An Ocean of Possibilities

4 11 2014

In An Ocean of Possibilities, we may find a sea of change. A photography exhibition brought to Singapore through a collaboration between Singapore International Photography Festival (SIPF) and Noorderlicht International Photo Festival in Groningen, An Ocean of Possibilities features the thought provoking works of 34 internationally acclaimed photographers who find unlikely forces for change in the midst of  the trials and tribulations of tragedy, conflict and upheaval.

Finding out how a camera obscura works in An Ocean of Possibilities.

Hands-on in finding out how a camera obscura works in An Ocean of Possibilities.

It is a theme that SIPF Festival Director, Gwen Lee, says that Singapore is no stranger to, having overcome many obstacles in charting its course through to an improved future. To Ms Lee,  the ocean “signifies a test of our courage, imagination and capabilities to take the path less trodden”, a path that is taken by the subject in the works.

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The exhibition at the ArtScience Museum, which opened on 31 October 2014 and will run until 28 December, sees over 200 works – photographs and videos, on display. Among the photographs are the works of two Singaporeans, Zhao Renhui and Lim Weixiang in the 34 that have been selected from over 1000 submissions.

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The works that I thought were especially provoking are those of Alex Masi, Ana Galan, Matthew O’Brien and Loulou d’Aki. Masi’s Bhopal Second Disaster is particularly so in examining the continuing fallout of the Bhopal disaster, 30 years on, through a series of haunting images. In all this, Masi finds hope in adversity, a hope that a population abandoned by those who should be making wrongs right, have found from within.

Photographs from Alex Mesi's Bhopal Second Disaster.

Photographs from Alex Masi’s Bhopal Second Disaster.

d’Aki also finds hope in the future – through the faces of the youth of the Middle East and in their dreams and ambitions in Make A Wish, while O’Brien finds beauty in the common folk of Colombia in lives where the threat of violence and misery is ever present through a series of Polaroids in No Dar Papaya. In Galan’s In a Quest for Utopia, we are made to take a look at a Myanmar, which in spite of democratic reforms, continues to be dominated by the politics of the past half a century. Galan’s work sees a homage paid to activists who in continuing a fight for freedom put their lives and their own personal freedom at risk.

Ana Galan's portrait of Nay Yee Ba Swe with the words of Article 37 of the Burmese Constitution superimposed.

Ana Galan’s portrait of Nay Yee Ba Swe with the words of Article 37 of the Burmese Constitution superimposed.

Polaroids from Matthew O'Brien's No Dar Papaya.

Polaroids from Matthew O’Brien’s No Dar Papaya.

Loulou d'Aki's Make A Wish - hope for the future seen in the faces of the youth of the post Arab Spring Middle East.

Loulou d’Aki’s Make A Wish – hope for the future seen in the faces of the youth of the post Arab Spring Middle East.

A quite enjoyable part of the exhibition are the interactive activities that Hands On Lenses, curated by artscientist Isabella Desjeux, that visitors can participate in. Participants will be able to make their own magnifier, understand how a camera obscura works and use their smart phones to take photos of magnified objects. Hands On Lenses workshops will be conducted by Isabella Desjuex on 8 and 9 and 22 November, 13 and 20 December. In addition to this, Marina Bay Sands’ resident photographers will be conducting two courses, Photographing Stories on 23 and 30 November and Shooting Travel Photos like a Pro on 13 December.

Hands on Lenses.

Hands on Lenses.

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In addition to this, ArtScience Museum will also be organising a free symposium on 8 November, Digital Frontiers: Exploring the context of Digital Imaging. This will see academic experts in the art and science field, Dr Vasillios Vonikakis from Advanced Digital Sciences Center and Associate Prof Oh Soon-Hwa from Nanyang Technological University exploring how digital photography has changed our perception of images today. The session will also include a discussion on how technological advances have spurred greater progress in key areas within the artistic and scientific domains.

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More information on the exhibition and workshops can be found at the ArtScience Museum’s site and also the SIPF website. A exhibition guide can be downloaded here.

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Artistic Impressions by Shunji Matsuo

3 11 2014

Renowned for his artistic creations in the hair salon, hairstylist Shunji Matsuo unleashes another dimension in his creative genius in Artistic Impressions, an exhibition running until 13 November 2014, which showcases not only his contribution to hairstyles, but also some 40 paintings and over 20 sculptures and headdresses. The exhibition, curated by Steven Lim, a late bloomer in the field of art – interestingly he was a ship designer before he put himself through art school close to the age of 60, is being held at the Japan Creative Centre in Nassim Road.

A model dressed in Shunji Matsuo's happy colours at the opening of the exhibition on Friday.

A model dressed in Shunji Matsuo’s happy colours at the opening of the exhibition on Friday.

I thought that the works, which in most part have a recurring theme centered around women and hairstyles – have also been inspired by contemporary artists such as Yayoi Kusama and subjects such the Amasan in Japan, are rich in colour (yellow is said to be his happy colour) and have a rather intriguing child-like quality.

A work inspired by Yayoi Kusama.

A work inspired by Yayoi Kusama.

Matsuo at the opening.

Matsuo at the opening.

The exhibition is well worth a visit not just for Matsuo’s happy expressions of creativity, but also because it gives you an opportunity to step into the gorgeous old world house that the Japan Creative Centre is housed in. More information is available at http://www.sg.emb-japan.go.jp/JCC/invite_shunji%20matsuo.html.

The gorgeous house the Japan Creative Centre is housed in.

The gorgeous house the Japan Creative Centre is housed in.

Matsuo's contributions to 50 years of fashion evolution.

Matsuo’s contributions to 50 years of fashion evolution.

Curator, Steven Lim.

Curator, Steven Lim.

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A life-changing slice of toast

22 10 2014

P1040768It is going to be hard to look at the humble kaya loti (kaya toast in local speak) in the same way again. Long a breakfast item for the man-on-the-street, it now finds itself elevated into one of two life-changing Singapore experiences for the visitor – thanks to Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015 in which Singapore tops the list of ten countries to visit next year.

To celebrate the Singapore’s elevation to the top of the pile, which in part is due to the fact that Singapore celebrates its 50th anniversary of full independence next year,  Singapore Tourism Board (STB) / Lonely Planet decided to bring out the best in kaya – the sweet paste sometimes referred to as “coconut egg jam” made from coconut milk, pandan, sugar and eggs, that can be irresistible on a buttered slice of toast, at a hands-on event at 2am Dessert Bar on Tuesday.

An more creative variation on the kaya toast - a kaya toast cocktail.

An more creative variation on the kaya toast – a kaya toast cocktail.

There is nothing not to love about kaya toast, which in many ways, is representative of what Singapore is as a country – the fusion of many influences and one that continues to evolve. Kaya and kaya toast, besides in the many more traditional variations in which one can find it served today, also provides the inspiration for evolving food and beverage creations –  two of which came to light at yesterdays event.

Variations on what started out as a humble breakfast dish.

Variations on what started out as a humble breakfast dish.

The first, is the creation of the much celebrated pastry chef, Janice Wong, the creative energy behind 2am. Reputed to have herself blindfolded so as not to allow what she creates be influenced by what she sees, Janice gave an introduction to “Shades of Green” – a dessert in which flavours many who have grown up in Singapore would quite easily identify with are reinterpreted. The dessert, which I got an opportunity to try assembling, discharging a spray of coco-mousse into two unfortunate participants in the process; features a custard of pandan flavoured palm sugar (gula melaka) is combined with gula melaka ice cream, coco-mousse, pistachio sponge and pistachio crumble, and is topped with a kuih bang kit meringue.

Janice Wong of 2am Dessert Bar.

Janice Wong of 2am Dessert Bar.

Shades of Green.

Shades of Green.

Shades of Green was quickly followed by more shades of green in the form of a kaya-making demo, after which came what to me was the highlight – putting together a kaya-toast cocktail conceived by cocktail bar Bitters and Love. A combination of rum, lemon juice, sugar, honey, peach liqueur, egg white and a dash of kaya, it does put an interesting twist on the lori kaya.

The ingredients of traditional kaya.

The ingredients of traditional kaya.

Putting a new twist both on Singapore and kaya loti, is Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015. Of Singapore, Lonely Planet has this to say: “As one of the world’s most multi-cultural cities, Singapore is always celebrating something. But Asia’s smallest state has an extra reason to put on her party hat in 2015 for it’s golden jubilee”. There is indeed much to celebrate in the cultural crossroads that is Singapore. While the city-state’s rapid modernisation, in which it has discarded too much of its fascinating past, has shifted emphasis on the development of mega-attractions and the staging of gala-events; there is that curious mix of age-old traditions and architecture with the ultra-modern that does makes Singapore, where the Lonely Planet says answering the door in one’s underwear is a no-no, a country one just has to visit.

Lonely Planet's Sales and Marketing Director Chris Zeiher at 2am.

Lonely Planet’s Sales and Marketing Director Chris Zeiher at 2am.

Along with Singapore, the countries in the top ten for 2015 are Namibia, Lithuania, Nicaragua, Ireland, Republic of Congo, Serbia, The Philippines, St Lucia and Morocco. Lonely Planet draws recommendations for Best in Travel from hundreds of ideas submitted by Lonely Planet’s staff, authors, and extended family of travellers, bloggers and tweeters. The suggestions are refined by a panel of in-house travel experts based on topicality, excitement, value and that special X-factor. More information on Best of Travel can be found at Lonely Planet’s website.





A dream clinic

21 10 2014

The brand with the three stripes, Adidas, brought some excitement to the tennis courts at Raffles Institution (RI) and also to the grandstand at the MOE Co-Curricular Activities Branch (CCAB), when three of their sponsored WTA superstars, made an appearance on Friday. The three, Simona Halep, Ana Ivanovic and Caroline Wozniacki, in Singapore for the WTA Finals, graced the courts to conduct what must have been a dream Adidas tennis clinic for students from the schools from the Raffles family. Simona Halep also made a surprise appearance at the CCAB where tennis players from Methodist Girls School were in training.

Besides taking questions about training regimes, pre-match routines, diet, lucky charms and how they were coping with the Singapore weather, the very glamourous tennis superstars posed some questions of their own – on posing a question on what food she should try whilst in Singapore, the almost unanimous recommendation made at RI to Ana Ivanovic was the durian … I wonder if she would be brave enough to try it ….

Ana Ivanovic and Simona Halep at Raffles Institution.

Ana Ivanovic and Simona Halep at Raffles Institution.

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Soo Kui Jen introducing Simona Halep, Caroline Wozniacki, Ana Ivanovic at RI.

Soo Kui Jen introducing Simona Halep, Caroline Wozniacki, Ana Ivanovic at RI.

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RGS tennis players waiting in anticipation.

RGS tennis players waiting in anticipation.

Simona Halep. at CCAB

Simona Halep. taking questions at CCAB

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Simona Halep taking a wefie with the MGS girls.

Simona Halep taking a wefie with the MGS girls.





The burning boat

14 10 2014

One evening a year, a burning boat lights up the dark and forgotten shores of Kampong Wak Hassan. The fire burns quickly, its flames completely consuming the boat ‘s paper shell and its wooden frame in a matter of minutes, sending nine divine beings on a journey to their celestial abodes. The journey brings the beings’ annual nine-day sojourn into the human world to a close and is one that follows a ritual that brings much colour to the shores of Singapore.

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It isn’t only at Kampong Wak Hassan that we see this send-off in Singapore, it is also seen at several waterfront locations across the island. The boat burning act comes at the end of the Kew Ong Yah or Jiu Wang Ye (九王爷) or the Nine Emperor Gods festival, a festival that commemorates the visit of the nine stellar gods – the nine stars of the Big Dipper (seven visible and two invisible). The festival begins with the gods being invited to earth and ends with their journey home on the ninth day.

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The Taoist festival is celebrated with much fervour by the devotees of the Nine Emperor Gods, especially so in southern Chinese immigrant communities in several parts of Thailand and Malaysia. Devotees observe a strict vegetarian diet throughout the festival, which falls on the first nine days of the ninth month of the Chinese lunar calendar, starting on the festival’s eve.  It would once have been common during the festival to observe mediums, many sporting piercings through various parts of the face and on the body, going into a trance. What I especially recall from my younger days was the sight of mediums swords in hand performing acts of self-flagellation, as well as hearing the sounds of cracking whips, all of which over the years seem to have become less common.

A medium sporting a peircing – seen in 1979 (source: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline).

More information on the festival itself is to be found in a Singapore Infopedia article. The article identifies twelve temples in Singapore at which the festival is observed, one of which is the Tou Mu Kung temple at Upper Serangoon Road. Thought to be the first in Singapore at which the festival was celebrated, the temple’s festival observance culminates these days in a send-off for the gods at Pulau Punggol Timor, a man-made island off the much altered Seletar coastline that is accompanied by much pomp and ceremony.

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The ceremony at Wak Hassan, is that celebrated by the Kew Ong Yah temple, which has its origins in Chong Pang Village – it was originally located just stone’s throw away from the landmark Sultan Theatre. Now housed within the Chong Pang Combined temple in Yishun, the temple also commemorates the occasion with much colour, sending the gods off at the seawall of what was a former village by the sea. It was the temple’s ceremony that I found myself at on the evening of 2nd October, the the ninth day of the ninth month this year.

The crowd at Kampong Wak Hassan.

The crowd at Kampong Wak Hassan.

There was already much anticipation in the air when I arrived at 9 pm, more than an hour before the procession was to arrive. A small crowd, made up of many extended families, had already gathered and the chatter included the excited voices of the many children in the crowd. While there was a hint of a sea breeze, it was a sticky evening and many sought relief from the strategically positioned ice-cream vendor and the ice-cream wielding crowd brought an almost festive like atmosphere that is not often seen in the area.

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The anticipation seemed to grow with the passing minutes. A commotion announced the arrival of the two paper boats that were to be used in the ritual. The first, with the head of a dragon, was one that was to be set alight on the beach in which offerings were to be placed. The second, was to carry the gods out to sea and set alight – the flames transporting the gods to the heavens. The presence of the boats, which were moved down to the beach, also provided the signal that arrival of the of the procession of the gods and their paraphernalia was imminent, prompting a frenzy of joss stick lighting among the devotees in the crowd.

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A thunder of drums heralded the arrival of the gods. Representations of the nine gods, masked men dressed in an almost gaudy fashion, circled the roundabout at the end of Sembawang Road in an unsteady dance before the procession moved down to the seawall.  A violently swaying sedan chair brought in the sacred urn. The urn is where the spirits of the gods are carried and the chair is swung from side to side by its bearers as a sign the divine presence. Among those making their way down to the seawall with the procession was Mr K Shanmugam, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister for Law and an MP for Nee Soon GRC, who takes part regularly in the Kew Ong Yah temple’s Nine Emperor Gods festival celebrations.

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It was close to midnight when a semi-melodious chant in Hokkien rose above the gentle sounds of the waves of the nearby sea – the chants prayers sung, almost, by a Taoist priest. Once the prayers were completed, it was time for the party of temple officials and the Minister to wet launch the boat carrying the gods, setting it alight in the process, after which attention was turned to the second boat. Fanned by the strengthening sea breeze, the flames seemed in both cases to leap off the burning boat, offering onlookers such as myself, quite a sight to behold. It was past midnight when it was all over, and as quickly as the fire consumed the boats, the crowd dispersed.

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Together with the accompanying ceremony, the fiery end makes the send-off ceremony one of more colourful religious rituals that is seen today in Singapore. The setting for the send-off by the sea provides a connection to who we are and to where we came from; the sea being a naturally where we might, in the past, have sought a connection with the beliefs of our forefathers, many whom arrived here from the coastal communities of Southeast Asia, India and China. Now one of the few religious rituals celebrated by the sea that still is quite visible, the festival serves to connect us with a shore we are very quickly losing sight of. The shore that made us who we were is today a shore that has turned us into who we are not.

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The dragon comes alive for Mid-Autumn

9 09 2014

The Dragon has been brought to life for the third time this year, being fired up this time around for an international gathering of clay artists in Singapore for the International Chawan Exposition. The 16th edition of the exposition is being held in Singapore from 6 to 14 September 2014 and includes a wood firing event from 8 to 10 September at the Thow Kwang Dragon Kiln.

Making offerings to the kiln god at the start of the firing.

Making offerings to the kiln god to mark the start of the firing.

The firing event, the opening of which coincided with the Mid-Autumn Festival last evening, is open to the public on 9 and 10 September. More information on the International Chawan Exposition can be found at http://www.chawanexpo.com/singapore.html. More information on the kiln and its history can be found in some of my previous posts on Thow Kwang.

More photographs from last evening’s opening:

The packed kiln.

The packed kiln.

Sealing the access opening.

Sealing the access opening.

Sealing the access opening.

Sealing the access opening.

Preparing offerings to the kiln god.

Preparing offerings to the kiln god.

Offering a prayer to the kiln god.

Offering a prayer to the kiln god.

The gathering of artists with Mr Ong Yew Huat, Chairman of the National Heritage Board.

The gathering of artists with Mr Ong Yew Huat, Chairman of the National Heritage Board.

Lighting the fire.

Lighting the fire.

The initial flames ... the fire is fed slowly to allow a gradual build up of temperature.

The initial flames … the fire is fed slowly to allow a gradual build up of temperature.

Paper offerings being burnt in the kiln.

Paper offerings being burnt in the kiln.

The full autumn moon graced the occasion.

The full autumn moon graced the occasion.

Lanterns for the Mid-Autumn Festival.

Lanterns for the Mid-Autumn Festival.

The firing is being held for the 16th edition of the International Chawan Expo.

The firing is being held for the 16th edition of the International Chawan Expo.

Good music went with the good food at the opening.

Good music went with the good food at the opening.

Flames seen through an opening in the firing box.

Flames seen through an opening in the firing box.





Divine faces in the dark

22 08 2014

Take a walk on the dark and somewhat mysterious side of the Bras Basah.Bugis precinct this weekend (and the next), and you might stumble upon a few surprises, all of which, if you are lucky enough, have nothing to do with the time of the year from the perspective of the Chinese calendar.  The precinct plays host to the annual Singapore Night Festival that brings life and colour to the streets and greens of the area along with a wonderful show of light in Night Lights.

Hauntings at the dark and mysterious yard of Singapore's Armenian Church.

Hauntings at the dark and mysterious yard of Singapore’s Armenian Church.

Night Lights is back for the Singapore Night Festival (** Ryf's Insert Caption Please is seen in the foreground).

Night Lights is back for the Singapore Night Festival (Ryf’s **Insert Caption Please is seen in the foreground).

Night Lights this year has installations that range from one inspired by a giant jellyfish inspired to the divine. The enchanting line-up of lights, include some of which I got to have a glimpse at last night. Standing out, not just among the installations, but also among the trees is Clement Briend’s Divine Trees found just east of the National Museum of Singapore. While seeing Briend’s projections, which leave ghostly like faces of divine figures imprinted on the leaves of several of the trees by the National Museum, can be initially a little disconcerting; it would certainly leave the view in awe as to how alive the seemingly three-dimensional projections seem. The installation is an attempt by the artist to “blur the divide between reality and imagination” and “a study of the divine and the spiritual in the world made visible by projection onto objects of nature”.

Divine faces in the dark.

Divine faces in the dark.

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Over at Singapore’s oldest church building, the Armenian Church, we see more ghostly figures, this time set among the gravestones of the exhumed graves of the church’s yard.  The figures, glowing in a ever changing change of colours, are dresses woven from 40 kilometres of fibre optic cable. Dresses of Memory is all the work of Taegon Kim,  the glow-in-the-dark figures are intended to convey the celebration of “being in love” and having “a lover’s silhouette imprinted on the webs of one’s memory”.

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The Armenian Church is also where a rather enjoyable installation, Scenocosme’s Alsos*, can be found. The installation, at first glance seemingly nothing more than a illuminated tangle of twigs, is one that invites the visitor to interact with it. By shinning a light on its flowers, and altering the light’s intensity, the visitor creates his or her own set of sounds with each flower filling the air with a different sound.

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A surprise very different and with a far less mysterious flavour awaited me along a narrow alleyway. That was where a bunch of some rather tough looking characters, ones you wouldn’t really want to mess with, seemed to be spoiling for a fight. The fight the tough dudes were looking for were fortunately not with us, but among themselves – they would be meeting in a wrestling ring that would be set up right on on Armenian Street next weekend (29 and 30 August) in the Singapore Pro Wrestling event as part of the exciting line-up of events for the Singapore Night Festival.

Singapore Pro Wrestling comes to the alleyways ...

Singapore Pro Wrestling comes to as alleyway …

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For more information on how to catch the wrestlers in action, the light installations, and the rest of the excitement at the Singapore Night Festival do visit the festival’s website at www.sgnightfest.sg. The festival’s happenings can also be followed on twitter at @BrasBasahBugis and on Facebook. There is also a festival guide available on instagram @SNFGUIDE. Hashtags for use during the festival are #SGNightFest and #SNFer. Do also refer to a previous post Bold and Beautiful – let’s Harp on it for more photographs and an introduction to this year’s festival.


A second look at WeComeInPeace’s Spirits of Nature at SAM for #SGNightFest

Through once familiar archways ...

Through once familiar archways …

... another look at WeComeInPeace's Spirits of Nature.

… another look at WeComeInPeace’s Spirits of Nature.

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