Local artists examine foreign perspectives of Singapore in film

Artist Joo Choon Lin is making a rock that will crumble into pieces.
Artist Joo Choon Lin is making a rock that will crumble into pieces.ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG
Artist Jeremy Sharma, in collaboration with choreographer Nina Djekic
Artist Jeremy Sharma, in collaboration with choreographer Nina DjekicST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG
The pop-up store will sell records from Singapore's underground music scene.
The pop-up store will sell records from Singapore's underground music scene.PHOTO: UJIKAJI
Amanda Lee Koe (left)
Amanda Lee Koe (left)PHOTO: AMANDA LEE KOE
Cover and Concealmen
Cover and ConcealmenPHOTO: GODWIN KOAY

State Of Motion explores Singapore's history as an actor in foreign films

Hong Lim Park was once a stand-in for war-torn Vietnam, in 1960s Italian film The Wild Eye.

This peculiar piece of Singapore history is revisited in the second edition of State Of Motion, an annual film and visual arts series organised by the Asian Film Archive.

The theme this year is Through Stranger Eyes, to examine "foreign perspectives of Singapore", says producer Thong Kay Wee.

As part of the programme, participants will be taken to Hong Lim Park, Labrador Park, Golden Mile Food Centre, Far East Plaza and old Bugis Street on a three-hour tour.

The locations were featured in films shot in Singapore between the late 1960s and 1980s, including Ring Of Fury (1973), Saint Jack (1979) and Ricochet (1984).

Mr Thong says: "The films are tied by an imaging of Singapore we may not be familiar with. The filmmakers saw the country through their own eyes."

  • BOOK IT / STATE OF MOTION: THROUGH STRANGER EYES - GUIDED BUS TOURS

  • WHERE: The Plaza, National Library Building, 100 Victoria Street

    WHEN: Tomorrow and Sunday, Jan 20 to 22, various times

    Admission: $15 for day tour, $18 for night tour (only for those aged 18 and older)

    INFO: Book tickets at som17tours.peatix.com. The exhibition is held till Feb 5 from 10am to 9pm, closed during public holidays. Go to www.stateofmotion.sg

At each spot sits a newly commissioned artwork created in response to each film shot there. The creators include artist Jeremy Sharma, writer Amanda Lee Koe and experimental band The Observatory.

The guided bus tours will take place tomorrow and on Sunday and from Jan 20 to 22. Day tours cost $15 a person and night tours are $18.

They start at the National Library Building in Victoria Street, where there is a temporary cinema, modelled after a wayang kulit stage, designed by architect Randy Chan.

It is also the exhibition area for visitors to find out more about and attend screenings of the films. The screenings will run from Feb 3 to 5 and are free with registration. They are almost fully booked.


Glue Your Eyelids Together

Where: Hong Lim Park, 43 North Canal Road
By: Artist Joo Choon Lin, 32
In response to: The Wild Eye (1967) by Paolo Cavara In The Wild Eye, the protagonist, Paolo, traverses the world - making a pit stop in Singapore - and exposes his crew to extreme conditions, all in the name of cinematic sensation.

The otherworldly Haw Par Villa is featured and Hong Lim Park is used to represent war-torn Vietnam.

Joo was drawn to the calamitous and violent elements of the film and the way the protagonist treated the character Barbara "like a disposable object".

She says: "Borrowing the destructive aspects of the film, I wanted to create an object that is designed to be destroyed over time."

The centrepiece is a large block of rock in a moribund state. Held together by hidden balloons that deflate over time, the rock will degenrate and break apart.

Joo used a mix of hard and soft materials, such as steel, cement and sponge, to emphasise the dichotomy of gender and how females are seen as soft and males as hard.

Depending on when a person encounters the artwork, it might look different as it is decaying.


Slow Fury

Where: Labrador Park, Labrador Villa Road
By: Artist Jeremy Sharma, 39, in collaboration with choreographer Nina Djekic, 27
In response to: Ring Of Fury (1973) by Tony Yeow and James Sebastian

Ring Of Fury, said to be Singapore's only Mandarin gongfu flick, was lost in time, thanks to a ban that was lifted only in the 1990s. It was banned because it was seen to promote gangsterism during a time when Singapore was being "cleaned up".

In the film, Singaporean Peter Chong plays a Bruce Lee-lookalike battling gangsters led by a villain in an iron mask. Its forgotten history is now remembered through Sharma's work Slow Fury, an installation combining light, sound, image and dance.

Scenes from the film are processed through light nodes attached to metal racks, transmitting images in hues of magenta, yellow and blue. Dialogue and music from the film will accompany the light elements.

Djekic will add a live aspect to the installation as she performs in response to the film and the site, also a space of forgotten war relics. She will share the role of performer with Luca Lum, 25.


Melantun Records

Where: Far East Plaza, 14 Scotts Road
By: Independent music label and organiser of DIY music events Ujikaji
In response to: Ricochet (1984) by Gerry Troyna

Following music legend David Bowie's death last year, the film Ricochet re-emerged in the spotlight as a poignant piece of history linking the star to Singapore.

The rockumentary depicts Bowie's encounters with Singapore, Hong Kong and Bangkok, which he visited in 1983 as part of his Serious Moonlight tour.

One notable scene in Singapore shows Bowie going to Far East Plaza, then considered the country's biggest mall.

Inspired by the film and Bowie's concert here, Ujikaji has created Melantun Records, a store selling records from the past, present and future of Singapore's underground music scene.

Priced from $20, the records include Regal Vigor (1983) by Zircon Lounge, Singapore's first New Wave band. There will be music from other South-east Asian countries too, and home-grown outfit The Observatory will perform next Friday and Saturday, in a nod to an iconic scene of Bowie wandering through the mall.


No One Wants To Dance

Where: Old Bugis Street
By: Writer Amanda Lee Koe, 29
In response to: Saint Jack (1979) by Peter Bogdanovich

The first Hollywood film to be shot here entirely, Saint Jack was famously banned till 2006 for its portrayal of Singapore's seedy underbelly during that era.

The film is based on the 1973 novel of the same name by American novelist Paul Theroux, about an American pimp in Singapore as he mingles with his Western customers and gets entangled with the Chinese mafia.

One of the film locations is old Bugis Street, known as a stomping ground for the transgender community until it was "cleaned up" by the authorities in the 1980s.

In response to the site, Lee Koe has created a three-minute video staged in a karaoke lounge.

It includes archival film footage of old Bugis Street, along with lyrics written by her and scenes of her engaging with Anita, a transgender woman.

"I wanted to explore ideas of representation, stereotypes and authenticity, in this case, by the white male gaze, as these (historical texts) are the only sources we have to a place that no longer exists," says Lee Koe.


Cover And Concealment

Where: Golden Mile Food Centre, 505 Beach Road
By: Artist Godwin Koay, 29
In response to: In Search Of The Unreturned Soldiers In Malaysia (1971) by Shohei Imamura

Japanese film-maker Shohei Imamura goes on a search for Japanese soldiers who chose to leave the army and remain in Singapore and Malaysia after World War II.

The fact that he managed to track down a soldier fascinates Koay, who produced Cover And Concealment in response.

"The title alludes to tactics in a military context, which are borrowed as terms here to examine personal agency in relation to governmentality and management, and how dissent, desertion, evasion, or emancipation may be formulated or prevented, " says Koay.

The artwork consists of three sets of prints on large fabric strips that will be hung like banners from Golden Mile Food Centre, home to the iconic army market. The banners feature visuals abstracted from hidden sources and aphoristic, pledge-like text relating to loyalty and allegiance. Koay plans to publish a book next month to reveal more about these "dropped frames".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 13, 2017, with the headline 'Look through stranger eyes'. Print Edition | Subscribe