For a year in which I made just one trip overseas, there has, surprisingly, been no shortage of projects and collaborative opportunities. My fellow artists proved to be anything but horizontal and together, we devised an unending stream of ideas that was realised through a range of platforms and forms. Video was pretty foregrounded this year, but I also had the incredible privilege to put together and perform two live shows.
Together with Demond Kon, Kevin Martens Wong and Nuraliah Norasid, I was commissioned to write a long sonnet that functioned as one of several anchor pieces for the 2020 Light To Night Festival. A line from my poem was on an artwork that sprawled invitingly across the Padang. It felt like a good omen to a year that was already hearing ominous whispers of a wildfire virus straight outta Wuhan.
Note for Note: Stop, Look and Listen
This year’s edition of Note for Note further iterated on previous versions. Usually, the poets would perform their work but for this round, I curated a selection of poems based on the broad palette of the city and divided the performance into three segments, ‘Stop, Look and Listen,’ playing with the ideas of movement, changing spaces and listening to the city in all its varied postures of listening. The performance was superbly directed by Cherilyn Woo and introduced me to the graceful movements and voices of Victoria Chen, Tia Guttensohn, Krish Natarajan and Vignesh Singh. The accompanying soundscape was crafted by the incomparable Bani Haykal.
I was a participating artist in The Singapore Festival 2020, held in Lim Chin Tsong Palace in Yangon, Myanmar. As part of a larger collaborative exhibition called ‘A Matter of Time’, curated by my gallerist, Marie Pierre-Mol, I paired up with Maung Day, a cutting-edge poet and multidisciplinary artist and activist. We created a series of photograph-poem pairs that were accompanied by a series of metronomes ticking away at different tempos. It was also a lovely opportunity to reconnect with friends and collaborators like San Lin Tun and Nicola Anthony. The larger festival was a marketing attempt by STB to bring Singapore food, fashion and culture to Myanmar. It was a hit-and-run exhibition: setup, showcase, tear down and zip back to Singapore. If only I had known, I would have extended my stay for a few more days…
Part of the Buy SingLit Campaign, Uncanny Yishun was a unique walking tour around Khatib and Yishun. Each checkpoint was a site of uncanny news, often illustrated by a poem and performed by either one of our two able guides, Sharda Harrison and Lian Sutton. As the shadow of Covid-19 loomed ever larger, Crispin Rodrigues and I were given a choice: go ahead with the tour or postpone it to September. We pressed on and were rewarded with four fantastic rounds of the tour in early March.
Handbook of Daily Movement
This was certainly a show that I would have been heartbroken to have cancelled. It was probably one of my most collaborative shows. I worked with music, dance, costumes and we even had a fashion label sponsor the dancers.
Fortunately, The Arts House decided that the show must go on. It would be the last live show that I would do until December.
April to June was a period of reconfiguring, experimenting with the online space. I teamed up with music producer James Lye and a whole crew of talented singers and musicians to make Livin’ Covida Loca, a parody song that reflected the world in lockdown.
A poem that was originally written for The Straits Times found its way into an anthology of pandemic poems published by Penguin India. For the first time, I find myself featured alongside two other Nairs.
Originally scheduled to be held earlier in the year, the Alliance Francaise generously kept the exhibition space available for Tsen Waye and I and when they reopened, Sightlines was the first exhibition in the door. We were grateful to have a long run of two months in the space as well as the chance to reimagine some of our work in terms of size and text layout.
A soft start to my new residency with the Exactly Foundation. The topic is Offence and my stomping ground is the Bugis Precinct. The mode is street photography and I have been drawn to the liminal points of infraction between private and public space. These are often tacit, fleeting and contextual, but they do exist, even in such a manicured city.
Crossroads Vol. 3 was another music collaboration with James Lye. This time, James produced the show while I performed poetry to the emotive sounds of PandaMachine and the improvisational genius of Michael Spicer.
I had a very different role in the 2020 Singapore Writers Festival. Normally, I’m used to being on a panel or two, be on a reading or even moderate a conversation. But this time, I pitched Poetry Bites, a video series where I interviewed ten poets over video. I filmed them (mostly) in their homes reading a poem and then had a short conversation with them about the poem and their work in general. The festival theme being intimacy, I thought that this would be a closer glimpse into process through the screen. Plot twist: I even interviewed myself!
Another fun collaboration, writing and voicing a spoken word piece to a dance piece conceptualised and choreographed by Victoria Chen and Valerie Lim.
Joshua Wong Weng Yew’s Pandemic Time project was a fantastic idea in a year where time seems to shift and warp and become elastic and interminable. 24 poets responded to the 24 hours in a day. I was given 8am.
My last official poems for the year were a pair written in response to Sing Lit Station’s Digital Travel Bubble, cheekily offered up in lieu of the cancelled travel bubble between Singapore and Hong Kong. Poets from each country were paired together and each had to write a poem about their favourite place and one that responded to the other poet’s favourite place. I was with David McKirdy, who wrote a poem about Fei Ngo Shan, or Kowloon Peak, while I wrote about Bugis. If anything, it just made me even more wistful and sad about the impossibility of leisure travel for a long time to come.
The mrbrown show Live!
Commissioned by SIFA for their version 2.020 festival, The mrbrown show live! was written, rehearsed and performed in the span of two months. It was a little rushed and we wished that we had more time to build the show, but 2020 being what it is, we were grateful for the opportunity to play four shows to sold-out crowds and even have a multi-cam livestream. It was a humbling, enriching and exhausting experience. I will do it all over again.