Time Between Us: Moving In

Ng Yi-Sheng

September 7, 2016

So I’m writing while housed in Fernando Rubio’s installation house, next door to the MBS fountain! (Uploading was much later. MBS wifi wasn't great.)

I've been hanging around since 8:45, cos I wanted to catch Oliver Chong getting out of the cab at 9 (he’s supposed to be in character as soon as his feet hit the pavement), but his route got diverted to the casino because of the rain, so me and Rae the social media maven just got wet.

But eventually we figured out what was happening and walked ourselves over. 

Yes, that’s Oliver Chong inside, writing on the walls. Or at least, I think I can call him Oliver. He’s not allowed to say anything… or very much. He did say “thank you” after I danced for him (he was playing the Beatles’ I Wanna Hold Your Hand on the record player; I couldn’t not dance).

It’s oddly peaceful in here. The wood is pine-scented, and Oliver’s been playing music since about 10—mostly antique Cantonese pop, and the rain-spattered windows and air-conditioning make it easy to believe we’re somewhere far off—Norway, Jeffrey said, or more likely a ranch shed in Patagonia.

Jeffrey (in red) is theatre director Jeffrey Tan, who was the first visitor here at 9:50ish, together with me and Rae. (I wasn’t sure if I should enter before 10, because our ticket said 10. Meanwhile, Jeffrey and several other guests came early because they thought the show was scheduled for precisely 10am.)

Right now it’s noon, so he’s livestreaming his reading of The Little Book of Big History. (Yep, he’s speaking for that. Even his silence has its limits.)

There’ve been varying reactions so far. The most dramatic was a 60-something year-old who came in and said the exhibit was bu gong ping, unfair, for the Chinese-educated like himself who might want to understand the work, because there was only English text written in chalk and post-its on the walls.

In response, Oliver rose and wrote 修行 / xiu xing on the wall, i.e. meditation. The old man was actually kind of overjoyed. He’d said he’s been gambling at MBS every day for the last five years and with each day of construction he’d wondered what the hell this hut was for.

He even left a comment:


[This has Chinese words
This has depth
This has meaning]

Other interesting visitors include a 10 year-old Vietnamese kid whose father was writing an article about something in the area. He picked up the stray copy of Mark Twain’s The Stolen White Elephant and said he’s got a copy at home.

If you’re hanging out here, you can pick up any of the books you like. Hell, you could even contribute to the little library. I’m considering the prospect.

Oliver’s stopped reading aloud now. I think the livestream’s over. Or not? He’s singing along to We All Live in a Yellow Submarine.

He’s got a schedule for each day, 9am to midnight, but he’s not always doing stuff literally—he didn’t dive into the water at 11, he just wrote a few keywords we were chattering on the wall.

I’m wondering when if it’s ethical to leave. Is loneliness going to be hard on him? Or will it be easier when there’s no audience? The door’s open for visitors, except when he shuts it to have a smoke break. And even then people can enter through the back.

Ah, he’s reading about the origin of species now, alongside Let It Be.

Besides reading, he’s been writing journal entries, recopying his texts (I think he’s using some in his later storytelling), taking Polaroids of us, and generally chilling. Later he’ll be watching a movie—today it’ll be Blow Up by Michelangelo Antonioni. There’s a projector installed for that.

Come to think of it, there’s really an odd mix of rustic and high-tech here: there’s data for his livestreaming, and a backup server, even, amidst all the unvarnished wood. And of course all the spawning Pokemon, which draw visitors into the hut.

And yet this isn’t tech he can use for his own pleasure. Nothing here is for his pleasure, come to think of it. Only for ours.

But when people are in here, chilling out with him, it’s often hard to tell who’s who. I’ve had to inform several visitors of which one of us is the actor, point out in the Polaroids who the director is.

What separates the performer from the audience when a performer isn't overtly performing? When a spectator may well be intervening with more vigour than he cares to muster?

Not much, maybe. The point of the art is the shared space. The shared community. The shared time.


Still, five days is hella long to spend in a different head space. There's a little counter on the computer which calls out the time every 15 minutes in Cantonese, just to measure out the 120ish hours ahead of him.

I’d better check on Oliver a few times over the course of the week to make sure he’s OK.

Back at 5:45pm for the storytelling! Oh, and by the way, I did decide to donate a book in the end:

  • 2016