The City Of Lost Things encourages Singaporeans to reconnect with their past

Participants of Missing: The City Of Lost Things were each given a 'travel kit' in a plastic suitcase.
Participants of Missing: The City Of Lost Things were each given a 'travel kit' in a plastic suitcase.PHOTO: DRAMA BOX

Missing: The City Of Lost Things gave participants a chance to reconnect with their past



Drama Box

14A-C Trengganu Street and various locations/Last Saturday

Sixteen participants sit in a black box on the upper floors of Drama Box's space in Trengganu Street.

The walls are painted to evoke skyscrapers at night and contain numerous recesses. Some are filled with curios, including Doraemon figurines, a miniature board game and a bottle full of sand.

Others are empty and numbered from one to 16. Each participant in Missing: The City Of Lost Things has brought an object of personal significance, meant to be placed in the appropriately numbered recess.

This four-hour experience developed by Drama Box's resident artist, Han Xuemei, aims to get participants to slow down and revisit memories of persons, places, institutions or even identities, which they may have lost touch with over the years.

The work was developed with playwright Jean Tay and theatre-maker Neo Hai Bin. Sound artist Darren Ng's creations transformed the black box, in turn, from a surreal waiting room to a busy construction site to a meditative space.

Han was inspired by memories of her former primary school, which is near her home, but has oddly not been on her radar for years. Similarly, given today's frenetic pace of life, there are many connections and relationships people fail to keep up with.

Those who signed up for The City Of Lost Things were told to think of a connection they would like to revisit and received text messages prior to Saturday's session to help them prepare.

Instructed to bring objects that evoked lost or forgotten connections, participants in last Saturday's session brought artefacts from a soft toy to a hairpin. Several brought books: diaries, a school yearbook, a novel this reviewer bought 18 years ago from the former Borders, bought on an outing with friends now seen infrequently.

Each participant was given a "travel kit" in a plastic suitcase and made to leave the personal object behind. Participants were then told to head to any location within 45 minutes of journeying, to use their travel kits.

Han has helped develop site-specific projects meant to reveal forgotten stories of Singapore, such as IgnorLAND Of Its Time (2014), a performance tour of Bukit Ho Swee estate.

Missing: The City Of Lost Things is meant to make participants look inward to what they might have forgotten about themselves.

The travel kit contained meditative tools and instructions that slowed the user down. "Close your eyes and breathe," was one such suggestion.

Others involved cradling a heavy ball while focusing on its weight, or watching the clouds, or using a small magnifying glass to focus on details such as flower petals or cracks in the pavement.

Missing: The City Of Lost Things offered each participant the chance to revisit their own lost stories and later share these with other participants, if they chose to. Most did, after being summoned back to the black box by text message.

One participant revisited the location of the old Drama Centre at Fort Canning, serendipitously meeting a fellow theatre-maker after a long time. Another went back to an old home - slated for redevelopment.

At the end, participants could choose to discard their past connections through symbolically leaving behind the objects they had brought to the black box.

Most in Saturday's session, however, chose to keep their objects and pick up lost connections. (This reviewer followed up a chance message from an old acquaintance later that day with a phone call and firm plan to reconnect soon in person.)

Connections do not end. They transform, as the text projected in the black box suggested.

Missing: The City Of Lost Things gave participants a rare gift: the time to notice this and the chance to make up for lost time.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 22, 2018, with the headline 'Stories lost and found'. Print Edition | Subscribe