the metronomes; expecting one to be suddenly brought to a halt by the mechanism so I can hear  another piece of the ‘composition’. During that moment, I felt compelled to take the metronomes up and reset all of them, just to see what kind of ‘music’ it will produce. Or perhaps, to alter the speed of them. Yet, I was struck with the idea to not disturb the ‘music’ that was created by accident.

Martin Creed probably created this artwork — or I should call it music – because of his past. As a musician, metronomes signify beats and constant pacing in life and it could mean something important to him as a lot of his artworks refer to his past experiences.

Perhaps the metronomes and their beats help us keep track of happenings in our life – like a conductor in a symphony, like a marker that reminds us of certain things that should happen at certain times. Or certain things that should not happen. It serves as a reminder of not losing track of time and oneself – but to be aware of our time, not to be stuck in a moment of time like clockwork, but to keep on moving – similar to the metronomes when they really try to ‘propel’ themselves when they are stuck – waiting for someone to rewind the mechanism to make them start. Perhaps, we just need a push by someone, a motivation to make sure we stay on the right track.

Then again, nobody knows. The point is not about really understanding the artwork, but about feeling it. And that is what Martin’s Creed and his 39 metronomes really gave me. There is something more about it than just an audio-visual artwork. It might sound like exaggeration, but Martin Creed breathes life into the metronomes.

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Filed under Artists in the News, Auditory, Martin Creed, Old Kallang Airport, Open House Notebook

When Words Spell Irony

By Nur’ Ain Farizan

Entering the room where Martin Creed’s art installation “Don’t Worry” is exhibited at the Singapore Biennale 2011, the audience is greeted by large, bright neon yellow words plastered on the white walls that scream DON’T WORRY. The minimalist way of presentation, which is a trademark of Creed’s style, makes the “message” of this artwork come across rather self-explanatory at first glance. Ah, Creed is encouraging the audience to quit worrying: A feel-good piece.

Usually, us mere mortals feel somewhat comforted when confronted with encouraging words that are aimed at making us feel better about our situation. After all, it is only human nature to seek some form of acceptance or understanding from others. Words of encouragement give us a glimpse of hope when the way forward looks bleak. They are like the sun peeking out from behind the clouds after a storm, showering warm rays of hope while illuminating our paths; very much like how Creed’s yellow neon “Don’t Worry” sign illuminates and casts a bright yellow sheen onto the room and its audiences.

My initial response to Creed’s “Don’t Worry” was sheer delight. Being the ardent optimist, I was pleasantly surprised at the (seemingly) apparent lack of cynicism in this artwork. Furthermore, as a student guilty of procrastination, I found myself happily looking up at the “Don’t Worry” sign, imagining an omnipresent Martin Creed whispering sweet words of encouragement into my ear. These brightly lit words by a stranger had the power to arouse a sense of confidence within me. It was as if a bond had been forged between the artiste and this particular audience member. Martin Creed and I are now acquainted!

When something makes us feel good, we tend to spend more time around it. True enough, I spent almost twenty minutes lingering around the room containing Creed’s “Don’t Worry.” This is a rather substantial amount of time considering the simplicity of this artwork. This simplicity factor also proved to be a point of deliberation that kept me in the room for much longer than expected. It brought about an issue to ponder over, which eventually leads to the age-old question: Is this art?

Nevertheless, the act of lingering around a confined area for a prolonged period of time forces one to pay closer attention to the space itself. The fact that Creed’s “Don’t Worry” is the only artwork exhibited in the room only serves to magnify the impulse to pay closer attention to the space, as there are no distractions around to divert our attention to. Furthermore, the minimalist style of the artwork itself invites the audience to explore their surroundings. Perhaps paying closer attention to the space where the artwork is exhibited could provide clues to better understand it? Surely, there must be more to this work of art than just a simple feel-good message!

One of the standout features of the room is its apparent “boxiness.” This “boxiness” is perpetuated by the square dimensions of the room and accentuated by its small size. The fact that there are no windows in the room only serves to emphasize this notion. It felt as if the audience is packed into a box along with an art installation that urges them to not worry. This comes across very ironic because the phrase “Don’t Worry” brings about a sense of freedom and flight, whereas the situation of being packed inside a box certainly does not share this sentiment. On the contrary, it gives off a sense of isolation and confinement.

Incidentally, the fact that there are no windows also give rise to another pertinent issue that inhabitants of the room will quickly come to recognize: ventilation, or the lack thereof. No form of ventilation system was employed in the room to improve its thermal comfort, despite the fact that there are no windows to provide natural ventilation. As a matter of fact, the room is actually equipped with an air-conditioning system that is not being utilized. Therefore, one can conclude that the stuffy atmosphere in the room is probably intentional. Being enveloped in a small, contained space without any form of proper ventilation only works to magnify a hundred folds the sweltering heat that is the humid tropical climate of Singapore. My initial impression of feeling comforted by the words was being gradually and ceremoniously replaced with an obvious dis-comfort.

Other than ventilation problems, the absence of windows also means that natural lighting would not be able to seep into the room. As such, artificial lighting will have to be used to improve visibility within the room. However, the only source of lighting in the room emits from the yellow neon “Don’t Worry” sign. The yellow sheen it casts onto the room, which was compared to the warm rays of the sun earlier on, no longer seem so inviting all of a sudden. On the contrary, the absence of other light sources only serve to heighten its artificiality, giving the room a dingy, eerie quality.

The still air, stuffy environment, dingy setting, confined space and the fact that I was alone lends an isolated and lifeless ambience to the room, causing the atmosphere to turn claustrophobic. Needless to say, I wanted out. Assuming that the two doors positioned right next to the artwork was the way out, I made my way towards it.

However, upon closer inspection, I realized that of the two doors, one had a “No Entry” sign, whereas the other one was locked. This heightened my anxiety and claustrophobia, I felt trapped! Suddenly, Martin Creed’s omnipresent voice of a Saint whispering “sweet words of encouragement” is given a whole new evil twist. With the stifling heat making its presence felt by the minute, it was as if Satan has finally bared his true colors, seducing one into the depths of Hell with his sultry words.

Evidently, I managed to leave the room unscathed (by going out from where I came in). Nonetheless, I went through a range of emotions in that room: from the initial sense of calm and liberation, gradually shifting into claustrophobic calamity. This makes the experience exhilarating and special. Just about anybody can enter the room, sneer at the artwork, question its artistic value, proclaim “Even I can do this” and leave in a matter of minutes. The issue that Creed’s “Don’t Worry” subtly highlights is the importance of interaction between an artwork and its audience, in order for any concrete understanding to come about. Rather than being too quick to judge, why not take time to explore the artwork and see if you can make any resonant meaning out of it? Only when a connection is forged can appreciation or the ability to critique an artwork occur, and sometimes it takes awhile for this connection to take place.

As for me, these are the thoughts that I took away from the experience: Words are empty vessels, context is important and action is character.

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Filed under Martin Creed, Old Kallang Airport, Open House Notebook

Relics in the Airport

By Tan Wen Er

When I first stepped into the Old Kallang Airport (OKA) for the Singapore Biennale 2011, I discovered that the place exudes a lackluster feel that is almost not befitting an international arts exhibition. Brochures and pamphlets provided at the counter by the entrance were used later as makeshift fans, and subconsciously disregarded as anything else. It was appalling for me to realize how little effort had been made to spruce up a place where tourists and art-lovers might go.

The curators might have wanted us to experience the heritage of the site, but they did not necessarily have to torture the visitor with sauna-like conditions, only worsened by industrial fans blowing the heated air around us, everywhere we turn. In the late afternoon heat, the lack of structure in the layout of the exhibits made me feel stifled and confused. One must also not forget the inconsistent placement of the placards and what was written on them. At the top of the placard is the artist’s name and artwork, and below is a paragraph that describes the artist’s style and techniques. However, the curator added an unnecessary and repetitive paragraph below about the artist (the ‘Youth Text’), yet again.

Michael Beutler's work.

“Should I go this way first? Or that way? Wait, where exactly am I now?”

These are the thoughts that I had when I first entered the exhibition venue at OKA. We’re encountered with columns upon columns of wire-mesh fences covered with paper. In a sense, these columns visually bombard the viewer and the state of the ‘artwork’ lying around appears to suggest that OKA is under construction. Although this is meant to be the first viewer experience upon entering the site, I was more confused than curious about this artwork.

Contemporary Art should be innovative. It must be different, in terms of style or the ideas behind it, not like something that has been done before.  When Marcel Duchamp came up with the idea of ‘ready-mades’, that was a new concept, that Art could be an everyday object that no one else (until he ‘found’ it) felt significant enough to warrant it relevant. Also, Art should be unique, whereby not everybody or anyone on the street could do it, and it should stand out from other works once you identify it. One can argue that Jackson Pollock’s artworks could be done by almost anybody. But, it is the idea and his mastery of that unique style of dripping paint that sets him apart from the layman.

I guess Art is really about perception. People can have all sorts of preferences and point of views, that Art can really be indefinable. In the case of Michael Beutler’s paper covered wire-mesh columns, unless you happened upon the card which states the title of the artwork and artist’s name, you might live the rest of your life thinking that that was just a site for renovation. You might argue that this could be the artist’s intention, but the overall state of this exhibit and the purpose behind it was thoroughly disappointing.

Furthermore, there seemed to be no effort to keep the venue clean and tidy. There were hairs and litter of all sorts around, which is frankly an insult to the visitors and to a venue chosen fit by curators and the artistic director to be part of the Singapore Biennale 2011. Although one can argue that all the litter was a by-product of the visitors, hygiene standards should never, ever be compromised. Personally, this gave me a feeling that my presence as an art lover and viewer is not appreciated or respected there at all. This, coupled with Michael Beutler’s confusing ‘is this supposed to be an exhibit or is this place under renovation?’ artwork, further disorientated me.

Michael Lin's. I'd like some of that sticky paper for rats, as advertised on the wall!

However, one such exhibit that really captured my attention was by Michael Lin. He filled and set up an entire room with goods sold in a provision store. Fly swatters, outdated models of rice cookers, traditional pots and pans, brooms, stacked up pails of different colours, soup ladles, rattan mats and etc. You name it; Michael Lin’s provision store in OKA has it. What authenticated the experience was that he even added bug-repellent advertisement posters, which could be found in the usual neighbourhood provision store in Singapore. Also, the addition of the old television with antennae attached and static humming brought a realistic feel to the whole exhibit. It was like stepping into a real ‘Mama shop’, and not one that was frozen in time. The viewer would be amazed by the detail and effort into which the artist put into bringing ‘life’ to the shop.

Old TV with static humming away.

Although this might contradict with my definition of Art that was provided before, that anyone could have set up an exhibit like Michael Lin’s, his efforts into placing each item onto the shelves and space is not to be belittled. You can almost imagine that an old shop owner lovingly tended to his store and placed that pail in a specific location. This work seemed to bring me into another dimension and was not just like any other artwork in the OKA.

Be that as it may, when you leave the room and venture further into Michael Lin’s other works, he showcased old ‘relics’ in so many crates that filled up a few rooms. This reckless use of exhibition space annoyed me. It seemed like he overdid things too much, and destroyed the previous exhibit’s uniqueness by making the rest of it feel monotonous and boring. For all his intents and purposes, Michael Lin might have wanted to come up with an idea of bringing old ‘relics’ from Singapore’s distinct cultures and past into the site, which echoes what an old ‘relic’ the OKA is. However, it seemed like he was too engrossed in bombarding us with objects, which he bought from a real provision shop in an effort to fill up as much space as possible.

A few rooms filled up with these...it could have been used as an exhibition space for more artists!

This epitomizes some of the problems with the site. The OKA venue for the Singapore Biennale was a potential disappointment to what many art lovers or the average layperson might expect. They might not have understood that the curators may have been intentionally left the venue in this state of disrepair to reflect the theme of transition and movement. I also felt that the artworks didn’t really showcase these links. Overall, the layout and presentation of the exhibits was lacking in coherence and was either overdone or grossly confusing.

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Filed under Michael Beutler, Michael Lin, Old Kallang Airport, Open House Notebook

Do Man I Part Ire

by Geraldine Kang

Homegrown video artist Ming Wong is known for his ‘role-switching’ performances, a technique he uses to explore issues regarding cultural exchange and identity. Often using actors (himself included) of ‘mismatched’ criteria, Wong references films that are of specific historic and cultural significance, and Devo Partire. Domani / I must go. Tomorrow is no exception. The work is based on the infamous Teorema by Italian director Pier Paulo Pasolini, a tale of a young, ravishing Stranger’s visit to a bourgeois household. Reportedly a divine force, his presence seduces every single member of the family, and appears to release them from personal repressions and inhibitions. His sudden departure sends each individual spiraling into existential crisis, save for the house servant (presumably not part of the bourgeois class) who is suddenly gifted with the power to create miracles. Devo Partire consists of five synchronized videos of equal length screened simultaneously in separate rooms. Each room is dedicated to every character’s development with the Stranger. Customary vintage posters and paraphernalia also accompany the work on two sidewalls.

Wong has chosen to play the entire cast of (male and female) characters from Teorema himself, with supporting actors to fill in the roles of other characters who are not of main focus in each video. What hits viewers immediately is the humour of the piece, from the awkward acting to the inaccurate Italian dialogue that Wong struggles to nail. In an interview with online magazine ART-iT, Wong establishes that “both the original material itself and what I do with it has to be slightly ridiculous, because it gives the viewer a sense of distance”, allowing him/her to understand foremost that this is not mere re-enactment. It is amusing at first to see Wong, in the role of the Stranger, try to seduce “his other self” in the role of another character. But the laughter gradually evolves into a quieter, inner chuckle as I progress to the next room, and the next, and the next, constantly confronted with Wong’s image.

While Wong’s performance is entertaining, it places a tenuous balance between the heavy religious moral overtones of the original film and its mockery. Wong iterates that humour allows him to “get straight to the audience’s psyche when their guard is down” but it is unclear what he really wants to achieve with the comedy, and if it is a genuine distraction from the real matter of the film. Devo Partire also seems a little more egocentric than it needs to be. Wong’s decision to play all roles is open to question, having done so previously with only one other piece, Life and Death in Venice. As each part of Devo Partire involves the Stranger having a private affair with an individual member of the family, it is as if Wong has a relationship with himself five times over, and each time he is bound for tragedy, except when he plays the part of the servant. Wong’s overwhelming presence as the creator and the created is evident but leaves us confused. Is this a self-reflexive take on the makings of authorship, a metaphor for self-destruction, or neither?

And certainly, two modest walls of posters and paraphernalia lauding Teorema were not going to help. Apart from introducing the rebel film and its characters, they do little else to inform us about the context of the Pasolini original. I noted that a hand-painted poster of Devo Partire was missing. Hand-painted posters are a common element that Wong includes as part of the installation for his work. Interestingly, such a poster actually exists (although not hand-painted), as seen in the image below of the Ming Wong retrospective at the Singapore Art Museum last year, but for some reason was excluded from the Biennale set-up. These posters usually feature the title of his piece in various languages relevant to the work, directing attention immediately to issues surrounding language itself, and consequently “age, gender, class, nationality, everything” which I felt was lacking in the Old Kallang Airport site.

Having watched Teorema in anticipation of Devo Partire, I found it impossible for anyone uninitiated with Pasolini or Wong to grasp the work in its entirety. Even I, armed with this knowledge, was unable to determine for sure why Wong had made certain decisions, such as the abovementioned. In Wong’s defense, he chooses the most telling and important scenes to give audiences the main thrust of each character’s development, but viewers would still be unable to spot his personal spins on the plot. For instance, the Son, who in the original, withdraws into painting after the Stranger leaves, becomes a video artist in Devo Partire—a stealthy autobiographical reference on Wong’s part. Wong, however, is unperturbed and seems to prefer a variety of readings from people of different positions and backgrounds. He also reminds that his work should be looked at as a piece on its own, and not be tied too tightly to the original material he is referencing. Wong recognizes that prior knowledge of the original would contribute an added layer of understanding, but it is not crucial in experiencing the work for what it is. His piece definitely deserves to be interpreted independently, but I find it hard to agree entirely with his justifications because the political weight of films seems to be a deciding factor for him to choose them as reference materials in the first place. When asked about his motivations for selecting films by Fassbinder and Pasolini, Wong expresses admiration for both directors, labeling them “idols”, “outsiders” and “critics of society”, suggesting an interest in films that push buttons and boundaries.

Nonetheless, he does succeed in doing certain things, particularly pulling off a logistical feat with a more elaborate and coordinated site installation and beautiful cinematography that remains largely faithful to the scenes from Teorema. He also manages to garner curiosity in audiences about the original films—I am a clear example. The understanding of his work is perhaps difficult to pinpoint because its issues are so complex and intertwined, and he targets a very specific audience.


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Filed under Ming Wong, Old Kallang Airport, Open House Notebook