Artist Brian Gothong Tan gets personal with The Swimming Pool Library

The live in-venue show was originally planned as the last part of a 10-chapter visual arts exhibition-cum-performance.
The live in-venue show was originally planned as the last part of a 10-chapter visual arts exhibition-cum-performance.PHOTO: T:>WORKS

SINGAPORE - Prepare to get spoilered at The Swimming Pool Library, artist Brian Gothong Tan's latest production with T:>Works.

The live in-venue show, originally planned as the last part of a 10-chapter visual arts exhibition-cum-performance, has been detached as a standalone. The first nine chapters, part of the multimedia installation portion, will be rescheduled to January.

Tan, 41, acknowledges that the audience's encounter with the work will be "terbalik", Malay for upside down, as they will see the "ending" before the rest of the story. "Hopefully the show will give them a taste and more people will be drawn to the exhibition where it's more in-depth."

The decision was driven by recent pandemic restrictions, which had a cooling effect on ticket sales. Tan adds: "As a director, I don't want to be in a situation where I'm putting my actors at risk."

The painful change has forced him to rethink presentation. "We just have to recalibrate how we are doing this art-making in a deep way, think about how we can create shows and not compromise the artistic vision."

The Swimming Pool Library takes its name from British author Alan Hollinghurst's 1988 novel, which Tan borrowed from the Bedok Library when he was in Secondary 2. The book was a revelation for the young boy from a conservative, religious family who was going through a tough time.

Tan says the book's title also resonated with him. "The swimming pool has always been a site of anxiety - of my body, of desire. The library has always been my safe haven.

"The novel was so mind-blowing. It's the vision of what a world can look like, how people can exist. So I chose the title because of that."

The show spans the breadth of his practice, from drawing and 3D printing to paper theatre and multimedia installations.

He says: "The exhibition deals with a lot of things, not just sexuality but also my own past when I was sexually assaulted, the trauma that happened."

He is also exploring masculine identities. "It's time to create a new world where you don't have to be Rambo to be a man."

The production is the first he is presenting as part of the artistic atelier that he is directing for T:>Works. While he is mainly known for his film and multimedia work, his roots are in fine arts and the atelier will allow him to explore his practice in more depth.


The Swimming Pool Library takes its name from British author Alan Hollinghurst's 1988 novel. PHOTO: T:>WORKS

He has already mapped out projects for the next four years and hopes the atelier framework will also allow for deeper audience engagement.

In this sense, the delay in the visual art component for The Swimming Pool Library is a blessing in disguise. "It's a way to show how the atelier can be. It's not just one or two weekends and the show is over. We will be rethinking how to engage the audience within the next few months leading up to January. We can show the process a bit more, how the art is being produced," he says.


The Swimming Pool Library

Where: 72-13, Mohamed Sultan Road; online
When: Live performance and live stream: Oct 28 to 30, 8pm with a 3pm matinee on Oct 30; exhibition and multimedia installation, Jan 6 to 23, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, noon to 6pm, Thursdays and Fridays, noon to 7pm
Admission: Live performance and live stream: $35 and $15 from peatix.com; exhibition and multimedia installation, free with registration, timed entries only
Info: T:>Works' website

Correction note: T:>Works clarified that the multimedia installation portion that will be rescheduled to January is not officially part of Singapore Art Week.