Thursday, October 26, 2006

Sexy soba

I've been doing research for 251, my Annabel Chong play. I've been turning up loads of useless trivia:

Bukkake soba
ぶっかけそば – Cold soba served with various toppings sprinkled on top, after which the broth is poured on by the diner. It may include:
  • tororo – puree of yamaimo (a Japanese yam with a slimy texture)

I <3 Wikipedia. ;)

Wednesday, October 25, 2006


Substation Gallery
25 - 30 October 2006
Review by Ng Yi-Sheng
(article first appeared in the Substation Magazine in 2006, original photographs at Jeff Chouw's site.)

It's Hari Raya Aidilfitri, 2006. I'm part of a small crowd gathered inside the Substation Gallery. We're waiting for the guest-of-honour for Jeff Chouw's photographic exhibition 6ixth, which chronicled Chiam See Tong's 2006 battle to win his sixth consecutive seat in parliament.

The MP of Potong Pasir himself is due to arrive at 3pm. In the meantime, we circle the gallery space itself. Chouw has followed Mr Chiam through the period of his campaign, and displayed a chronological documentation of the fight in a counter-clockwise line around the room.

Like me, most of the audience is in their 20's and 30's, a generation given our first opportunity to vote during the recent General Elections, empowered by our use of the Internet as a political tool to disseminate information on the opposition that the print media had seen unfit to publish. We have witnessed the power of a single photograph of the crowds at a Workers' Party rally on, and expect to be inspired again by an array of new images, celebrating the leader of the Singapore Democratic Alliance, another long-standing rebel against overwhelming PAP majority rule of Singapore.

In his photos, however, Chouw reveals something quite different. Chiam is indeed the focus of many of the pictures, but never appeared as the archetypal hero, glowing, numinous, canonised by the adoring lens of the camera. Instead, with stark clarity, the camera underscores the man's greying hair, his smile-lines, his tiredness. Introduced amidst the sombre grey of his campaign centre, a makeshift cubicle of stainless steel against void deck walls, Chiam comes across as quiet, solitary, reflective; nothing like the idol politician that we'd have him be.

Plunged into parades, citizens clamouring about him, Chiam is the still figure in a storm, raising a mug good-naturedly with kopitiam patrons, listening intently to a resident's effusive greetings, but never striking a pose, never smiling directly for the camera's benefit. With his fly-on-the-wall style of photography, Chouw is able to capture the fragile humanity of the man, sweating, fatigued by the routine of the electoral exercise as any of us might be when plunged into such a game of demagoguery and character assassination.

Chiam is consistently upstaged by his supporters - leaning out of HDB windows, banging pots and pans to greet his passage, yelling out of loudspeakers, filling the grassy squares of rallies, engineering their own slogans in bursts of creativity - one woman holds a placard reading "Chiam See Tong, bu dao weng", comparing the man to a traditional doll that always uprights itself, no matter how hard it is knocked down. They, rather than their leader, are the vessels of life, overflowing with the excitement of the campaign.

It's curious to note that at the same time as 6ixth occupies the gallery, the belief-themed Singapore Biennale is displaying works by local-born artists Donna Ong, Ho Tzu Nyen, Brian Gothong Tan, Jason Wee and Erika Tan, all expressing profound disbelief in aspects of the government's management of its citizens. It is instead Jeff Chouw who ironically is able to portray a section of Singapore that was enthralled by the positive power of belief - unwavering devotion to an embattled politician, pitting him as an alternative to a hegemonic leadership system.

Of course, Chouw is able to thumb his nose a little at the establishment in a few photographs - one of them caught a moment when a constable, policing the rally, has his cap drawn over his eyes, appearing both absurdly cartoon-like and faceless. In another picture, Chouw wanders from the SDA rally to a PAP rally, where the annoyed, humourless people waving him away contrast sharply with the exuberant SDA throngs of the neighboring pictures.

But Chouw offers no titles, no dates, no clues as to at what point Chiam's victory was declared - only a scene of decampment after the rally, as the stainless steel cubicle goes down. There's a sense of anticlimax at the end of the circuit, as we return to the door of the gallery. We're driven to return to the other photographs, reluctant to have our memories of the election end on such an unfulfilling note.

Forty-five minutes late, Chiam See Tong finally arrives to our reception, apologetic, having driven his car all around the Substation in fruitless search for a parking space. He says a few uneasy words, clearly unused to honouring arts events, and unveils a picture on the far end of the wall. The photograph shows a child with a sign reading, "I'd vote SDA if I was older."

It's at this point that I realise the significance of the title of 6ixth. Yes, a sixth consecutive win is a triumph, but it's only a return to the status quo. The MP seat been a dead end for Chiam's political career - in a PAP-dominated government, he's unable to rise any higher in parliament, to effect more than nominal change. He's become largely tolerated as a harmless presence by the ruling party, which nonetheless strives harder every five years to eradicate him from his turf.

He's been fighting this fight since 1984, and he's 71 years old this year. When that child turns 21, will the SDA still have a candidate in Potong Pasir?

In the photographic series and in person, Mr Chiam does not come across as exhausted. But he moves slowly, carefully, like the old man he has become. He has a limited time ahead of him for his work, but he continues earnestly, holding his seat, staying there so that people may have a figure to believe in.

Before I leave the gallery, I look again at the publicity poster, derived from one of the portraits of Chiam See Tong, on his cellphone at night, on a void deck bench, organising for the campaign. He is full-bodied but distanced from the camera, and his face and body are turned away. Sitting there alone, he could be any one of us.

Monday, October 23, 2006

My poetry book launch at Tanglin Camp: the writer

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Tanglin Camp: the audience

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Tanglin Camp: the videos

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Fighting vs Fucking

It occurred to me yesterday that capoeira is better than sex.

Hear me out on this. I'm not just being a Brazilian martial arts freak - I'm lazy, I skip classes, I get pissed at the politics between the grupos, I don't volunteer to help out with publicity or learn the berimbau or even play the agogo much anymore.

But I do love how capoeira requires two people to interact in a sequence of spontaneous interaction that's both graceful and deadly - as well as florid. Who needs taekwondo? I love the way we are all elbows and hangs and shins and ankles in this game, kicking and blocking and, may I emphasise, communicating, without necessary impact or ill will.

You get struck down, you laugh. That's the philosophy. That's the way sex should be. Why should our pentagram bodies be designed for stimulation via repetitive stress, the boring friction of cock/ass, tongue/nipple, finger/cunt?

What a wonderful world if the mating dance itself were the sexual act. Where the tease and the tumble was fulfilment in itself, no need for an ultimate spurt to seal closure on a deal and generate fertilised generations to come. Christ, why can't we just breathe our genes into the air and have them settle on turgid fruit, which in nine months become ripe babies for the plucking? Why sex as a rude, grinding mechanical system? I would that we were light-footed and entering a ring exchanging partner and partner, and I'm not talking about orgies, because they're heavy, sordid things too.

I want the body as Baroque. I want pleats and arabesques and flourishes, not minimalism but multiplication of possibility, every swift footstep followed by a joyous attack and defence, two equals falling on our palms with our legs in the air against gravity.

But the lover lies dead on the ground, the beloved skips free. I'll blog about my book launch tomorrow.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

My poetry book launch!


For admission to the first launch at the Tanglin Camp site, you have to RSVP to attend. So if you want to come, send a letter to to make sure you're on the guest list. (It's 'cos it's a public-owned site and stuff...)

I'm having two launches for last boy, my first collection of poetry!

1. Friday 20 October 2006
7:00pm (schmoozing starts at 6:30pm)
Tanglin Camp (Singapore Biennale exhibition site)
Canteen area (Federico Herrera's Hamacario).
73 Loewen Road, Singapore 248843
Guest-of-honour: Alfian Sa'at
RSVP required

If you're coming by taxi, tell the driver it's the old CMPB. If coming by public transport, I'd recommend you take the free shuttle service from City Hall or the old National Library, details here.


2. Friday 27 October 2006
7:00pm (again, schmoozing starts at 6:30pm)
Singapore Art Museum
The Cube

71 Bras Basah Road, Singapore 189555

Both events will be held during periods when the art galleries grant free entry to visitors.

Oh god, I hope it all turns out okay...

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Texts mid-Sep to mid-Oct

Hmm. Guess what. It seems I've become a video and movie junkie instead of reading. And my non-fiction's definitely taken a raunchier turn of late.

Kensai's "Maiden"

Janus Korczak's "King Matt the First"
Orhan Pamuk's "Snow"
Rattawut Lapcharoensap's "Sightseeing"

Gerrie Lim's "In Lust We Trust"
Michel Foucault's "The History of Sexuality: Volume I: an Introduction"
Rainier Maria Rilke's "Letters to a Young Poet"
Dan Savage's "Savage Love" (the first compilation)

The Necessary Stage's "Fundamentally Happy"
Theatreworks's "Diaspora"
Singapore Repertory Theatre's "Forbidden City"
Fiction Farm's "Tick, Tick...BOOM!"
The Finger Players' "I'm Just a Piano Teacher"
(Does Rojak 6 count?)

"High School Musical"
"The Devil Wears Prada"
Christine Fugate's "The Girl Next Door"
Excerpts from "The Pink Stiletto" and other Annabel Chong movies
Feng Xiaogang's "The Banquet"
Colin Goh and Woo Yen Yen's "Singapore Dreaming"
Royston Tan's "Cut"
Bigert and Bergstrom's "The Last Supper"
Paul Weitz's "American Dreamz"
Woody Allen's "Scoop"
Pawel Pawlikowski's "My Summer of Love"
The contents of "Short Circuit", including Sun Koh's "Bedroom Dancing", Yeo Lee Nah's "The Crocodile Journals", Ezzam Rahman and Ghazi Alqudcy's "Demam Jantan (Boy Fever)", Prema Menon's "Molu (Daughter)", various short video art works by Brian Gothong Tan, A D Chan's "Falling Into Fuchsia", Charmaine Wong's "Pink IC", Loo Zihan & Kan Lume's "Untitled", and Boo Junfeng's "Un Retrato de Familia (A Family Portrait)"
Eurocreme's "Dreamboy USA" [yes, it's a porno movie, have you a problem with that?]

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Displacementary: an Artvsts Exhibition

Saturday night after the Singapore Biennale volunteer soiree I went with a bunch of cute teenagers to the new City Gallery at Basheer Graphic Books in Bras Basah Complex.

Artvsts is a new urban artist collective. I think their work is pretty good.

You see, the thing about street art in Singapore is that it's not taken seriously by either the man in the street (who doesn't like contemporary art in general and is suspicious of vandals) or the man in the ivory tower (who thinks that Singapore street art can't be genuine because we don't have a real street culture). I'm starting to learn from this and other collectives that graphic street culture in Singapore is strong and alive, particularly among the young Malay community - I believe all five of the Artvsts core members are young Malay men.

The thing is, there is one sector of the population who can really appreciate street art, and that's young people - because we/they feed off the spirit of rebellion and anarchy that goes with urban culture. If we're interested in promoting visual arts, why not take more steps to include urban art so we can attract young aficionados of graffitoed walls - who may well grow up to be curators, art writers and auction attendees (argh, I know, I speak like the co-opted, but my criteria for questionable Singapore art is whether it'll help the other artists - a system that works for Lim Tzay Chuen, since notice of his invisible artworks in academia attracts the international community to other Singapore artists).

Anyway, if you're at Bugis Junction or Raffles City or the Library, hop over to Bras Basah to see the exhibition:

C ity gallery@Basheer Graphics Books
Level 4 Bras Basah Complex
30 Sep 2006-30 Oct 2006

More pictures below. Posted by Picasa
This is by Orkibal:
This is by Phuek. He's made the work out of Trexis toys - they're just back from exhibition in New York and selling at ginormous US$ prices.

These works are by the Killer Gerbil. There were several gerbils in the cage, which KG later allowed to run all over Phuek's exhibit. Pity I didn't whip out my camera; they were beyond cute.

And this is the communal message board.

I don't know art well, but I think these guys are pretty good. So why isn't there Singapore street art in the Biennale? What do street artists have to do to prove that they're more worthy of being represented than a graffiti artist-cum-graphic designer resident in Singapore and from France, for chrissakes?

Go to the exhibition. Also check out the curatorial and residency organising work of the artist Khairuddin Hori at Wunderspaze. I might not be keeping it real, but he is. Posted by Picasa