Friday, March 25, 2011

I will send you to a better place - Zai Kuning (The Substation Gallery, 25 Mar 2010)

I will send you to a better place flyer
onisstudio: Since 2006, Zai Kuning has been speaking passionately about the lost of the Substation Garden, which has been disconnected from the arts centre itself ever since Timbre Group opened its first food and beverage outlet. The arts community's response towards the lost of the iconic tree, the changing landscape around The Substation, and the community it used to gather varies from nostalgia, ambivalent pragmatism to resentment.

i will send you to a better place - zai kuning
Commissioned for a work for the Singapore Biennale (SB) 2011, Zai proposed to close Timbre and return the garden to the arts community for the period of the Biennale. However, the proposal failed to materialise. Bearing in mind Kuo Pao Kun's words " great failure is more worthwhile than mediocre success', Zai conceived this exhibition and monologue as a response to the failed project, focusing on his personal experience and thoughts about the Garden, the Substation, and his conversation with Matthew Ngui (director of SB 2011).

I want my garden back because I miss the tree
Its 4pm now but the garden is lock and the tree is as
lonely as me

I want my garden back because I miss the tree
And now they have turn the garden to be so ugly
Im feeling sad and angry for the garden and how we use
to play freely

- Zai Kuning's open letter to the artscommunity, 2006

Zai Kuning's Recorded Monologue (partial recording)

Zai Kuning's Speech (25 March 2011)

Zai, thank you for giving this speech. I hope you do not mind but I have recorded it almost in full because I think this is one thing particularly worth documenting and more people should be able to hear this. The situation with Timbre and the Substation Garden is something that is close to my heart as well, as it also can be said that I "found myself" at Substation.

One day during my secondary school days I was leaving the now demolished National Library when I heard the strains of music coming from someplace nearby. I followed the sound and I found a bunch of local bands playing at the back of the Fat Frog Cafe of Substation... and in the years following that chance encounter, I always seemed to go back to the Substation.

The first gig I organised was also at the Substation; my first foray into design work was also working with Moving Images (I was trained only as a writer, but this first stab at doing visual work has more or led to me working professionally as a designer now, many years later). My first solo exhibition was also held at The Substation last year under the auspices of their visual arts open call - I am ever grateful for the opportunity and their support of my work. I would not have had the space or resources to produce my work about the Singapore River if not for the Substation.

Space is always important here because there is so little of it. While I am not homeless, I work on my own independently and this takes me to many different offices and different places in a single day, and this sometimes feels like I'm some sort of refugee. I am often moving through town carrying all sorts of ridiculous amounts of equipment and books (and constantly picking up more and more). Sometimes in the lull between meetings and the going-ons, I try to look for a harbour at which to shelter at for a while. But over the years, these "meeting spots" have gotten fewer and fewer, with the loss of things like winfood and four face buddha. These days I don't know where to go. Sometimes even when nothing is happening at the Substation I actually end up walking there and sitting there alone on whatever bench or chair that has been left outside.

Which I always think is a great pity. Sometimes even in the short moments of rest, great things can happen. Practically all of my closest friends today are the product of random encounters, walking around places. How would these connections have been made without the spaces in the city where people meet? I wish for more spaces in which people can sit and meet and create things without being pressured to buy something, or to consume something. A neutral space, like you said.

What can we do to get back the garden?

A passage i like from Constant's "Another City for Another Life":

"The crisis in urbanism is worsening. The layout of neighborhoods, old and new, conflicts with established patterns of behavior and even more with the new ways of life that we are seeking. The result is a dismal and sterile ambience in our surroundings.

In the older neighborhoods, the streets have degenerated into freeways and leisure activities are being commercialized and corrupted by tourism. Social relations become impossible. The newly built neighborhoods have only two all-pervasive themes: automobile traffic and household comfort — an impoverished expression of bourgeois contentment, lacking any sense of play.

To meet the need to rapidly construct entire cities, cemeteries of reinforced concrete are being built in which masses of the population are condemned to die of boredom. What is the point of all the extraordinary technical inventions the world now has at its disposal if the conditions are lacking to derive any benefit from them, if they contribute nothing to leisure, if imagination is absent?"

See also:
Mayo Martin: We RAT on Zai Kuning and his invisible Biennale work!
The Substation

Friday, March 11, 2011

Citysounds: Allah Akbar / In Excelsis Deo / Huat Ah Heng Ah

Night falls over Jakarta

Taman Rasuna - Allah Akbar
(Jakarta, December 2010)

One thing that one often forgets about visiting a staunchly Muslim country - that is, until one arrives - is that startling, huge sound of muezzins at prayer time, echoing at least five times a day through the city. Like a beacon of light sweeping through the city, the voices rise from the many minarets across the city, calling muslims to prayer. There was always one at about half past 3 in the morning, and due to the stillness of the night it was always incredibly clear as the sonorous sounds echoed off the skyscrapers in the adjacent and more affluent parts of Jakarta city. I did not see so many mosques in the rich part of town, but I did see them at almost every other street corner in the poorer, low-rise areas.

Who was keeping awake at 3 in the morning? Who was listening and who was still praying at this hour? It was as if the voices from the poorer quarters of Jakarta competed with one another to be heard, and under the blanket of darkness, I did not know who might still be listening.


Gereja Katedral Jakarta - Gloria In Excelsis Deo (Bahasa version)
(Jakarta, December 2010)

On the night of Christmas Eve, thousands of Christians pack the Gereja Katedral Jakarta to attend the Mass services conducted in Bahasa. One of Jakarta's largest Catholic cathedrals, the halls within the Gereja Katedral Jakarta are opulently grand in European style - tall stained-glass windows, wooden pews decked with holly and ribbon, small roman birdbaths of "holy water", and gilded paintings of Jesus and the Apostles on the walls. Dressed in their Sunday's best, the services draw a cross-section of Jakarta which appears predominantly Chinese and generally very bourgeois or affluent.

The refrain of "Angels we have heard on high" will be familiar to even english speakers. As the faithful crowds sung it, I wondered, did they translate this song from the English, or the Dutch, or was there a Latin version of the song? There was something jarring about this. The only words I recognised were the Latin words, and in that, one is reminded that Latin was not even the original language of the Bible. I could not even begin to imagine how the Indonesians would relate the Bible to their context of living in Indonesia. An artificial bubble world. But of course I am simply thinking too much - it is not so complicated for most, for Christianity is often just another sign of the gentrification or western influences in those parts.



Xing Gong Temple (Jalan Ulu Air Molek) - Heng Ah Huat Ah
(Johor Bahru, February 2011)

On the 20th day of every new Lunar year, an epic Chingay procession is held in Johor Bahru, where five deities (representing each of the Chinese dialect groups which have settled in Johore - Hokkien, Cantonese, Hainanese, Hokchew, Hakka) take a tour around the city, hoisted on the back of followers eager to bear the load of the huge shrines (for good luck!).

At the temple before they go on their tour of the town, event organisers from the temple lead the crowds in vigorous cheers of "Huat Ah! Heng Ah!" The event is clearly more than just religious ritual but also symbolic of the Chinese community's aspirations and power within Malaysia. After respects have been paid and dances have been made in honour, the "gods" are paraded proudly through an 8km stretch traversing the financial centre of the city which they presumably watch over. The ensuing float procession is decorated in bright LEDs, neon lights, accompanied by acrobatic performers, worshippers with huge joss sticks, offerings, and a long entourage of lion and dragon troupes from all over Malaysia and other parts of Asia.