On the O.P.E.N.

Ng Yi-Sheng

May 13, 2015

It's kind of crazy how soon we're gonna run into actual festival programming. Sure, SIFA itself is all the way in August, but in just a month, we'll be encountering The OPEN!

(Yes, I know it's technically The O.P.E.N., but I prefer touch-typing to overusing my full stop key, thank you very much.)

I spent the weekend figuring out exactly what I wanted to watch in the festival, so I've been able to mull over the contents of the OPEN and SIFA proper for a while. And what strikes me is how different the two of them are.

Never mind that they're both supposed to be united by the common theme of Post-Empires and they're both curated by our dear leader Ong Keng Sen. They're utterly different in flavour. SIFA proper is awfully nationalistic and nostalgic - witness all the works reflecting on Singaporean history and heritage, celebrating the great Singaporean artistic genii of the past and present.

The OPEN, on the other hand, is global and futuristic. There's a total of just three Singaporean performances in its lineup: Noorlinah Mohamed's interactive art experience 15 Stations; Intriguant Live Trio, Yllis & Ssystm's audiovisual sonic experience Syndicate SG; and Inch Chua's indie rock gig iNCH. As a counterweight, we've four events coming out of India, two from Japan and two from Brazil (both by Christian Duarte, admittedly, but you get my point.)

Regarding futurity, look at some of Keng Sen's sub-themes: Augmented Reality; the Young & the Restless. We're grappling with the high-tech and the low-aged here. Also literal meditations on how we're going to move into the future, under the sub-theme What Remains After: Toyo Ito's talks about The Role of Tomorrow's Architects, Lu Guang's photographic series The Price of Neglect, which dwells on the colossal impact of pollution in China.

Of course, there's a fair number of works that reference the past in the OPEN, given the historical themes of the Post-Colonial (Pushpamala N's photo series The Arrival of Vasco Da Gama, pictured above) and Post-Dictator (Marco Layera/Teatro La Re-Sentida's Imagination of the Future, pictured below, which deals with an alternate history where Augusto Pinochet never took over Chile.)

Also the various dance performances linked to the theme of Archives, and the riffs on the traditional arts under the heading of Post-Tradition. But there's no warm fuzzy rose-tinted view of the past in any of these renditions. Most of these works seem to be making you think about the future, and that creates anxiety.

Which drives to me to say: it's incredibly ironic - understandable, but ironic - that we have to hold a festival about the international future as a prelude, a foretaste, a publicity event, even, to a festival that's about the local past.

Portrayals of the past are about grandeur and spectacle and comfort and pride (either because the past was glorious, so you have great foundations, or because it sucked, because that means you've come an awful long way). Portrayals of the future are disturbing if they're dystopian and unbelievable if they're utopian, causing stomach-churning uncertainity either way. So you've gotta mark a nation's 50th anniversary with a festival that's rooted in the past.

But at least, Keng Sen was able to create a festival to discuss the future in the first place. Hell, he even knew most people would feel weird about it, so he's improved our spirits by making most of the events free (as long as you've got an OPEN pass).

Yeah, this sort of thing is niche, but small audiences build stronger bonds. I expect to see many a merry little community form out of the nights to come at 72-13, with everyone gathering afterwards to have supper along Mohamed Sultan Road.

See you there!

Btw, this image is from Jayachandran Palazhy's Nagarika, which is an experiment marrying traditional Indian movement forms (we're too cool to just call it dance) with augmented reality. Pretty much every box is checked on that one. Keng Sen probably screamed when he saw the description. 

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  • 2015