"As long as intimacy goes on, so will Eternity." - Calvin Klein
The basis for the exhibition stems from an invitation to a Singaporean photographer to record the run-down conservation shop-houses numbers 107 and 109 Rowell Road (motorcycle workshop, garung kuni shop and brothel) before they are transformed by the resident curatorial team p-10 into Post-Museum (exhibition space, café, studios and offices). The result is 9 selectively composed photographic images of second floor cubicle partitions, urging viewers to piece together in their minds the cramped conditions for intimacy, in comparison with the present retrofits of an independent cultural space. Art’s intimacy and proximity to life and lives are questioned here with a potentially sensitive topic, but documented here with apolitical and banal representation.
The pastiche of the exhibition title is by no means a parody of the cologne by Calvin Klein, but an extension or re-reading of our presumptions of ‘Intimacy’, and ‘Eternity’; ‘Love’ and ‘Immortality’. These pair words, loaded by the promises between lovers are seductive and cautious. In the realm of art, they are callous, empty promises in the face of decay and superficial preservation. Eternity is but an idealised concept, loved by many
The idea of ‘eternity’ is also mentioned briefly by two writers; Haruki Murakami in Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, and Jorge Luis Borges in Labyrinths. Murakami suggests “humans are immortal in their thought”, sub-dividing the time we dwell on memories, and revisiting them over and over again. The idea is also mentioned in a short story by Borges, of a prisoner caught in his recollections, sub-dividing time and a recount of his life flashing before his eyes, before the bullets of a firing squad. The bullet slows infinitely as he recollects his memories over and over again. Photographs, by virtue of their verisimilitude to memories, offer the possibility of eternity if we can sub-divide time and trap our thoughts in the cycle of recalling. The blank walls in Chua’s photographs are like the sub-divisions of the narratives of the room, hardly distinguishable from the other but by the most observant. They challenge us to splice memories, revisiting them over and over again.
The works here are significant in two ways: they challenge the classification by photography, by reducing the subjective elements to their bare minimal and relying instead on the aura of the site. They also question the meaning and understanding of photography in Singapore. Truth be said, photography is growing in Singapore amidst commercial work (that suits the client) and non-commercial work (that suits one’s artistic vision); categories that can be further sub-divided into wedding, sports, macro photography and so on.
The photographs must be appreciated in situ, contrasting against the bare brick walls in the absence of the partitions that once held ten odd cubicles. The history of Rowell Road, the narrative that weaves the building’s shady past and present are poetically embraced by the romantic hope for “eternity” – either love made and lost by anonymous sex workers and transient workers that desired so, or individual artists and their artworks that transcend time.
Secondly, this exhibition tries to raise the issue of ethics in photography – negotiating truth and fiction, shedding light onto the taboo vice trade along Rowell Road, spotting neighbours amidst hordes of trishaw tourists… A private space is made public with these photographs but revealing nothing, except to those who know the ‘truth’ or history of the building. Truth, in its conceptual sense, is timeless. Universal truth is not bound under the aegis of time. Writers like Francis Fukuyama, however, will argue that ‘histories’ are myriad, constructed and narrated by men; often crafted to suit the occasion and tenuous needs.
Any place is a process, as geographer Allan Pred puts it: a “process of becoming”. The photographs here capture that moment of waste and despair before the transformation of the building into Post-Museum. Concept of eternity notwithstanding, acknowledging the space’s recent past through the mild but suggestive non-place photographs of Chua will no doubt motivate more probing, and hopefully attract interest in the new space and invite questioning of contemporary photography in Singapore.
Lim Kok Boon