Ah! by Charwei Tsai

Making the invisible visible

ah!

“For this commissioned work at Esplanade, Tsai transforms the tunnel into a path illuminated with words of inspiration and with sound composed of Singaporeans singing the word “AH”. “AH” is a sacred sound that many major religions in Singapore and around the world embrace, e.g.: “A-llah”, “A-men”, “A-mitabah”, “A-lleluia”, and “A-OM”. This work aspires to connect a sense of inner peace that is within us all.” (exhibit synopsis)

The recent work by Tsai Charwei is simple, yet effective. The exhibit seems to consist of 3 parts: the blurry photographs of light trails presumably echoing the exhibition’s title; the 3 channel projection of the letters ‘ah’; and the incessant but consistent ‘ah’ sound that permeate from different speakers placed along the tunnel. These 3 parts interact homogeneously, filling the space adequately.

Using the monosyllabic  ‘ah’, the artist has extracted and abstracted perhaps a universal basic sound. The projections show the alphabets ‘a’ and ‘h’ written underwater with a brush, before ripples caused by dispel the words.  Like the buddhist belief that “existence is ephemeral and there is nothing permanent about it”, the physical paint is ‘shaken and stirred’ by presumably sound waves traveling through the water.  What is invisible to the eye, is made visible by the destruction.

The work can be said to illustrate several powerful ideas.  As a metaphor for existentialism, the experience of the sound and image compels us to reconcile our presence within a larger, cultural base where the sound may mean the same or different thing. As a metaphor for all things transient, the tiny ripples resemble the recent quake triggered tsunami that swept North-east Japan. What remained after the blow of the tsunami, as reported by many sympathetic journalists, is the dignified, strong-will of a people humbled by nature.

Ah is common enough to strike a resonance with Singaporeans. It is even an affection, not necessarily an affectation. For example, Ah Boon, as I am sometimes known, could signify closeness or friendliness. Singlish words that contain ‘ah’,OK -lah,  or Alamak are are other examples. Ah is hardly used on its own.

As a pure sound, ah is hardly musical. Striking lottery and shouting”ah!”, might be. Yet this humble word (yes, it is recognised in Scrabble) may hold the answer or question to most existential remarks. Do we punctuate ‘Ah’with an ellipsis, a comma, a semi-colon, a colon, a period, a question mark or an exclamation mark?

What remarks we make after viewing this work, might just be a reflection of our attitude towards our own lives.

6.0 of 10 stars.

Esplanade Tunnel, 8 Apr – 8 May 2011

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