Home Sweet Home

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Chun Kaifeng, The Ride of a Lifetime, 2008. Photo by Carina Koh

 

BY CARINA KOH

A Ferris wheel devoid of colours, bright lights and eager children. In its place is a deep sense of foreboding, a melancholy driven by the dull grey and white colours and the ominous looking loudspeakers flanking both sides of the Ferris wheel.  Lacking in human presence, Chun Kaifeng’s Ride of a Lifetime! exudes both fear and detachment. The carriages are made to resemble prisons and they are definitely a far cry from what we are used to seeing in amusement parks.

If Chun Kaifeng’s goal was to provoke, he certainly accomplished it. The Ferris wheel and its resemblance to the recently constructed Singapore Flyer had me in deep thought. As a fan of amusement parks, the child in me refused to accept such a portrayal of what was supposed to be a fun, exciting, vibrant and happy ride. Brushing away those thoughts however, I realized how his sculpture was meant to be a depiction of our own alienation. The Singapore Flyer was constructed to show the world how Singapore could keep up with new attractions and keep up in the race for innovation at a hefty cost. As we rush to build our very own London Eye, we want to show the world that we too, are capable to having ‘fun’. Why do we need such a huge tourist magnet for the sake of showing the world what we have? Money, it seems, is the catalyst for all these huge attractions. Tourists dollars, advertising revenues and of course, high rollers who bet millions of dollars without even blinking an eye – all these contribute to building our economy. But as we are moving towards our career goals and the desire for success, we are also pushing away those closest to us and choosing to void ourselves of excitement, passion and fun – things we were once associated with in childhood. The little carriages have enough space for only one.  How do we find and keep the simple joys we were once entitled to, once we find ourselves in the rat race?

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Chun Kaifeng, ¥ € $, 2010. Photo by Carina Koh

Accompanying Ride of a Lifetime! is Chun Kaifeng’s ¥ € $. Bearing a striking resemblance to Marina Bay Sands, ¥ € $ is done up in grayscale and void of human figures. Notably lacking in splendour and magnificence, unlike Marina Bay Sands, ¥ € $ is not intended to be a tribute but a satirical response to such a building and its accompanying casino being built in Singapore. The repercussions of having a casino in Singapore have been made apparent recently after its establishment. Hordes of newspaper articles have conveyed yet another sad story of gambling addiction and the government has been putting up futile attempts to curb the gambling problem in Singaporeans. Each of the three buildings are topped with the Japanese Yen sign, the Euro currency sign and the Singapore dollar sign, the artist’s reckoning of all the money being made in the casinos from tourists all around the world, and from Singaporeans as well. Splashed on the backs of these iconic buildings are marks of a loanshark, the paint smears and threatening façade to force someone to pay up what is owed. Behind the glamour and fascination, are debts, crude money-lending transactions and broken lives. Capitalist interests have given way to social decay. Chun Kaifeng’s sculpture brought to mind instantly the societal repercussions of pursuing commercial interests. A far cry from what Singapore used to be, perhaps we are biting off more than we can chew.

Although very literal in their meanings, Chun Kaifeng’s pieces stirred a deep resonance within me, and I feel they would with many Singaporeans as well. The artist’s own interpretations of societal problems are bare, stark and fuel a need to look at pressing, inherent issues.

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Donna Ong, The Crystal City, 2000. Photo by Carina Koh

Donna Ong, a renowned artist in the Singapore scene, wows with her Crystal City. Beautiful pieces of everyday objects such as jars, cups, bowls and plates are stacked atop one another and with a light glowing from beneath them, create a spectacular city skyline.  The lights dim and brighten – as a real gleaming skyline would. The Crystal City is a relatively simple concept that appeals to our inner child. What is breathtaking is the moment the viewer first sees the installation as a glass city, and when the viewer moves closer to see that it is simply crockery stacked atop one another. What struck me most was these two conflicting images present to us as the viewer, the difference between reality and perspective. Another façade of home.

Change is inevitable to any city, country, or person. More often than not, we hope for the change to be for the better. Likewise, Singapore has gone through many remarkable facelifts ever since its independence. Singapore has been referred to as a garden city, a metropolis and a cosmopolitan city, amongst a myriad of complimenting nicknames bestowed upon us. To an outsider, our change is for the better, the city has blossomed into one of the most advanced cities in the world, complete with our very own ‘London Eye’ and a striking skyline to boot. To Singaporeans however, is the change really for the better? Some mourn the loss of a history, and our income gap is widening more than ever. The onslaught of foreign talent has many worrying about their own ricebowls and the establishment of a casino caused fear. Our very own crystal city, but is the façade worth it?

Singapore’s sense of progress may be blazing, but the move to balance this progress with culture and identity is sorely lacking. I only hope that one day in the future, i can still see Singapore – my garden city – intact with its myriad of cultures, as ‘home’ and not a heartbreaking memory of what used to be.

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