Memories and Lost Spaces

30 12 2013

A small crowd was present on Saturday, to witness the return of a ghost that has haunted us in Singapore for close to a quarter of a century. The ghost is of a much loved icon, the National Theatre, which having been completed in 1963, would have celebrated its 50th birthday this year.

The ghost of the National Theatre - National Theatre@50 an installation for the Singapore Biennale by Lai Chee Kien.

The ghost of the National Theatre – National Theatre@50 an installation for the Singapore Biennale by Lai Chee Kien.

Designed by pioneering architect Alfred Wong, the theatre was built with funds partly contributed by members of the public. What became for a while a symbol of Singapore’s statehood, the much photographed and very distinctive building, had stood for some 2 decades before it was closed, as we were told, due to structural defects in its cantilevered roof (it turned out that it was to be demolished to allow the construction of two tunnels for the CTE and for the MRT (to connect Chinatown with Dhoby Ghaut).

National Theatre located at the foot of Fort Canning Hill at the corner of Clemenceau Avenue and River Valley Road. The theatre was demolished in 1986 after it was found to be structurally unsound.

The National Theatre  which was demolished in 1986 would have celebrated its 50th birthday this year.

To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the National Theatre, a scaled replica of its very recognisable façade, was put up at Tank Road, across from its original site, by architect Lai Chee Kien, for the Singapore Biennale (entitled National Theatre@50). And it was at the installation on Saturday that perhaps some of our ghosts, not only of the National Theatre, did return in a collective lament for lost spaces and a lost past, in a poetry sharing session.

The National Theatre@50, with the audience gathering in front of the "stage".

The National Theatre@50, with the audience gathering in front of the “stage”.

The enjoyable session involved with many of the who’s who in the local arts and literary scene and included a selection of works (some impromptu and some sung) that revolved around the theme of Memories and Lost Spaces. The session was jointly organised by Chee Kien and poet Alvin Pang and also featured Isa Kamari, Simon Tay, Kim Cheng Boey, Pooja Nansi, Christine Chia, Verena Tay, Jollin Tan, Cyril Wong, Felix Cheong, Hao Guang, Joshua Ip, Leonard Ng, Zai Ruda Kuning, Thirunalan Sasitharan, Vikas Bhatt Kailankaje, Emelda Jumari, Annaliza Bakri and Goh Beng Choo.

Another view of the installation and Saturday's audience.

Another view of the installation and Saturday’s audience.

More photographs from Memories and Lost Spaces

Lai Chee Kien opens the session.

Lai Chee Kien opens the session.

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Pooja Nansi.

Pooja Nansi.

Christine Chia.

Christine Chia.

Varena Tay.

Varena Tay.

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Jollin Tan.

Jollin Tan.

Cyril Wong.

Cyril Wong.

Hao Guang.

Hao Guang.

Ng Yi-Sheng.

Ng Yi-Sheng.

Simon Tay.

Simon Tay.

An animated Joshua Ip.

An animated Joshua Ip.

Thirunalan Sasitharan, who mentioned sitting on the shoulders of his father by the road on the side of the former theatre as a child to watch the Silver Chariot make its way to the Chettairs Temple on Tank Road on the eve of Thaipusam.

Thirunalan Sasitharan, who mentioned sitting on the shoulders of his father by the road on the side of the former theatre as a child to watch the Silver Chariot make its way to the Chettairs Temple on Tank Road on the eve of Thaipusam.

Isa Kamari, who sang.

Isa Kamari, who sang.

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JeromeLim iPhone Pano Memories and Lost Places 28 Dec 2013





A public bath on the museum’s front lawn

28 10 2013

In what is probably a first in Singapore, some 100 people were seen to be taking a very public bath together at the National Museum of Singapore’s (NMS) front lawn on Saturday evening. The public display of cleansing was actually carried out as part of the Singapore Biennale 2013 on its opening weekend – a public performance put up by Malaysian artist Sharon Chin named Mandi Bunga, which literally means Flower Bath.

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Taking a flower bath, although not necessarily a public one in a crowd, is actually a ritual practiced across much of east Asia – as a means to cleanse body and soul of evil and ill luck, or as I was told in my younger days, to “buang suay” or throw out bad luck. The idea for the performance did in fact come from a call to cleanse, one which the Bersih movement in Sharon’s country of origin calls for, with the artist dreaming it up in 2012 after her experience of two Bersih street rallies – hence the yellow that is prominent throughout the display that is seen in the basins used as well as in the sarongs which the participants wore.

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While what most of us got to see was the public display, the 100 or so participants did actually attend workshops which were carried out on several weekends preceding during which participants got to design their sarongs for the event. The performance also involved the participants gathering at another Singapore Biennale venue, the Singapore Art Museum (SAM) – assembling at the courtyard where school assemblies (when the buildings were used by the original occupants, St. Joseph’s Institution) had once been held. The participants then walked in their sarongs over to the NMS.

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While the performance – at which all involved seemed to have tremendous fun at, is a one evening event, the project’s process and outcomes have been documented and will be installed at SAM for the Singapore Biennale which runs until 16 February 2014. More information on the Singapore Biennale 2013 can be found at the event’s website.

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