Dreams as the cinema of the subconscious mind

Lost Cinema 20/20 (left) by veteran multimedia artist Brian Gothong Tan combines film, theatre and video art.
Lost Cinema 20/20 (above) by veteran multimedia artist Brian Gothong Tan combines film, theatre and video art.PHOTO: CRISPIAN CHAN

Veteran multimedia artist Brian Gothong Tan remembers most of his dreams only within the first 10 minutes of waking up.

Keeping a dream diary has proved helpful as these visions are a source of inspiration for most of his work, including his new multidisciplinary theatre production Lost Cinema 20/20.

Commissioned by the Esplanade, Tan's work will be streamed on the arts venue's website from Saturday to June 12 under its online theatre season, The Studios Online.

The 39-year-old says: "A lot of people ask me where I get my ideas from. Mostly, they come from my dreams, and not just sleeping dreams. I also like to daydream a lot. I've always felt like my subconscious is key to understanding creativity and art."

Lost Cinema 20/20 explores the role of dreams as the cinema of the subconscious mind. It is also a love letter to the golden era of Singapore cinema, the period from the late 1940s to the early 1970s when many films were made here by Cathay Organisation and Shaw Brothers.

Tan likens the act of dreaming to film-making.

"Our subconscious mind edits the memories throughout the day and makes them into a dream. When we wake up in the morning, this cinema is kind of lost. This idea of losing cinema every day is quite a natural phenomenon and it links to the fact that we've lost the golden age of cinema in Singapore," he says.

Lost Cinema 20/20 is written by theatre practitioner Kaylene Tan and performed by Karen Tan, Lim Yu-Beng, Munah Bagharib, Irfan Kasban, Ma Yanling and Phitthaya Phaefuang.

The work - which combines film, theatre and video art - is a further development of Tan's six-channel video installation Lost Cinema, which was shown in 2018 at the Institute of Contemporary Arts Singapore, which is part of Lasalle College of the Arts.

The Esplanade's The Studios 2020 season was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic, but two new works - Lost Cinema 20/20 and an audio presentation of Checkpoint Theatre's play The Heart Comes To Mind - will be streamed in The Studios Online. There are also six productions curated from The Studios' 17-year archive.

For Lost Cinema 20/20, director Tan filmed several video sequences, which are interspersed across the performance along with live camera interactions.

He drew inspiration for these video snippets from works such as Hussain Haniff's romance film Cinta Kasih Sayang (1965) and directorial debut and legendary tale Hang Jebat (1961), as well as B.N. Rao's horror film Sumpah Pontianak (1958).

For example, he referenced the way the actors danced in Cinta Kasih Sayang for some of the movements in the snippets and the live performance.

However, Tan notes that the production is not intended to be a documentary. He says: "It is loosely based on emotions, vignettes and films from the era. It's very impressionistic and playful with the way it deals with history."

His dreams also contribute to many of the show's strong moments, he says.

"A lot of dreams are just so funny and weird when you remember them, but it's more of a feeling I try to capture in the show and translate through lighting and music," says Tan, who has directed works such as Tropical Traumas: A Series Of Cinematographic Choreographies (2016), which was commissioned by the Singapore International Festival of Arts.

Although he is no stranger to merging film and theatre, Tan says it was still no mean feat to create the work. The process involved a lot of filming, rehearsing with the film elements and playing around with live cameras.

He adds: "I want to meld my own practice, which is film and animation, with live theatre. When people use the term 'multimedia', it's often just playing a video in the theatre. I want to create a synergy between the two, and not just a film and theatre mash-up."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 02, 2020, with the headline 'Dreams as the cinema of the subconscious mind'. Print Edition | Subscribe