Since being named “The Most Promising Young Artist” at the UOB Painting of the Year Competition at the age of 18, Kai Syng Tan (born 1975) has been out and about in the art world (hopefully still with some degree of “promise”). Kai Syng is a die-hard Made-In-Singapore Artist “trained” in the both the “Wild West” (B.A. Fine Arts 1st Class Honors, top student, Slade School of Fine Art University College London 1998, and School of Art Institute of Chicago 1996) and the “Far East” (M.A., Excellence Award, Department of Imaging Arts & Sciences, Musashino Art University, Tokyo 2005). An insatiable tourist-digger-hoarder, she scavenges, swallows the surrounding clutter of signs/information/noise; as a compulsive editor she chews up, rearranges, regurgitates — and re-maps — the found fragments into densely layered works that question our “realities” via the image (she was trained as a painter and sculptor), music (she tinkled the ivories for 11 years) and text (for all her pretentious philosophical and semiotic inquiries) in time and space, about, and for our here and now.
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Hello, there! Welcome to our super shiny city called SHINY CITY. Ours is the world’s number one shiniest, sparkliest (sic), slickest city! Uniquely familiar, authentically “modern,” really unreal — and it feels just like home!
Before I forget, I am your Tour Guide. Allow me, your Tour Guide, to take you for a spankingly dizzying ride! Please. Come. With me.
Time code 6’32”
Place Of Interest I: City Sink
Let us begin our Shiny City DETOUR. Are you ready? We are now at the amazing never-ending underground world called CITY SINK.
I Live In The City / I Love The City
The city is a rich and complex site. It is noisy, cluttered, chaotic, grand, unfriendly, expensive, overcrowded, crime-filled, default target of terrorism, a site of political demonstrations and state-organized street parties, polluted, anonymous, cruel, has strange smells, is forgetful, forbidding, capricious, charming, voyeuristic, paranoid, intrusive, vulgar, selfish, materialistic, sparkling, fake, authentic with small mysterious nooks and crannies.
It is a rich and dramatic stage for the dwellers’ behaviors, rituals and performances. How we catch the train; how we avoid eye contact with strangers and non-strangers; how we invent our own time and space for privacy. It is a terribly exciting mise-en-scène — in shallow, not deep focus — for the Tourist and Tour Guide. It is as flawed as it is perfect. It repels as much as it attracts; we travel to the City Lights with Hope; we leave it disillusioned, we struggle to survive there; we die there, we return.
I love the city. To death.
City As Muse, Mise-En-Scene & Monster: City In Art; Art In The City
The city has been mapped, interpreted and imagined in the arts for as long as its formation. Think Oliver Twist, Trainspotting, Fight Club, Mondrian’s Broadway Boogie Woogie, Christo, Jenny Holzer, Babara Kruger, Doug Aitken’s Sleepwalkers at New York’s MOMA. The city has also inspired and housed genres such as jazz, rap, hip-hop, graffiti art, and street busking.
Endless cinematic reconstructions of the city have also existed ever since cinema was born: Ruttman’s Berlin Symphony, a combination of five Soviet states in Vertov’s Man With a Movie Camera, Fritz Lang’s futuristic Metropolis, Godzilla’s post-nuclear disaster of Tokyo, King Kong’s New York City, San Francisco in Hitchcock’s Veritigo, the Roma of the Italian Realists, Tokyo in Chris Marker’s Sans Soleil, Resnais’ Hiroshima Mon Amour, London in Patrick Keiler’s London, Tsai Ming Liang’s Taipei, Woody Allen’s Manhattan.
Many art festivals and art Biennales have long been associated with the City or city-state. During festival period, entire cities become exhibitions, and every one is a collaborator. Think Singapore Biennale, Sao Paolo, Documenta in Kassel, Cannes Film Festival, Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival.
Urban Fantasies / Urban Nightmares
Urban denizens (apart from the Tourist and Tour Guide) include Superheroes fighting nasty urban nemesis, such as Spider-Man, Superman, Batman, Robin, and even The Incredibles. Set in a “Liberty City” which is based by many accounts on New York City, the video game Grand Theft effectively explores the tensions between the real and imagined. Which are the bits that have been parodied or sampled from the “real” world? Which has been modified? Which are the bits that resemble the Real McCoy? Why? Which do not? Why not?
The creation of a parallel world is a lovely device to critique one’s own, via mimesis and from (critical) distance. This is seen powerfully explored in Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels: each universe Gulliver visits is a little parable about our values and mores; every thing gets deflected back to us; are these strange beings he encounters strange, or is he the stranger?
Time code 23’07”
Place of Interest II: WHERE
Welcome to the next place of interest! Here we are, up in the heavens, called WHERE.
THROW YOUR INHIBITIONS AND DOUBTS OUT OF THE WINDOW!
Just look out of the window. You can see only civility, grace and comfort in this ambitious city. There are no moles or freckles, just smooth skin. None of that freakish curly hair or bald patches, but hair of the same length throughout. It’s rather neat. She’s a great way to fly.
DISCLAIMER AT CUSTOMS: NOTHING TO DECLARE, NO EXCESS BAGGAGE.
Today’s world of simulacra, Second Life, virtual universes, cloning, piracy, reality TV, everyone an artist,
everyone a laptop artist, everyone an idol for at least 15 minutes, space tourism, the revival of religious
fundamentalism et al means that the notion of “reality” gets increasingly conflated, expanded and complex.
Things are exacerbated here, as Artifice is the New Reality. She is bigger faster better sexier wealthier shinier than Las Vegas+Dubai+Anna Nicole Smith+Shijingshan Amusement Park combined. The city is uber po-mo and ambitious. It wants to be global center for everything under the equatorial sun. It is one giant theme park — and a successful one, too. Just like her “3-in-1 coffee” and “all-in-1 department stores,” not only is it compact, but efficient, convenient, ideal, a tropical paradise, a microcosm of the world. It has everything under the sun and tropical rain. The theme park is well-organized, with different lands, each a perfect miniature of life itself. (See gigantic hypermarkets in land-scarce island everywhere; cineplexes; multi-storey carparks; “Integrated Resorts,” Sentosa). The mash-up has interesting ready-made empirical examples that would thrill Baudrillard to death.
Everyone plays an important role in this show — including the Operator, Visitor, Cleaner, Tourist, and Tour Guide.
Now please make your way down to earth again.
Time Code: 38’44”
I’m afraid we’ve reached the POINT OF NO RETURN. Now it’s time to say goodbye. It’s been truly great knowing you. Thank you very much indeed. All the very best in your future endeavors. See you at the next City!
Tour Guide dies.
Tour Guide travels back and forward in time.
Tour Guide enters another world, and meets her alter-ego from TOUR in the parallel world. She screams.