by Lai Yu Tong, BA(Hons) Fine Arts Level 3 (2019)
I’m trying to remember this feeling. We had this argument about something petty, something about an ex-girlfriend. We were walking towards The Esplanade through the route that we usually take by foot walking from the train station. It’s quite long and it seems every time we take that path we’re always rushing for something. That day was no different, we were going to be late for a play. It was some overseas theatre troupe’s version of 1984 or Fahrenheit 451 brought in by some local art festival. I really can’t recall properly. Along this route we would pass by the Esplanade Tunnel or perhaps we took some detour to pass by it on purpose. Again I can’t quite recall properly.
The work jumps into my memory at strange times. I think the first recollection of it since I had first saw it was when a friend who was about to go away for a while, asked if there were any exhibitions he should catch before he leaves for Frankfurt the following day. He took my advice and went to see Ian Woo’s installation, Emotional Things, at the Esplanade Tunnel. Come to think of it, he probably encountered the work in a similar state of mind that I was in. We were both in a rush and slightly troubled about different things.
The next time that I recalled the work I honestly can’t remember. It popped up several other times when asked about what show or artwork had left an impression on me in 2018. I haven’t left Singapore much in and so that’s a difficult question to answer. It is strange that Emotional Things left an impression because I can’t actually say that I remember much of it. I can’t exactly remember what I had seen saw or heard. Or it didn’t leave a clear image in my head. It’s unlike the spectacles we are familiar with in Singapore that one can easily say was 'memorable'. I don’t think Ian Woo would have liked if I called the work memorable anyway.
It’s been a year now since I saw the work. I’ll try to talk about it purely from memory: there were sounds playing in the background softly. Slow guitar strums? There were some shapes. But what shapes? They weren’t exactly circles or semi-circles, nor perfect triangles and rectangles. Maybe ovals? I’m not sure. It’s partly because things were drowned in reverb and washed out hues. The edges were rounded off and visibly hand-treated. Part of this colouration and fading must have also been done by my memory over time.
Part of the reason why I like the work is because I also like to use the word ‘things.’ I feel it’s often used as a tactic of evasion, some kind of a scapegoat or filler word so that the user can get away with not putting an exact word to things. Also that there is a degree intentionality placed on not knowing. It’s one of the earliest words that I remember learning, but yet was slowly taught not to use because of its vagueness (which I think is completely ridiculous). It goes nicely as a title to Woo’s installation, considering his dedication to abstraction. As if abstraction can take us back to kindergarten and back to the practice of learning again: learning simple words, learning to look and to listen to things. I like it when art requires me to learn or to try. I’m trying to remember this feeling again.
Emotional Things, 2018. Esplanade Tunnel. Acrylic, wood and guitar music. Images courtesy of Ken Cheong