Tuesday, March 31, 2009


Above: the Hall of the Earth in the Temples of Damanhur, Below: the foundations of the Tokyo Underground
The first photo comes with a fascinating story. During a raid on the premises of a cult-like community to investigate a charge of tax evasion, policemen stumbled upon a hidden chamber. They were stunned to find themselves in a grand temple hall complete with a huge stained-glass ceiling. This was only the first of many more magnificently-constructed and gloriously-decorated worship chambers of this reclusive community. As it turns out, the Temples of Damanhur (it's what they are called; the room pictured is named the Hall of the Earth) were built according to the instructions of the community's charismatic leader, Falco. Hard to imagine that such things still happen in this modern-day era; it reads so much like an ancient legend.
I'm delighted to say that I've found the poem mentioned in my earlier post, 'Birds and Statues', thanks to Ly. When she suggested that it was 'Ozymandias', the name just clicked in my head. Here it is, by Percy Bysshe Shelley:
I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: `Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear --
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.'

Monday, March 30, 2009

Singaporean Students

After years of study in the conventional education system, here are my observations of mature Singaporean students.

Let me begin with a scenario: a talk about studying overseas. When the talk in the lecture theatre has ended and students are dispersing, here's a snippet of conversation I caught:

Anonymous: Aiyah, no need to go overseas to study lah, just go NUS. What's so bad about Singapore?

Companion: (seemingly agrees)

I often felt irritated by the comments that students made sometimes, like this one, but I didn't know why. I think I've finally figured out the answer.

A certain type of Singaporean students, unconsciously or not, like to put themselves down and gloat in their combined misery. They adopt an easy-going manner that's their way of protecting themselves against disappointments, the distorted idea that 'I'm so bad anyway, what's the worst that could happen?' It's part of the cynical, pragmatic nature that's been bred in them. You see, by lowering their expectations, potential dejection will be lessened as well. They take comfort in commiserating with their friends who are like them, and anyone who challenges the status quo- who is too outstanding, who studies too much, who is just too darn smart- is viewed with suspicion and aloofness. They'll say to the person, 'Aiyah, you sure get A lah', and inside they may be thinking, 'Not like the rest of us.' They wouldn't think of inviting such a person to their group study sessions.

This brings me back to my original point- some students irritate me because they make others feel guilty for who they are. If you think about it, there's nothing wrong about being studious; in fact, it's an admirable characteristic. It's only EXCESSIVE attention paid to studies that may be harmful. There's also nothing wrong about choosing studies over other activities, something viewed almost as 'cheating'. Some people are just better at sticking to their books than sports, for example. Similarly, there's nothing wrong about desiring to go overseas to study. Some students expect others to be like them, and they make statements as if they are making a universal declaration. Maybe they are this way because they are insecure, or secretly jealous and bitter that they can't excel as much as 'those people'.

It's possible that I'm reading too much into the situation. I'm simply attempting to explain something that's always bothered me. It's also possible that I fall into the trap of acting like one of those students sometimes. I wish that the education system does not produce such characteristics in the students. I wish that students (myself included) stop the perpetual thinking that 'life deals us so much crap' or 'my life is so screwed', because most of us are actually very fortunate. And I wish that we stop thinking and acting like we have 'no choice' but to do something, like go to NUS, because there is always a choice.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Human Figure in Art

Man's greatest subject in Art, perhaps, is Himself. The human figure is infinitely interesting and presents a compelling image with its flesh, muscles, contours, curves and angles. Strained or natural, brutally realistic or idealised- the way it is portrayed yields different emotional impact.
Classical artists such as Leonardo Da Vinci stun with the anatomical exactness of their portrayal of the body (take a look at the Vitruvian Man). However, it is the figurative work of modern artists that truly captivates me. Flesh and muscle can be rendered insubstantial or obliterated; contours can be distorted in astonishing ways; non-naturalistic colours can be substituted for skin tone. Three artists in particular comes to mind here.
Egon Schiele

Schiele highlights angles inherent in the bone structure and musculature of the body, producing twisted forms that are highly expressive.
Francis Bacon
The impact of Bacon's work is immediate and forceful. Under his hands, the human figure is subjected to physical contortions and material distortions of an extreme degree. Flesh is stripped away to reveal the skeletal structure, dissipates into mist, or melts into slime. The result of such ravages, according to him, is that the ugliness and baseness of human nature is revealed. "We are meat; we are potential carcasses," he declared. His work banished my preconceptions of figurative depiction in painting.
Alberto Giacometti
Giacometti's deceptively simple work is modern figurative sculpture at one of its finest. Emanciated and enveloped by empty space, the figures evoke a sense of loneliness, strain and desolation, but tinged with self-determination in their erect stance. They are a compelling metaphor for the psychological state of human beings in the post-war era and even today.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Birds and Statues

I've gotten into collages lately and I find these two by woefoep particularly lovely. It must be because of my fascination with the idea of birds perched on statues. The juxtaposition of a living creature with an inanimate object, and the contrast between the vivid colours of a bird's plumage and the muted hues of a statue's stone, present a hauntingly poetic and slightly surreal image.
Picture from a photography magazine
'Black Magic' by Surrealist painter Rene Magritte
Statues seem very lonely and desolate. They stand for centuries, weathering through the rise and fall of numerous civilizations and the birth and death of uncountable human beings. They are a symbol of transcendence, yet their own destruction is inevitable and imminent. I recall reading a poem once about the ruins of an ancient city, with the remains of a statue buried in the sand of the desert. Wish I could find that poem again.

Friday, March 27, 2009

The Concept of a Camera

In this age, most of us have become accustomed to the point-and-click convenience of the digital camera, aided by the generously large and clear screen that displays the image. With so many functions that aid in the process, every photo created looks bright, shiny, and pretty much perfect. All one has to do after that is to upload the photos to a computer to view them immediately, or let a shop develop them.

Increasingly, though, I find myself actually seeking to create imperfections in my digital photos. I like the graininess, noise, haziness, indistinct forms, dreamy quality and soft, murky lighting that are often a result of photos shot using film camera. Using a DSLR (Digital Slow Lens Reflex) camera in art class was an eye-opener for me. It lacks the big screen and automatic functions that usual digital cameras have. Instead, one has to manually adjust the shutter speed and other features, and look through the tiny hole to visualize what sort of image will result. This hands-on approach allows more room to experiment and, though tedious, is fun and fulfilling.

I also had the experience of developing photos in the dark room and boy, it is no easy feat. There are so many steps and processes to follow, and it is very much a science as it is an art. The exciting thing about manually developing your own photos is that you won't know how they'll turn out. What fascinated me the most, perhaps, is the pinhole camera I made. It's simply a sealed box with a tiny hole cut in it to allow light to reach the film placed inside. I couldn't believe that such a simple device can function as a camera. It's photography at the most fundamental level.

Here are some photos that appear to be shot on film:

Film cameras seem more capable of capturing sensitive portraits, a far cry from the cheesy photos people snap of others and themselves using digital cameras.

And of course, another type of film camera is the polaroid camera, which is wonderful because the film develops instantly. Polaroids are really good for capturing a small, interesting section of some scene; hence, they can turn out slightly abstract.

Isn't it funny how we want to return to the basics for many things in life, despite being the techno-age creatures that we are?

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Why Handicraft Matters

Here's a conversation between me and my sis the other day:

Me: (suddenly thought of an idea) "Hey, if I earn karma for every card that I make to give someone, I'd be going to Heaven at the end of my life!"

Sis: "..."

I see making cards as an act of spreading love. It's a time-honoured tradition for me, starting when I was a young child. A more mundane reason for why I got into making cards and other crafts like origami is that I needed something to pass the long afternoons spent at home, when my parents were away at work. Not to mention I was inspired by those funny television shows I used to watch like Savoir Faire. The guy in Savoir Faire is always making beautiful things for his parties. Which brings me to another point- handcrafted objects to me are more lovely than manufactured ones. I think the Japanese concept of wabi comes to mind here. Wabi refers to the quality of rustic simplicity and understated elegance, and also beauty in imperfection. I think we were born to do things with our hands; it's something I find very instinctual and natural.

It seems to me, though, that I'm one of the few who upholds the practice of giving cards on birthdays and special occasions. The tradition has been eroded because many dismiss it as a commercialized affair. The truth is that it doesn't have to be so. If one thinks that one lacks the artistic flair to make a card, a simple handwritten note will do. Or one can buy one of the many artisan-made cards available, and take the time and effort to write a greeting inside. It's more special than the run-of-the-mill cards that are everywhere.

I wonder how many people remember that Mothers' Day is coming soon (May 10). I take note of dates because I have to prepare cards to give people for the occasion, but I'm not sure about others. By the way, I sometimes make cards for my GRANDMOTHERS for Mothers' Day, because... well, they're mothers too, right? So if you want to surprise your mum with a card this Mothers' Day, but for some reason lack the capacity to do so (maybe you've never made a card in your life, not even ones with random doodles as a child), visit my Etsy store to find a handmade one or to gain inspiration. It's never too late to try!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Artwork of the Day

This is my new favourite painting, by German artist Gustav Klimt. The dusky hues of blue, yellow and reddish-brown imbue it with a mysterious mood. It almost resembles a piece of dyed fabric because of the flatness of the elements. The most prominent feature in Modernist painting is the idea of a canvas as an inherently flat surface, rather than a window to the world. This idea freed painters to explore the qualities of the surface itself, precipitating some of the greatest advancements in painting style and technique such as Cubism. To represent a table, painters need not use minute shading to create a realistic, three-dimensional image, but can simply suggest it by rendering a wood-effect, for example. I think this is what's happening in the painting above. By doing so, forms retain some of their ambiguity, adding to the sense of mystery and making the painting that much more interesting to look at.

Changes on this blog

As you may have noticed, I'm actually in the process of making some changes to this blog, having started with the layout (the page appears wider and pictures can be bigger now). I think I've fallen into the convenience of posting mostly images with few words. I plan to put more thought into my posts from now on and actually WRITE about the things that matter to me, whether what I say is politically correct or not. This is what a blog is about after all. I should not be worrying about what others will think of me.

Speaking of which, I felt very irritated with my aunt's question when she called some time ago, that is, whether my ah gong (grandfather) approves of me studying fashion design. You've got to hear the tone in which she said it to understand my impatience. She didn't put it in a casual, interested way, but in an urgent, this-is-very-important manner. The thought that ran through my mind was, what does it matter if he approves or not? I don't live my life for the sake of pleasing people. I'm tired of the way I was- being an obedient child, working for good grades to earn my parents' attention. Ultimately, I earned nothing from that kind of life. At this point, I want to do something for myself. I only wish I had the courage, patience and eloquence to explain this to my aunt. Somehow I'm not sure if it's something that she can fathom. Some people go through decades of life without ever learning the most important things. I don't want to be one of them.

It's extremely annoying that I have to bear with provoking questions, derisive remarks, and not-so-subtle cajoling into studying certain courses. I hate it when people nudge me into studying something that if one knew me, one would NEVER suggest. Things like accountacy and medicine. Conversations run like this:

"What does your sis want to study?"
... Why don't you study medicine too?"

"So what course do you want to study?"
"Fashion design."
"Chey! What are you talking about?"

"... in fact, I'd be very happy if you want to study law."

"What's the point of studying those things (arts)?"

My patience is running seriously short already. I'm sorry if I act like I'm superior to those people because, not to sound arrogant, but I do believe I'm smarter than them. I'm way too clever to be persuaded. On the other hand, I have very liberal-minded people around me like my siblings and my other aunt who are perfectly fine with the whole subject. In fact, my brother said I should just "ask Mummy and Daddy to pay for you to go to US". You see, it's really so simple. Either I go or I don't. I've abandoned my local university scholarship applications so as not to give my mum any more excuse to hesitate (which I know she will if I'm awarded one of the scholarships). I know too well how she thinks and behaves, more than she knows me. That's the tragedy of our relationship.

I'm sorry that I keep harping on this subject. The truth is that I'd have had nothing to say if others didn't as well. I hope that this is the last you'll hear from me on the topic.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Feeling inspired by the TIME Style and Design issue featuring gorgeous tribal-inspired editorials, I concocted an outfit of my own last night. I'm actually pretty proud of the ingenious contrivance that is my belt. Who knows, maybe I'd wear it out.

Monday, March 23, 2009

I am currently bogged down with writing essays for local university scholarship applications. How mundane. My release comes at night when I dream of studying fashion design in the US. I see a tiny ray of hope, an inch of possibility, but I'm too afraid of wishing for too much lest I get disappointed and heartbroken later. I've been perusing the guidebook and Otis sounds like a really great school. I found myself agreeing with everything that's written there. I think the environment will suit me. I also feel that I'd like Rhode Island School of Design. Hope they'd offer me a place there as well.

It was a little hard for me when my A-Level results first came out, as my delight with my results was marred by the fact that two of my art classmates got a thoroughly undeserved C. I've heard people express opinions about how art should not be graded, but I was always ok with it because I trusted the judgement of the examiners. Now I deeply feel that it is unfair to subject us to the official tastes of a select group of people. Mind, I do not actually know what the examiners are like, and I hope I'm not doing them an injustice by writing this. But the fact is that those two projects definitely did not deserve such a grade, and poorer ones actually scored better than them. That's really skewed. I guess this experience just goes to show that art, at least at the school level, is not without its institutions.

But you know what? All this wouldn't matter at all in the art world. I really think there's a cavernous gap between institutionalised art education and the real-life situation. The art world is crazy. That's the best word to describe it. Dealers and collecters can go into bidding frenzies for strange works of art that would definitely have failed Cambridge's standards. Jeff Koons' works are a great example. Amateurs can be catapulted into fame, and technically-superb ones can fail to receive attention. Usually, though, some artists' genius is so undeniable that the art world can hardly fail to accord them the admiration, respect and perhaps fawning adoration that they deserve.

In any field, genius is genius. No skewed opinion can stop it.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

I feel that in my over-excitement, I may not have done justice to the genius of the Christian Lacroix exhibition in yesterday's post. You must understand that I've been longing to visit an exhibition featuring the work of an inspirational fashion designer like Lacroix for ages.

I admit that the only features of Lacroix's designs I knew prior to this was 'polka-dots and ruffles'. It is obvious from the exhibition that Lacroix is so much more than that. He is a designer who pays great attention to the fabrics he uses. Indeed, a dazzling array of exquisite materials such as lace, satin, velvet and taffeta are present in the costumes, mixed in novel ways. In fact, I noticed that a Christian Lacroix costume often looks very 'rich', because varied materials are layered to produce depth, character and detail. He is just as fearless when it comes to playing with colour. The way he puts colours and textures together looks so instinctual, even whimsical. No other designer can do it with the flair of Lacroix.

What I found very interesting also is the way he manipulates and transforms found or used fabric. He is quoted in the handbook as saying:

"Personally, I also work a lot with old costumes picked up in flea markets or in archives, that I dissect and recycle (an 1890s visiting dress can become a 17th century farthingale). Then follows the magnificent work of distressing, dyeing and stencilling that give more or less contemporary fabrics a soul, a past, a depth and unity. Nylon can be made to look magical, or plastic a baroque damask; conversely, the most precious 18th century furnishing fabric can be turned into rags."

"I like this idea, which I also use in fashion design, of the thing that is digested again, of clothing that is re-thought and given a second life."

He is certainly a visionary who is able to see the potential of clothing or fabric. The quotes also explain very well why his designs (not just for the theatre, but his couture and ready-to-wear ones too) often incorporate historical elements but with a modern twist.

I walked away with the overwhelming sense that he has great fun with what he does. Perhaps that is the essence of his success.

PS. For bragging purposes, here are photos of us at the entrance of the exhibition, and in the exhibition space, sitting on red velvet crown chairs and feeling like royalty.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Christian Lacroix: The Costumier (exhibition in the National Museum of Singapore)

All I can say is: WOW. Christian Lacroix is truly a master. You can tell that he lives and breathes fashion. How else can he have so many creative ideas in his head, that he translates into lively, dramatic and whimsical sketches and costumes?

The displays:

I was very impressed with the set design. The backdrops were STUNNING and complimented the costumes wonderfully, as well as conveying a sense of the individual plays that the latter belonged to. I especially loved this tent with tutu-ish costumes revolving in the air and a video projected onto the drapings. It was definitely the highlight of the exhibition for me.

Some of his sketches:

I was totally blown away by the quality of his sketches. They convey the spirit of the costumes very well. He really is an expert at layering watercolours and coming up with colour combinations that are vibrant, striking or quirky. He has inspired me to improve my fashion drawing and acquire skills in watercolour painting.

My favourite costumes:

The black lace applique juxtaposed with the grey accordion-pleated skirt creates a beautiful effect.

I get a sense of careless sophistication from this charming man's outfit with a silver-embroidered mint green vest and cloaks loosely layered over a white shirt.

The blues and black form a stylish palette and sleek look.

This ethnic-inspired ensemble is so wacky that I love it, down to the black feather headdress. I think the mixing of textures and colours is genius.

Another cool ethnic-inspired outfit. This time I like the look of the dark coat as a foil for the vibrant colours.

The high-neck lace collar, corseted bodice, full skirt and ruffle sleeves combine to create one dramatic and romantic costume.

This gown is interesting as it has a 'rags and riches' feel.

The textured jacket and skirt look so fun.

The amount of thought and detail that goes into each costume is amazing. I could wax lyrical about each and every one of them. They are truly pieces of art. It's my first time going to an exhibition of this sort and I'm so excited. I highly recommend it to anyone who's interested. Hui Jun, who was with me, walked away declaring that she wanted to study fashion design. And it has made me love fashion even more!


Those times you flash past me
I catch a glimpse
Of your face, full of worry
And words form on my lips-
Words left empty.

I want to reach out
And stop you from going.
Taking your hand,
I'll tell you everything.
No more pretense.

But I fear that
Doing so will tie you down,
And you'll have to stay here
Unable to move on.
I wish you could be happier.

I can only have
Those tantalizing moments
When you stray into my path.
And when the silence
Returns- I despair.

I feel you slipping
Slowly from my grasp.
Further and further away,
Leaving me in the dust
Of your passing.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Hussein Chayalan continued

I'm so excited to go to the exhibition of theatre costumes designed by Christian Lacroix at the National Museum tomorrow. It should be a visual feast. Also, I've heard that there'll be an Audi Fashion Festival in Singapore this year featuring the work of designers such as Vivienne Westwood and Gareth Pugh. GARETH PUGH?! Wow, I'd love to see his garments up close.
Back to this post in question. There's volume in the garments but with quiet restraint. The muted palette and lighting give a slightly ethereal feel to the collection, as if models come from a different planet and have just arrived on Earth. A very clean and serene world theirs must be, for that's the aesthetic reflected in their attire. Clothes can certainly make one dream.