I’m in a group photography exhibition at Objectifs! It’s a little different because I’ve never been asked to only exhibit photographs before. It’s always been in tandem with text or responding (often with text) to another artist’s photographs. My one solo exhibition, Slide & Tongue, in 2018 was a series of photohaiku, where the haiku was integrated into the body of the image. Maybe poetry has been a kind of refuge, an easier way to ‘read’ the image by providing an entry point, so when Ang Siew Ching, the curator of this exhibition, asked me to only send over images, I really had to trawl through my archives to find images that would fit into the theme and that would work without the safety net of poetry. The images cohere broadly to the idea of the liminal, juxtaposing the mundane with a kind of temporal humour located in object, emotion or action. I’m excited to see how my work sits alongside and dialogues with older, established artists as well as architects and film-based photographers.
The exhibition opens on 7 May. There’s an opening reception (sans F&B), from 4-7pm. I’ll be there to hang out and answer any questions about the work. As a satellite event to the exhibition I’ll also run a version of PhotoWrite, my writing/photography workshop, on 21 May at 4pm. Details forthcoming.
I’m very stoked to be a featured author for NLB and to get a chance to discuss the thinking and process behind some of my books. Do join me for two book clubs where I’ll be discussing Vital Possessions and Spomenik as well as a chat with Ng Kah Gay, my editor at Ethos Books, where we’ll be discussing my travel poetry. All of these are going to be online, so there’s no restrictions on attendance.
I have a love affair with site-specific work. There’s something fundamentally challenging with responding ekphrastically to a found scene or image. So many factors are in the mix: chance, the time of day, the presence of unexpected elements and, of course, how inclined one is to linger or go off the beaten path into the back lane (or the country road).
This practice is a mainstay of my Instagram photohaiku practice, where I impose two control elements. All the photographs are taken, unposed, on the street. The second is that the poetic form is the haiku. These constraints enable me to create a consistent, coherent body of work that is concerned with how content speaks through form.
But beyond this practice, there are also various larger, collaborative projects that I’ve done in the form of walks and tours around various estates, such as Yishun, Tiong Bahru, Kampung Gelam and now… Katong. The latter is a rich site that blends commerce, history, migrant stories, food and Peranakan influence into a tapestry that sits beneath the ever-present spectre of gentrification that seems to have consumed Katong and Joo Chiat today. Change is the inevitable consequence of growth, particularly when we build on top of things, both literally and metaphorically, but we should also not completely forget the things that made us who we are. An awareness of older stories and traditions are invaluable in shaping the nexus of our identity.
And art is a more amenable entry point than the didactic dictates of history. So it has been a pleasure to work with fellow artists Mark Nicodemus Tan (tour guide, lyricist and singer), August Lum (composer), and Valerie Lim (dancer) in devising this musical performance tour that blends the lived history of Katong with imaginative elements of other seasons, places and times. More importantly, it leads us to question this whole trope of identity that seems to consume us as a nation. We don’t promise you the answer in this tour, but maybe, it is a way of coming to be, and become.
Katong Dreaming opens on 18 Feb 2022 and runs to 27 March 2022. Tickets available at katongdreaming.peatix.com Use pintupagar for $20 off the full ticket price ($68).
You could say this show has been 15 years in the making. Or that we’ve waited 15 years to make this show. Either way, a stage show is never a light undertaking. When I first started writing the comedy podcasts with mrbrown, I was still a trainee teacher in NIE, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. Over the years, we had a string of fellow collaborators, including my brother, Ivan. One by one, everyone left as their paths diverged. But I stuck on.
It was kind of addictive, showing up week after week at the studio to take apart the news and ‘find the funny’ as we liked to call it. It was always about getting at the premise of the story and looking for a way to subvert it, whether through a committee meeting, a movie trailer, a parody song and so on.
Nobody sponsored us, nobody paid us, but people listened. And that was enough. Of course, we also did it for free, so paying for content was never a barrier. But we did it too because we believed in the show. We started in the days before YouTube took off, which is why the show existed as an audio podcast for many years, but from 2013, the transition to video slowly, but inevitably happened. It was accelerated by the accidental creation of Kim Huat as a character, but we also realised that audio didn’t play well with social media platforms.
So eventually, the sketches changed to become more visual. Video was another animal, though, so there are a multitude of considerations to think about when it comes to production. 2020, for us, has been the year of the green screen. It’s been challenging to learn the ropes and execute, but like everyone else around the world, working from home has taken on a new and critical meaning.
Which brings me to the show. Ironically, without the pandemic, it would never have happened. One of us, or all of us, would likely have been traveling and it would have been possible to block the three months needed to put a show like this together. Of course, the downside is that it’s just 100 audience members per show, although we are live streaming our final performance.
The show itself is difficult to define. It is theatre only in the broadest sense of the etymology of the word ‘theatre’; to behold, to gaze upon, to be presented with.
Behold, here we are, upon a stage of our own doing (and undoing), bringing to you a retrospective of songs, monologues, sketches, spoken word and even improvised comedy.
It is a microcosm of thousands of hours of podcasts and video clips. It weaves the personal with the social, the serious with the silly, Christmas with the kooky.
This is our gift to you in 2020, to say goodbye to this scarred year with a smile and look forward to a better world in 2021.
The mrbrownshow LIVE! is part of SIFA V2.020. There are four shows from 25-27 December 2020. The last show will also be live streamed.
This poem was one of my first ever spoken word pieces, written years ago when I was in university and completely in love with the magic of the Milo Van, which was a staple fixture after enduring annual cross-country runs in secondary school and JC. The Milo Van also made occasional visits to my university campus and I would add extra time to my commute so that I could queue-up for multiple cups of ice cold goodness.
The Milo Van (for the addicts)
The Milo van comes to school whenever there’s a bazaar. Bright-eyed students peddle costume jewellery, yoghurt with fruit topping, secondhand CDs and tables of yellow, mildewed books.but all that, even the showroom cars they bring in, is merely the prelude for the Milo van, waiting in the wings, the belle of the ball, her cup runneth over and onto the lips of fawning Milo addicts.
And how can you tell they are addicts? By the Milo energy bars they eat to keep up their nervous smiles while waiting, by the Milo nougats they sneak onto buses and trains to tide them over until their next hit, by the flecks of Milo powder making a guilty moustache on their upper lip when they’ve crammed whole mouthfuls from the tin at home.
In the school holidays, Milo addicts are forced to pay for watered down, uneven, insipid, iced Milo in variant coffeeshops; the Milo dinosaur, the Milo godzilla, huge uncultured mountains of raw powder scooped without class or finesse, floating amid crude chunks of ice, poorer cousins to the Milo from the Milo van
Milo addicts have no Zurich park of free Milo, they have to shoot up on a low grade, even score something on their own, laying out their apparatus: a metal spoon, Milo powder, warmed up milk and hot water. But the difference between this and the Milo van is like stretching out to pray facing heaven and actually being in heaven.
The Milo van is the mecca of consumption, the ecstasy of nirvana, the afterlife of sweet nothingness.
Oh, to return as a Milo lover of the Milo van, nevermore to have to drink Milo out of a can!
The Milo man drives the Milo van everywhere around the campus. but wherever he goes, arts, science or engineering, its always the same group of junkies standing around in silent longing, quaffing 1,2,3,4…even 10 cups in succession, quiet with their thoughts of Milo mayhem as the viscous vicious malt chocolate ice cold ice head sugar spinning cocoa mind numbing high, higher, highest oh the rush….
Sightlines has opened at Alliance Francaise! It’s the ultimate dream for a photobook to find a larger home in a gallery, where more nuanced curatorial decisions can be made. I’m so grateful that Alliance Francaise kept to their promise to host the exhibition despite the dampening effects of the pandemic. Marie-Pierre Mol of Intersections Gallery is also co-sponsoring the exhibition, and she has been my faithful gallerist over the course of my last four exhibitions.
Waye and I were able to play with size, blowing up Monument to wall-sized and got Anita Zee, a designer, to work with us to rework the layout of some of the poems to resonate even more with the images. And AVS Printers is making really lovely fine-art archival quality prints of the work.
The short clip below is an introduction to the gallery and if anybody wants a personal tour, just holler at me!
Some people start the year binge drinking at a manic New Year’s Eve party. Some start it with a list of neatly written resolutions. And others start it with an early night in bed, ignoring the festivities and fireworks to face the new year bright and early.
I spent the first week of January in hospital.
How did I get there? It all started with an ill-fated calisthenics workout. Not having done anything like this before, I went for a beginner class, which turned out to be an advanced form… of torture. It was tough, to say the least. And the instructor should really have modified the exercises that he made the beginners (Carolyn and I) do versus the rest of the class, who were regulars.
The thing about exercise is that it needs to be gradual; muscles need conditioning to get accustomed to increasing weight and stress. You don’t climb Everest on a whim. Or tackle 45 pull-ups in thirty minutes.
The day after the workout. I could not straighten my arms. I was like a velociraptor, dangling my useless arms and roaring at everyone. I thought it was the usual muscle fatigue after a particularly strenuous workout.
Two days after, my arms started to swell up. I was pleasantly surprised at first to have such large forearms after just one round of calisthenics. But as the day wore on, they ached and I started to feel acutely dehydrated. That’s when I knew something was really wrong.
Saturday night. A&E at Tan Tock Seng Hospital. The attending doctor looked a bit worried after she got my urine and blood test results. She put me on a drip and said I had to be warded. I had done some googling beforehand and found that the worst case scenario was a rare, but not unheard of condition called rhabdomyolysis. Here’s what WebMD has to say:
Rhabdomyolysis is a serious syndrome due to a direct or indirect muscle injury. It results from the death of muscle fibers and release of their contents, mostly an enzyme called creative kinase, into the bloodstream.
And one of the causes of rhabdo is extreme muscle strain, for example, an overdone calisthenics workout.
So there I was, waiting six hours in a bed in a room full of hacking old men for a bed in a ward. One gentlemen even pooped in the gurney next to me. The smell was… incredible.
The results for my creatine kinase levels came back. My worst fears were realised. Rhabdo the Terrible had come. It was 70,000 units per litre (U/L). In a normal person, that level should be between 20-200 U/L.
My arms were like jelly. I was unable to prop myself up. An IV line dripped lifesaving fluids through my veins. I downed up to 5L of water daily. In the days to come, the CK level spiked to 80,000 U/L before steadily dropping.
There was lots of time to read, to worry about my PhD research and to dwell upon the vagaries of life in a hospital ward. I had opted for B2 class, which meant a 5-bed ward, but due to a shortage of space I was (fortunately!) offered a single room in a recovery ward which used to house the CDC. It wasn’t exactly quiet though, as nurses frequently yelled to each other down the length of the hallway and a very noisy old man yelled “OI!” at regular intervals to get attention. I assumed he was in pain, but he frequently followed it up with a string of choice curse words, so I wonder whether he was simply chafing at the ignominy of being in hospital.
When I did feel better, I went for a walk down the corridor…
and peeked outside, feeling hemmed in like this fleeting glimpse of the sky.
Fortunately, after a week of this, my levels dropped to 7,000 U/L. Still very high by regular standards, but good enough for me to go home. So I said goodbye to my bed for a week and celebrated with a soy ice-cream from Mr Bean.
The last time I was warded was almost thirty years ago, and it felt like a combination of being confined to the bunk during ICT with room service (including blood pressure tests) being offered at all hours. Not terrible, but not something I would like to repeat anytime soon.
We’re back! This Saturday at the Arts House Play Den, for just one night. But got two show lah, 6.30pm and 9pm – to cater for those who wanna eat dinner before, those who wanna eat dinner after and those who have to catch a flight.
After .gif, Wu Jun Han and I played to a capacity crowd at the ArtScience Museum for the first run of Green is the Colour of my Heart, we felt bad that people actually came (albeit, late) for the show and had to be turned away! So we decided to stage it again, with the generous venue support of the Arts House.
I would like to say that the second time round, we’re definitely more comfortable and confident with our material, plus, it’s a different space, so it allows for some variety in staging. Some people liked the show so much they are coming back again! That’s truly moving, and I’m thankful that poetry still has a place in my peoples’ hearts.
Tickets are available here: greenisthecolourofmyheart.peatix.com Use discount code: GREENHEART for a 20% discount.
I’ll also be selling Vital Possessions, which contains several poems from the show as well as Auguries of Modern Innocence, which will be performed together with a kickass soundtrack by .gif. as well as visuals from the amazing artists who illustrated the poem.
After a productive residency in Paris, it’s back to more gigs, launches and the general melee of being a writer, producer and performer in Singapore. All of which is always a blast, but it does get kinda intense sometimes!
At the upcoming #buysinglit campaign weekend, which also merges with the Textures festival organised by the Arts House, I’ll be producing and performing in Note for Note.
And from 9 March to 1 April, I have the greatest pleasure of exhibiting alongside some of Singapore’s most exciting visual artists. Auguries of Modern Innocence is an exhibition that is a modern rewrite of William Blake’s Auguries of Innocence. Visual artists worked on various stanzas, creating a striking series of tableaus that conjure up visions of modern dystopia.
The exhibition opens from 10 am on 9 March, but drop by for the official launch on 10 March at 6.30pm.
There will also be an interactive workshop on 10 March from 2.30 to 5.30pm.
Come by to modernise your own bit of Blake and get a piece of artwork custom-made by the artists in the exhibition.
And on 17 March, we’ll be having an artist talk in the space from 4-5.30pm .
More info here: https://www.theartshouse.sg/whats-on/auguries-of-modern-innocence