Those in the Central-jets streaking across the city skyline, or the random displays of jubilant fireworks. These are merely part of rehearsals for Singapore’s National Day Parade. In a similar vein, the conveniently-timed exhibition, “Our Places, Our Stories”, at the Esplanade serves as another reminder of our nation’s upcoming birthday.
Neither propagandistic nor overtly patriotic, “Our Places, Our Stories” eschews the broad gestures of nationalism in favour of a more relatable, atomistic view of Singapore’s people and places. The show is as accessible as it can get in terms of narratives and themes.
At the entrance of Jendela Art Space is Sam Kang Li’s “At Our Doorsteps”, a grid-like display of photographs of the artist’s neighbours posing in their doorways. Their smiles beam out collectively to invite visitors into the gallery, setting the tone more than adequately for an exhibition that is revolves predominantly around themes of home and images of familiar local landmarks.
The curators have attempted (quite successfully) to create a welcoming and domestic atmosphere in the gallery, centering the space with a living-room setting, where albums (not digital mind you) frame the photographic works with a sense of nostalgia and (not-so) private memories.
The humour and lack of guile in the contributions by Ore Huiying, Bryan van Der Beek, and Wong Maye-E charmed this reviewer quite a bit. There’s an easy frankness to their family portraits, a nice counterpoint to their backgrounds as photojournalists by trade. Their works place the basic family unit as the central nucleus, anchoring the exhibition with a lot of heart.
Rounding out the photographers is Deanna Ng, who nicely ties in depictions of people together with stories of places in “Pasat”, photographs of residents in her neighbourhood of Bedok. The images are funny and familiar, full of joe de vivre within each frame.
Local filmmakers also give a good showing, with the works displayed on old-school box set televisions, a rather endearing touch. The only minor quibble I’d have is how the gallery’s acoustics necessitated the use of headphones (not how one normally watches television), but other than that, it’s easy to find oneself sitting through the short films in their entirety.
The crowd-pleaser of the bunch would have to be Royston Tan’s “Hock Hiap Leong”, but one shouldn’t miss out on the understated poignancy of K Rajagopal’s “The New World”, and Victric Thng’s dance-film, “A Day Without Wind”. These culminate in “Old Places”, a collaborative effort by Royston Tan, Eva Tang, and Victriv Thng, screened in large format within the comfy confines of a pillow-peppered space, befitting of a film which explores the personal histories that float through local landmarks that are in danger of being lost.
The curators do tip their hat to Singapore’s evolving demographic through the inclusion of Anthony Chen’s “Karang Guni” and Boo Junfeng’s “Stranger”, films that feature the stories of transient workers and our new migrant population. While they fit the rest of the exhibition in tone, the themes explored in these two films would warrant a whole different exhibition in themselves.
“Our Places, Our Stories” neither seeks to be critical nor radical. According to their catalogue, the exhibition is “sentimental, nostalgic and sometimes voyeuristic, these artists open doors for us to visit their places and hear their stories.” In this respect, the exhibition works exceedingly well, giving a fleshed-out sense of Singapore as home.
“Our Places, Out Stories” runs from til 26 August 2012 at the Jendela Art Space, Esplanade. For more information, please visit http://esplanade.com/whats_on/programme_info/va_our_places_our_stories/index.jsp
Photos courtesy of The Esplanade Co. Ltd. Click here to view the rest.