120 by Ong Keng Sen, TheatreWorks

“In a museum, time is confused. What looks old may be a reproduction, what looks new is actually a stained glass window from 1887. 120 will recast the National Museum of Singapore as a host of luminescent voices.”

(lifted from National Museum of Singapore website)


The recent illuminating ‘theatre’ performance can best be described as a ‘spacy’ art event – myriad colourful personal interpretations of the numerous galleries, displays and artefacts that lay within the 120 year old Museum – or a contemporary theatre performance, involving contemporary practitioners from the visual, performing arts and media, weaved with improvisations against the backdrop of personal memories and national treasures. Using the modus operandi of a guided tour, like New York-based artist Andrea Fraser, or Singapore-based artist Lee Sze-Chin, the audience are allocated randomly into groups to trawl the treasures of the Museum.

While the fairies of history are (below: Hosan Leong charming a viewer/member of the tour) more than mere tour guides, they are dressed in costume resembling minimal plastic-inspired spacy fashion statements. But it does the job of conveying a sense of timelessness, a parody of hi-tech kitsch contrasts sharply with the museum’s 120 years celebration.


This art event is significant in two ways: it legitimises and encourages the audience on tour to question the notion of a constructed national history, using the powerful selected visuals and artefacts collected and displayed by the Museum. Through humour and the device of a tour, history is re-animated for adults. Secondly, it allows the audience to connect with the Museum in more direct ways – we are treated to a display of 120 artefacts, a token item collected from each year of the museum’s existence. What may become apparent, is these artefacts once were everyday objects that represented life or way of living and the museum has the difficult task of preserving the nation’s fragmented memories through objects; which is why I was pleasantly surprise to see a drawing by Ng Eng Teng included, instead of a map or another hat. Perhaps this was another subtle intervention by the director, to suggest the integral relationship art has with our civilised lives and national identity.

The result, a bold directed art event through 11 different orderly guided tours of what defines ‘national treasures’, and our own personal questioning of the dilemmas of collecting, interpreting histories and remembering national identities. While many may have the complain that each tour was different and that they would like to know what happened on the other tours, it does mirror my understanding of history. A nation’s history is made up of many personal histories and is always fragmented – broken, subjective, sometimes augmented by memories or incomplete objects.

120 is perhaps precisely about deconstructing uniquely Singapore and it’s dynamic economic growth, stripping bare the branding and questioning our shared Identity, the roles and responsibilities of the museum as an institution and repository of collective memories. In this light, it was a perfect celebration, a collective memory of new standards of a meaningful art event.

8.0 of 10 stars

3 unique performances at the National Museum of Singapore, accompanied by stunning live music to accompany the 120 artefacts.

One response to “120 by Ong Keng Sen, TheatreWorks

  1. Pingback: The Air Conditioned Recession: A Singapore Survey « Boonscafe

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