Yayoi Kusama in Singapore

Yayoi Horse.jpg

Horse Play Happening in Woodstock, 1967


Embrace narcissism.

When you recover from the invasion of polka dots on your smartphone—yellow-and-black, primary colours on white, pixelated stardust from some neon galaxy, arresting but soon annoying, with the never-ending shower of selfies, with Singaporean FOMOness suffocating all sensibilities—when you recover from that all, remember that Yayoi Kusama probably wanted you to embrace narcissism.

How else to explain the alleyway of convex mirrors, where you are forced to either stare down or stare at your reflection, sidestepping couples waiting patiently for a break in traffic. Or the Infinity Mirrored Room—Love Forever, into which you pop your head and see your friend’s face, and endless reflections of yourselves lit up by psychedelic lights.

And how else to explain the most popular exhibit, Infinity Mirrored Room—The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away, a hanging-LED infinity mirror room, into which you walk, and immerse yourself in some glittering self-absorbed universe, trying not to think of the next person in line and the usher outside timing you, for precisely thirty seconds, with a stopwatch. (“It’s the only fair way.”)

“Up till Kusama, there were many artists from the Renaissance on, who were involved with perspective and infinity but it was all a fake because you knew, you were the viewer you were always aware that you were the master,” said Richard Castellane, a former gallerist, in a documentary on her.

With her infinity rooms, Kusama fools us in a way never done before. Does “Infinite You” prove your infinite worth or your infinite irrelevance?

The Singaporean, a species engaged in perennial status competition, is the perfect subject for her play. Over the years, we have become far more sophisticated in our social media mating dances. The garish displays of branded leather are disappearing. Today there is a new battleground: travel.

So we are treated to selfies that say nothing more than “I am here.” Of course, all this is not the preserve of the Singaporean, arguably less cultural than generational, of Xs and Ys. Still, as with most money-fuelled pursuits, Singaporeans tend to go the extra mile. (A photo of your holiday business class seat? Are you trying to show off your carbon footprint?)

No surprise, then, that Yayoi’s dots have colonised our smartphones. Yet now that the torrent has slowed, one hopes her audacious aesthetics are not the only thing we remember.


Continue reading

GE2015: Positivity versus negativity; young and the old


Random stream of consciousness before I return to more serious work:

Many have suggested that the establishment’s gutter politics and mud-slinging (see Lianhe Zaobao; see Lawrence Wong; see Vivian Balakrishnan etc. etc.) is in bad taste and will ultimately backfire. Friends and I have written about how we’d like to see more constructive debate and dialogue.

But I guess we may be all missing the point. The PAP has probably figured that its best strategy is a platform of fear, negativity and backward-looking glory basking. Against the opposition’s hope, positivity and forward-looking ideals. Which the establishment paints out to be irresponsible, naive, reckless.

There is surely an age factor at play. When compared to other developed countries, it is striking how powerful notions of gerontocracy are in Singapore. The youth are meant to be chided, corralled, cornered. Every other day I hear some asinine comment or anecdote about an elderly person lambasting “young Singaporeans” for even contemplating the opposition.

Apparently the young will ruin Singapore; I wonder if these older Singaporeans remember when they were young in the 1950s, and, flush with their own fervour and ideals, were cheering on LKY in the opposition. Perhaps today’s young will forget in fifty years too.

What I found fascinating about the Amos Yee saga, aside from everything else that we know about, are the cultured and sophisticated views to emerge from young people. I met a bunch of young teenagers at a school in July. They all had fiercely independent but varying views on Amos. Many disagreed with what he had said about LKY. Or at least, the manner in which it was delivered. But nobody thought the punishment fit the “crime”. And they certainly didn’t need Big Brothers telling them how to think about it.

Singapore continues to chug along with this pervasive ageism. One of the WP’s policies I like is lowering the voting age from 21 to 18. Why not? If they can drive, drink and defend our country with arms, why shouldn’t they vote?

Unlikely to happen though, because the youth are unpredictable. Or so the PAP probably thinks.

And so it is banking on the older vote. I smile when I see the PAP and its fans moralising about fiscal prudence. For heaven’s sake, when the PAP announces any goodie bag, package or handout, it is considered smart and considerate spending. When the opposition suggests any form of new spending, it is reckless.

How do you know? We don’t know how big our reserves are. We don’t know the implications of tax increases. If the government made information easily accessible, we could have an honest debate.

And even if we needed to “raid the reserves”, why not? What the heck are the reserves there for? To help Singapore in a time of crisis, right?

Well, wealth inequality is one of the highest in the world, and xenophobia is on the rise. Every revolution in history has involved those two elements. If this doesn’t qualify as a crisis, what does? An attack by Malaysia? Our obsession with supposed external threats has blinded us to the problems brewing internally.

So, yes, the opposition is reckless, but the PAP’s Pioneer Generation package is simply fair help for those who built the country. Even the billionaire on Nassim Road. Without means testing, the Pioneer Generation package essentially means that a young, middle-income family in Singapore is subsidising the healthcare of rich, old people.

Prudent? Perhaps. But also an old-fashioned vote buy.

Of course these easy dichotomies of positive and negative; young and old have limited use. These are all spectrums, and the lines do cross.

But in some ways this Friday could be the first time Singapore’s youth sends a powerful message to the ageists. Or maybe it’ll just be business as usual…

Image credit: Today Online