On enjoying being outside
By Toh Hsien Min
Recently I've had the opportunity to take a peek into the visual arts world. I don't mean going to the Singapore Biennale - although that was refreshingly good as well (I particularly liked Mariko Mori's LED monolith that lit up whenever a neutrino from a dying star was detected in Japan, and in the darkness of the gallery the bursts of light and colour were like having consciousness itself forced on and taken away from you). Rather, I attended a scattering of exhibition openings and artist's parties. I didn't know what to make of the first exhibition opening I attended; half the party seemed to know the other half, and I ended up leaning on the balcony nursing a glass of generic Aussie white with a friend from French class. It was simultaneously disconcerting - and refreshing.
By the time I had been to a couple more such events, I had begun to have a taste of what the visual arts community was like. Helping to confirm my impression that the literary arts and visual arts hardly intersected, a very casual survey of a handful of artists showed that, leaving aside some of the old guard, only the likes of Felix Cheong and Cyril Wong were known. Despite having arguably as solitary artistic practices as writers, they seemed more willing to share and workshop ideas. And there didn't seem to be quite so much of the cliquishness that marks writing communities from Singapore to Santiago.
Well, I say "seems" advisedly, because I have no doubt at all the only reason it I've come away with that impression is that I'm not in that community, so I wouldn't have the first clue who was friendly with whom and who said what about whom. It occurred to me that the place of the outsider was in one sense a privileged one, because I could enjoy what the art community had to offer quite possibly more than if I were part of it, simply because I wasn't part of it. I'm reminded of my involvement in the wine circles in Singapore, where my position a somewhat serious amateur allows me to focus on enjoying my tipple while having a ringside view of the occasional professional catfights.
Not that I'm advocating being Meursault (Camus's protagonist, not the white wine from Burgundy), but certainly there's some merit to caring less, and being outside enough of things for the pleasure principle to reclaim its rightful place.
One person who could have been said to have been outside enough of things was the late Arthur Yap, who seldom attended literary launches or readings. Nevertheless, this hasn't prevented him from being central to things in many ways, and generally well-liked to boot. This issue, we feature three poems in tribute to Arthur Yap. We also have short stories from two Singapore writers better known as poets and an American writer, and an extract from a novel from a Malaysian writer. There are reviews of new collections by Paul Tan, Yeow Kai Chai and Vivienne Yeo, and an essay on another world altogether - that of architecture.
Whether you're inside or outside Singapore literary circles, we hope you enjoy this issue.QLRS Vol. 6 No. 1 Oct 2006
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