NDP 2021 Theme Song – The Road Ahead [Official Music Video]

Heart warming, tugs the right heart strings, and delightfully hand-drawn animations

It takes almost a village to produce a music video. It certainly took more than a team of creatives to pull off one of the most imaginative music videos for Singapore’s National Day theme song. This year’s music video has many fun elements. I might be biased to say that the blend of live-action and hand-drawn animation helped bucket loads to make the music video stand out.

Others might say the song was inspiring, judging from the number of positive comments on the official YouTube video. So it is not surprising to find many covers and remixes on YouTube. The song is emotional as it is lifting. The chorus is catchy, the lyrics are very relatable, and the song is rather ‘singable’. The lyrics had vivid language that probably inspired the strong imagery in the hand-drawn animation. For instance, the phrase “One man on an island. One drop in the sea. All it takes to set a wave in motion. Is a single word, an action, a hope …” — one person, one action, hope can make a difference. Another quotable optimistic phrase is, “Come whatever on the road ahead, we did it before, and we’ll do it again.” The lyrics practically oozes optimism and positive energy.

The hand-drawn animation helped bring hope and imagination to the fore. On a technical level, we might say that the hand-drawn illustrations represented a back to basics storytelling and gave the music video a strong visual narrative. It felt like a mock-up storyboard fully developed into a coherent and unique visual element. On a symbolic level, we might say the hand-drawn illustrations represent the imagination of Singaporeans, young or old, to envision both the present and future. The present, being able to do things without being socially distant within the covid-19 daily restrictions. In the near future, when the country moves from COVID-19 pandemic to COVID-19 endemic measures. Or the future, a ‘new normal’ since COVID-19 has disrupted our social and economic activities on a global scale.

I really liked the contrast between hand-drawn and live-action because of the ‘larger than life’, playful effect. Many scenes show the hand-drawn characters interacting with landmarks or familiar spaces. These include drawn cartoon characters exercising Tai Chi in the Marina Bay and Gardens by the Bay Area, riding on an MRT train, using the Golden Mile Complex as stadium seats, and doing the Kallang Wave as a homage to the old Kallang National Stadium. The choice of black and white for these illustrations gave those familiar sights a certain timelessness. This contrasted against the painterly animated scenes that followed. For example, a scene of a Tongkat cruising down the Singapore River paid tribute to Singapore’s colourful cultures, our shared history and our pioneer generation. The next scene shows a runner, a dancer, and a child running to a parent in a sweeping transformation. Several magical transitions happen: roadside flower blossoms into ingredients in a wok; a the flash in the pan dazzles into a highlight on a solar panel. These transitions between scenes are only possible with animation; traditional live action transitions would have required straight cuts, cross fades with continuity a huge challenge, keeping to more or less visually equitable shots to direct the viewers’ attention. There’s also a scene with a girl drawing on her notebook before a hand-drawn bus pulls up at the bus stop with cartoon characters peering out of the double-decker bus windows. This perhaps, is another nod to the value of drawing and our creative imagination.

It is truly inspiring to literally see drawing come alive. To the animators, film-makers and producers who believed in the power of drawing, I salute you. Thank you for drawing our attention to the little things that matter in Singapore and lifting our spirits for things to come.

Watch the music video ‘the Road Ahead’ here:

Singapore’s National Day Parade 2021 Theme Song – The Road Ahead [Official Music Video] on YouTube

To understand the animation process behind this music video, consider watching this ‘Behind The Picture: Animating ‘The Road Ahead’ (3″ 46′).

To hear how the song came about, consider watching this ‘August the VTuber: Meeting the NDP 2021 Theme Song singers!‘ (7″ 45’) too.

We Were Farmers (2021) by Ore Huiying

To grow, or not to grow. A thought-provoking exhibition that provides a glimpse into a Singaporean family’s farming life told with poignance and gravitas.

We Were Farmers (2021) By Ore Huiying
Click on the album above to see exhibition photos.

We Were Farmers is the culmination of her 12-year personal project documenting their experience and resilience, and a commentary on changing agricultural practices and urban development in Singapore, through photography.
We Were Farmers depicts the hopes, dreams and memories that tie Ore and her family together. It is a poignant tribute to not only the family farm, but also where her understanding of community and tradition, and sense of self, come from.”
– Exhibition Text

It is rare to see photographs of farms in Singapore because they are relatively uncommon in land-scarce Singapore. It might be more common to see Instagram photographs of food (#singaporefood) or Outfit of the Day (#ootd.singapore) than to see pictures of Singapore farms. This exhibition and photobook of the same title come from Ore’s personal project. It shows behind the scenes of a family farm and simple outfits one might wear to work on a farm. To my recollection, most of the photographs had a white border that reminded me of polaroids or Instax prints for some reason. The photographs were also unframed, unpretentious and laid bare for the scrutiny of visitors.

This exhibition is significant in two ways, and therefore you should see it if you can.

First, it shows us an uncommon glimpse of Singapore’s farming history told through a personal account. We see brief accounts of farm life: photographs of children at play, a wedding (or two), glorious leafy greens basking in the sun, dark clouds looming in the distant but approaching the farm, to name a few. Each photograph may be mundane to some but no doubt significant to the photographer. The farm was a family affair as much as it was a livelihood.

The second significance of the exhibition is the ‘stream of consciousness’ manner in which the photographs are curated and exhibited. Unlike a photographic installation, it placed photographs like objects in configurations that make the ‘gestalt’, a full view of the exhibition seems like one organism, one work, one body. The placement of photographs felt more like a stream of consciousness where stories are told in chunks and are not necessarily in chronology. As an exhibition, we are free to walk about and see the photographs in any order we want or to follow the curator or photographer’s stream of consciousness. The display lets the audience have a sense of the main subject matter (the farm and the family) but enables the audience to encounter each photograph and let each picture or cluster of photos whisper their stories.

Photographs can tell us stories if we let them. To do so means stopping, seeing, and trying to make sense of what is happening in a photograph. If staring at a picture is uncomfortable because we are used to scrolling rapidly through social media content, asking these questions might help us slow down:

  • What do we see?
  • What does it remind us of?
  • What did the photographer think when the photo was taken?
  • What else might the photograph be saying?

[Repeat at the next photograph.]

Not all photographs tell the same thing or mean the same thing to different viewers. Pictures without captions risk omitting a point of reference for viewers, and readers may need to construct meaningful interpretations. But I think it works to this exhibition’s advantage, adding to interpretation of larger themes like life, destruction and loss. Omitting captions also allows viewers to bring their own associative, random thoughts from their subconscious to the foreground. Which makes the viewing experience more personal.

The exhibition included two videos tucked at the end of the Chapel gallery. One, ‘Roots’, a hypnotic dance interpretive piece that “explores themes of life, destruction and loss within the farm”, and Two, ‘Artist’s Reflection’, on an interview-style reflection of this personal project and her thoughts of putting the exhibition material together. Both videos are worth catching, though my personal recommendation is to watch them apart — watch one video first, take a second look at the exhibits, and then watch the second video. Watching the two videos in the same sitting/standing might create a visual discomfort, because the styles of the two videos are very different (If I were to hazard a comparison, it felt like listening to experimental music and an acoustic guitar song track on Spotify).

The exhibition also prompted me to rethink my perception of farming in Singapore. I am now more grateful for the vegetables I see and buy at the market or supermarket. Each pluck of hydroponics vegetable was planted and care for by hand. As this exhibition was held near Singapore’s national day, it also aroused my curiosity and concern for Singapore’s Green plan 2030, where Singapore aims to produce 30% of its nutritional needs by 2030. What kind of vegetable farming methods are commercially viable, and scalable in land-scarce Singapore? How can consumers support family-run farms? How do we get from farm to table in more efficient ways and generate less waste in the process?

[Read about Singapore’s ’30 by 30′ plan here.]

[I forgot to mention that Basil Seed Paper exhibition postcard was a nice touch. Do remember to take one postcard if you have green fingers, or know someone that does.]

We Were Farmers (2021) By Ore Huiying
Curated by Zhuang Wubin

Chapel Gallery, Objectifs
29 Jul to 29 Aug 2021
Free admission

A Short Film, “2488” by Tang Ling Nah

Poetic — loss — reclaimed dignity

I was invited by two artists to view their latest project, a 360-degree short film, a couple of days back. Choosing to launch their film project on YouTube on Good Friday probably had some personal significance which wasn’t lost in my reading of the film. I felt compelled to write some of my observations in this short review.

“2488” is an unusual yet poetic short film in a few ways. It appears to me to sit between an independent art house and a narrative film with a pinch of “magical-realism”.

First, the film was shot and presented in 360-degree mode. This means the viewer can “see” all around the scene. If you are viewing on a mobile device, swiping or moving the device allows you to turn your head to look at the scene. If you are viewing on a web browser on a laptop or desktop, then you can turn your point of view by clicking-and-dragging your “hand icon” over the screen. This might be disorienting for some, but probably familiar to those with some experience of Virtual Reality content. The viewing experience (at full-screen) is somewhat immersive, and places the viewer right where the camera was, seeing what the omni-present 360-degree camera captured. While this might seem like a “plus” point for 360-degree films, it is at the same time challenging for the storytelling as strong camera angles, like medium close ups, close-ups, or transitions between scenes difficult. The film crew, if any, has to make an effort to hide from the camera. There is no artificial lightning that can be hidden from the camera to give strong evocative lighting.Available natural light is asked to show all and hide nothing. The 360-degree view probably posed an added challenge for the film’s mis-en-scene –the arrangement of the scene becomes difficult, like stuck in a particular angle, even if it’s a 360-degree angle. Then again, that feeling of ‘stuck’ or vertigo-inducing sensation if one darts around the scene too much, might well be intentional, leaving the viewer with a slight sense of disorientation or bewilderment if the viewer doesn’t settle down, and become more involved in the viewing process (deciding the ‘point of view’, or when to look at the character).

Second, it is an unusual film because it blends the imagination and present, in a slightly disjointed manner: we can’t help but feel a distinct splice, when the live-action scene jumps to the illustrated scenes from the Zoo. The twist in the narrative caught me by surprise yet remain plausible. The blend of live-action with digitally illustrated dream-like scenes felt child-like, playful, funny, and poignantly sad at parts for me.

Third, there was an opportunity to ‘loop’ the last scene’s ending back to the first scene. But it doesn’t loop back, and it ends with us looking at the back view of the characters, putting a distance between the viewers and them. The characters continue to look out the windows and I can’t help but wonder what they are thinking. I can imagine the days continue: moments would be relived with lively conversation; and there would be moments of silence and staring out the window. I think deciding not to loop to the first scene was deliberate, a catharsis perhaps on the part of the storytellers, and for us the outsider viewers to “move on” as well. Thinking back on the last scene, I think there were instances the camera’s shot lingered. The awkward silence added to the sense of loss. Loss for words, loss of time, loss of what to think, all common declining attributes related to dementia.

The first taxi scene might feel long for some viewers. However, I felt it was necessary to ground the scene with a common experience of a chatty taxi driver. The initial long shots also allow the viewer time to change perspectives comfortably without fear of missing out. If you pay attention to the taxi sign, it appears to degrade at one point, which possibly signifies the ending of the journey, and atrophy of the memory or imagination of the journey.

The last scene brings some resolution to the audience and reveals what the father-character was experiencing, more likely a blurring between past, and present, imagined and lived.The storyline is simple and poetic. It is perhaps both a personal film, one I felt I shouldn’t be peering into, and a universal one examining the relationship of a father and daughter, through the unique lens and experience of the director.

The director Tang Ling Nah, the writer, producer, and main actor for the short film, offers us one close view of dementia – potentially what goes on in the head of the patient, and how a daughter reconciles and relieves memories from the past. The anxiety the daughter feels when the father goes missing is not lost but represented candidly in drawing. Making a connection to Good Friday, the day the film was premiered, we might also say the film is about sacrifice – the time and energy caregivers provide for dementia patients. All things considered, the film has it’s rough edges with bits of the acting, voice-overs and child-like drawings, but the film shines to capture the dignity and patience that dementia patients deserve.

Catch this 360-degree short film here

Or view it on YouTube https://youtu.be/yCtX8l4cb0c.

Catch this 2020 short video on Tang Ling Nah to learn about the artist’s body of work: https://vimeo.com/400100099.

GRAVITAS (2020) by Lee Pheng Guan

Gravity in motion


The faint smell of paraffin wax sticks in this exhibition. It permeates the air in small whiffs and leaves its physical mark in drips and splatters on the floor of the gallery space. It doesn’t make you sick, but you know that you have stepped into a different space.

The flooring feels slightly slippery, and that drew my attention to the difference in surfaces: concrete, green tiles and new pastel tiles at the back. The floor almost looks like an abstract painting in itself, or like peeled layers of paint revealing its layered unspoken histories. I can’t help but think that the artworks were placed with the blemishes of the floor in mind.

Paraffin wax, or petroleum wax, can be found coated to twigs, trunks, and a giant sandy boulder as I looked around the space. These are all curious, enigmatic sculptural objects in this evocative solo exhibition, containing about 4-5 artworks in a humble, re-purposed shophouse turned gallery space. The works co-exist well in the small space, spreading from the entrance to the back of the gallery space. Two pieces stick out: first, the thin tree-like structures that stand around a television monitor, like human figures standing around a coffin; two, the giant, earthly-coloured boulder in the backspace that has left an indelible destructive mark.

The white wax on the thin tree-like structures reminded me of white-painted tree trunks. Apparently, painted tree bark is a traditional method of protecting young trees in orchards or tree farms. Besides repelling pests, white paint also prevents cracking and splitting young bark, almost like ‘sun block’ for trees. In other places, roadside tree trunks might be painted white to make them more visible at night. In this exhibition, the white paraffin wax also reminded me of candles. 

The willowy twigs looked like candles sprouting into trees. Or a bizarre transmogrification: a tree transforming into a candle, or candle into a tree. The tree-like structures might also look like they were floating in mid-air, defying gravity, and bleeding rubbery white sap. Taking to the symbolism of candles, light from a candle might represent hope or truth. Here, the candle-like structures might well represent the opposite: despair. The dim-lighting, dried leaves on twigs and ‘preserved’ tree trunk gave that ambivalence of hope and despair, of preservation and atrophy. 

There were other signs of wood being used as materials for these curious art objects. On one singular tree trunk, wax was used to fit the scab on the tree bark, filling in, blending in. It reminded me of the Japanese art of Kintsugi, mending broken pottery with gold seams. Emanating from the art of Kintsugi, it would not far fetch to think of its philosophical implications. If we can mend something broken and transform it into an object with an aesthetic appeal, then we might be able to embrace imperfect selves and situations. Each blemish exists for a reason, and when mended, surreptitiously makes the object whole again. 

The earthly-coloured boulder has grown since the last time I saw it. Made of sand and paraffin wax, a spoonful at a time, and rolled to perfection, the boulder can represent many things. It had always reminded me of the Greek mythology of Sisyphus rolling a huge boulder endlessly up a steep hill, only to have it roll down the next day. The near-perfect sphere also reminded me of patterns in nature, and it is our human nature to be in awe of geometry in geological features. The choice of sand and the fact that the work grows in size remind me of Singapore’s land reclamation effort. The boulder could also represent the seriousness of things that weigh us down: material objects (aka clutter, or simply ‘stuff’), grief, guilt or loss. The boulder could represent artists’ strive for perfection or challenge, in this case, an artist’s impossible task of hand-building this boulder as big as it gets until it collapses from its own weight or else.

This boulder is part of a site-specific installation and probably my favourite artwork in the exhibition. The installation is accompanied by a video showing the boulder rolled across the tiles and cracking under its sheer weight. The audio of the video rumbles you to your core. 

The exhibition’s title is ‘gravitas’, which means ‘dignity, seriousness, or solemnity of manner’. The exhibition might well be a clever, subversive, indoor Zen garden. Instead of inviting viewers to ponder the essence of nature and thereby calming the mind, it invites them to ponder the essence of human nature, our fears and ‘baggage’. Perhaps the exhibition title foretold the seriousness of the global pandemic. Maybe the exhibition was created to remind artists and viewers we ought to take art seriously. Because art objects or art actions can transcend logic and language, helping us somehow make sense of unconnected ideas and materials if we let them. It can disrupt unproductive mental trajectories, make the ordinary unfamiliar or the unfamiliar familiar, and ultimately help us cope with uncertainty and chaos.

Supernormal, 20 February – 8 March 2020

[Written on Aug 9, 2021, backdated to March 8, 2020]

Consider reading “PG Lee on Simple Gestures, Confronting Mortality and the Futility of Possession” by Claire Wu.

Sound & Vision (2018)

Innocent Eye

Sound & Vision (2018)

Sound and Vision … is a presentation of artists working in conditions of abstraction, highlighting the means of composition in their art-making that engage with notions of repetition and rhythm, tonality and intensity, and unity and dissonance, and how these are being interpreted in artistic practices across mediums.” [Press Release]

It is inevitable that adults see abstract art with much suspicion. After all, much of abstract modern art looks like something a child could do. Except young children can’t really paint abstractly, and their paintings are often ‘narrative’, in a way that there are stories told as the paintings are made. Ask any parents who have kids attending pre-school, or read art historian, Jonathan Fineberg’s The Innocent Eye: Children’s Art and the Modern Art (1997). In Fineberg’s Innocent Eye, he uncovered and discussed children’s drawings collected by many known modernist artists and explained why we value children art. Fineberg examined the formal qualities of children’s art, and revealed influences by children’s art on early abstract painters, and certainly not the other way round.

Interestingly, there had been artists who tried to paint like children. Jean Dubuffet, Joan Miro, Cobra artists, and Paul Klee to name a few. In Singapore, Ben Phua’s paintings, Vincent Leow’s early paintings, or Angie Seah’s early drawings can come to mind. There are probably artists who still try to paint like children. Many artists in the past and present praise the ‘innocent’, unclouded vision of childhood and children, and these visions become muses for them to emulate, in a bid to evoke perhaps a romantic notion of ‘innocence’, expressive directness, simplicity, and perhaps universality across cultures. To some artists, they believe that their ‘inner child’, or ‘child-like sub-conscious’ are an un-tap creative force. To say that all abstract art is child-like would also trivialise what we know about our unconscious mind, and how artists have tapped on them to make art. Trivialising abstract art exposes what we don’t know about our subconscious minds too.

With this in mind, I tried to look at the artworks in this modest exhibition with an innocent eye.

The artworks were hung in a manner that emphasised the visual quality similarities between the paintings by different artists. I had mistakenly thought the sculptures by Wyn-Lyn Tan was by Ian Woo, because certain colours were similar to the paintings by Ian, and I remember he had a series of large, graphite line drawings that were very ‘sculptural’. The inclusion of Zulkifle Mahmod’s wall-hanging sound sculptures were a pleasant surprise and addition to the works on show, making the visual experience more enlivening.

But close observation by connoisseurs will recognise the differences of methods, colour-palette and media used by the three painters and 1 sound artist.

Ng Joon Kiat favoured a toss of graphite dust in his acrylic palette. They make his paint speckled, just enough to prod your curiosity. He used the skin of paint to create subtle variations in surface texture, and an incredibly harmonious and refreshing pastel colour range. We see less mass and lesions in these paintings than Ng’s green series which are marked by generous paint. Here, the cartographic surfaces we see in the green series erodes away, revealing more subtle yet luscious spreads of the palette knife, and wintry colour.

Wyn-Lyn Tan’s canvases appear to be doused, blotted and smeared effectively to create ink-like, and batik-like surfaces. Her odd stone-like sculptures resembled post-painting relics, perhaps enshrined in resin. From some angles, they look like ink landscape paintings, where the atmospheric perspective leads the viewers’ eyes calmly into the surface of the painting. They are meditative, where some strokes flow or ebb, and were fascinating to stare at. The colours resemble natural mineral shades found in stones.

Ian Woo’s canvases on the other hand, appear calculated in a different way: deliberate colour-contrasts are laid side by side to create an unusual surface that refuses to sit still. Everything is unfamiliar. Just when you think you can recognise a shape by following its contour line, it ends abruptly and throws your focus. The visual effect is unsettling, and conversational: each stroke talks to the previous one, responding to it, coaxing it to reveal something it doesn’t already know.

Zulkifle Mahmod’s sound pieces can be viewed as de-constructed paintings made with copper piping laid in a maze-like pattern. They show their structures, raw and bare. They refuse to lay flat, uses the shadow cast by the pipes to form an alternative surface of the work on the gallery wall. When all three sound sculptures are turned on, the syncopated rhythmic thump on copper pipes is piercingly loud, amplified by the walls of the space, yet mysterious as I tried to find a pattern or melody to the sound. They reminded me of three groups of people having their own conversations at the same time, growing louder, then quieter, overlapping at times, and other moments where they are eavesdropping curiously, waiting for the other group to finish. They could also sound like 3 monologues, that happen to sound like “call and response” at certain intervals.

If children’s art can teach us anything, it is to look at things with innocent eyes. Doing so will yield surprises. If that were one of the artists’ intentions, then I say they have done so successfully.

Works by Zulkifle Mahmod, Ng Joon Kiat, Wyn-Lyn Tan and Ian Woo
Curated by Michelle Ho
FOST Gallery, 10 November – 30 December 2018