THREE SINGAPORE FEMALE ARTISTS SHOW US THEIR INTERPRETATION.
ILA is a visual and performance artist whose intimate works incorporate objects, moving images and live performance to generate discussion about gender, history and identity, and shed light on communities on the social periphery.
The work: “This piece was the central component for the work that I did for Pneuma: Of Spirituality In Contemporary Age, a group show at the Stamford Arts Centre for Singapore Art Week earlier this year. The work, Bersama Tadah Air, Bersama Makan Tanah, is about notions of kinship within the context of tanah air, a Malay phrase used to refer to the homeland. The piece juxtaposes childhood photographs of my family and me at the beach against that of reclaimed beaches in Singapore. During the creation process, I was thinking a lot about how and what my body remembers and forgets, and how that indirectly shapes not only my identity, but also what I feel strongly for.”
How it represents the idea of home: “I was 3 1/2 years old in this photograph that was taken by my father from whom I’ve been estranged since my early 20s. Standing next to me in the picture is my only sister (near left) who’s five years older than I am. What I left out in this photo series is a snapshot of me being given a ball of dough to play with that same morning – I subsequently brought it to the beach only to have it washed away by the waves, which explains why I look visibly upset in this photo... It was the first time that I had distinctly felt a sense of loss and that experience captures what home is to me: something that you do not want to lose – or that you lose and find again elsewhere.”
On what makes a home: “I was moving and staying with friends and other family members a lot between the ages of 16 and 20 so my personal belongings and things that I grew up with were scattered across different places and gradually disappeared. Because of this, I no longer have strong connections to objects. I truly believe that it is comfort and warmth that make a home. Now that I have my own house, I invite friends and family over for home-cooked meals and we spend hours talking and lazing around. I always keep my fridge well stocked because food helps to make a home. When I travel for work, I gravitate towards the same kind of comforts and kinship with strangers or friends.”
CHARMAINE POH is a photographer, artist and writer who often employs ethnography in her work to focus on the subjects of performativity, memory and gender. Combining image-making with text, video and installation, this genre-spanning artist also regularly collaborates with brands, non-profit groups and editorial publications.
The work: “These are stills from a movement film titled The Lesson, made jointly with Isabel Phua, an amazing movement artist. It was shot in Berlin during an artist residency that I was on at the end of 2019. Drawing from child psychology, trauma studies, somatic practices and performance pedagogy, the film looks at the way intergenerational trauma is manifested in the memories of the body. Its narrative is autobiographical and I wanted to use this as a starting point to talk about how the unresolved, fragmented nature of childhood experiences leave a mark on adult life.”
How it represents the idea of home: “I see The Lesson as a prologue in a wider body of work that explores trauma, alternative families and healing (all themes that are closely associated with the home). It’s a pretty new work that’s not been shown much so it’s particularly special to me – it felt like I had to wait so long to be able to talk about it. It also marks a new exploration into moving images for me, which is exciting.”
On what makes a home: “People associate homing instinct with the act of returning; a certain level of rootedness. With that, a home is where you want to return to. It can be a place, a person or your own mind. A home for me needs to have the qualities of freedom of self and of rest.”
ALECIA NEO is a visual artist who develops long-term projects that involve collaborative partnerships with individuals and communities. Her socially engaged practice unfolds primarily through photography, video, installations and participatory workshops that address modes of radical hospitality, mobility and caregiving as a way of exploring identity and the search for self.
The work: “Power To The People is a 2019 site-specific work presented by the Goethe-Institut Singapore and curated by poet/editor Yeow Kai Chai to commemorate the centenary of the Bauhaus and pays tribute to the hardware and software of Pasir Panjang Power Station. I collaborated with sound artist Li-Chuan Chong and spoken word poet Deborah Emmanuel on this installation staged inside the building that has been largely inaccessible to the public since its decommissioning in the ’80s. It featured a network of interconnected electrical wires, light bulbs with double-sided mirrors and light switches that invited the audience to interact with the performance. Central to it was a double-sided, shrine-like light projection of portraits that I had made of the building’s former workers and their families who used to live in the quarters on site. Each face morphed slowly into another; each sitter captured with his or her eyes closed as though he or she was in a dream-like state, travelling back in time to a fading memory of them living at the power station. Recorded voice interviews were interwoven into the two live performances staged by Li-Chuan and Deborah, with text that reflected upon systems of power and the future of work. It was poignant that these shows occurred after the demolition of the workers’ quarters as well as shortly after the government’s announcement of its development plans for the Greater Southern Waterfront.”
How it represents the idea of home: “I chose this particular work because of the power station’s significance as a site of cultural memory. It was a privilege to be able to stage our work in the stillness of this space. During this in-between moment – after its decommissioning and before its new occupants move in – it was literally emptied out and devoid of power. The prominent standing blocks of the workers’ quarters, which used to house generations of immigrants whose labour powered our island, obstructed the view of the red brick power station from the road, but they’re now gone. Power To The People was an attempt to reactivate and enable public access to the space while inviting reflections about systems of power and the roles we play within society. Unanimously, all of the former workers and family members whom we managed to get in touch with for this project would like the power station to retain its original architecture and for it to be developed into a museum for educational purposes. During the interviews, I learnt that the women and children who lived in the workers’ quarters never once saw the interiors of the power station in spite of their proximity to it. When we staged the performances, it was particularly moving for us to witness the return of a few of these former workers and their families to the premises.”
On what makes a home: “I like how (travel writer) Pico Iyer describes it: Home is where you go to become yourself. This resonates with me. We travel only to return home, to a place that is within.”
Photos Courtesy of Ila; Courtesy of Charmaine Poh; Courtesy of Alecia Neo