Workshop With Tintin Wulia
by Christabel Ngoi Jean Rou, BA(Hons) Fine Arts L2/2015
In his essay on Geographies of poetry/poetries of geography, Tim Creswell reflects on how geography and poetry writing could traverse in-between each other to generate forms of creative writing which is what he engaged as being a “cultural geographer…to write about place, landscape, betweenness, belonging and not belonging, travel.” 1 The Indonesian-Australian-based artist Tintin Wulia introduced an initial framework for a collaborative project with the title, Three Walks for Singapore, closely following her previous project called the Three Etudes for Mexico City. Nine students, including myself, from BA Fine Art levels two and three joined in the collaborative process in a three-day workshop at LASALLE in January this year; we were tasked to be active actors in putting together our individual images of Singapore, and deliberately creating a group representation for each walk and experience.
Tintin conducted three games for each day of the workshop that was held at the Winstedt campus: Boal’s Columbian Hypnosis for the first day, Boal’s Bombs and Shields for the second day, and Boal’s Tangles and Knots in the concluding day. The games were based on Bruno Latour’s Actor-Network-Theory (ANT). Boal’s Columbian Hypnosis required us to move while focused on another individual’s selected body part of our choice; if the hand is your choice, you move accordingly to where the hand goes. The individual’s actions thus form a pattern of gestures which influences how the group in formation, gathers and moves around. It was a constant performative group effort, and I begun to understand how this collaborative work fell into place when the group explored the different routes together, sometimes forming into sub-groups, and leading or being led. While Boal’s Bombs and Shields informs us of the uncertainty of who are acting as bombs or shields, for or against you. Tangles and Knots, too, shows that “action is not done under the full control of consciousness; action should rather be felt as a node, a knot, and a conglomerate of many surprising sets of agencies that have to be slowly disentangled.” 2
The concept behind this collaborative work stems from Tintin’s interest in treating the city as her studio. Her proposal for the workshop is to generate practices that “function as an unconventional tour guide to the city – a stimulus for an act of experiencing and wandering through the city”. Throughout the discussion, we were provoked to share what is iconic to us in Singapore and what are the places that could summarise a general idea of this city. Our suggestions varied from signboards to ‘tissue lady’, routes from the cultural sites to the central business district at the different times of the day. All of this made us ponder on how a city works and how a city could prompt us to think of a particular shape, a monument, or probably just a map of its own.
By taking into consideration how the character of a walk could bring out the essence of a place, how actions take over or manipulate a space, we selected three routes. The first route focused on the central business district (CBD) from Raffles Place towards Marina Bay Sands; the second walk started from Little India towards Chinatown; and the third walk took place at the far outskirts of the city-state from Changi Village towards Pulau Ubin. All of us agreed that how and where people walk reflects the city’s structure and urban spaces, which at a subconsciously level show the unseen degrees of either freedom or restraint that impact the living bodies in the city.
We identified a different objective from that when providing a historical/touristic walk for diverse groups of people. Rather than setting out fixed instructions or routes, we randomly applied two methods: experience and decision-making. We had a long list of different ideas derived from a pre-walk session, such as walking horizontally or vertically in the city, inaccessible dead ends, asking for directions, playing with accidental encounters or chance, and we concluded by categorising them under the two methods. We consciously incorporated all of these performative acts into all three walks, not without its conflicts, and we regularly brainstormed on what other ways we could walk in relation to the site and places we were in.
The text from the first walk to the third walk altered in different ways. We had divided ourselves into three groups to draft the outline on our project’s facebook page named Three Walks for Singapore. Due to the differing tones and rhythms of the writing, all of us amended the text repeatedly to ensure the three walks resonate with each other. The textual representation of the walk was intended to not limit the experience for the viewers, but to allow them to explore not just the place as a physical site, but also to pay attention to the form of writing about geography, following Tim Creswell’s insights. By reading the text, one is not informed formally on how or where to go, but it influences the character of the walk, which may generate a more unusual experience than a conventional sight-seeing tour.
We all concur that this workshop benefited us not just physically, as many of us had to walk such long distances in the execution of the project, but also learnt insights on the concept of walking, the language of the walk, the naming of places and mapping places in the form of words. It is indeed language that creates the topography of a place. The place was characterised and portrayed, by signs of our encounters and our actions, not yet a song or a poem, but in our case, a text guideline for three walks for Singapore.
“as many of us had to walk such long distances in the execution of the project, but also learnt insights on the concept of walking, the language of the walk, the naming of places and mapping places in the form of words. It is indeed language that creates the topography of a place.”
Cresswell, Tim. “Geographies of poetry/poetries of geograohy.” Cultural Geographies. Oct 18, 2013. http://cgj.sagepub.com/content/21/1/141 (accessed February 18, 2014). Latour, Bruno. “Reassembling the Social.” An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory, New York: Oxford University Press, 2005: 1-311.
1 (Cresswell 2013, 142)
2 (Latour 2005, 44)