A new production by TheatreWorks / Ong Keng Sen
12 – 14 October 2007
The National Museum of Singapore
Tickets at $28
Conceived & Directed by: Ong Keng Sen
Written by: Ong Keng Sen & Robin Loon
Costume Design by: Koji Hamai
Choreographed by: Jeremiah Choy
In a museum, time is confused. What looks old may be a reproduction, what looks new is actually a stained glass window from 1887. 120 will attempt to recast the National Musuem of Singapore as a host of luminescent voices.
"Sin sai hong was made at the same time as the malay films triptych. I think they crossed, my dreams on both of these. I was researching sin sai hong, the hokkien opera troupe for a year. I volunteered to be a soldier for them, don't have to talk, just stand there. At the same time I was editing the malay films in the daytime. So I felt like in the evenings I had stepped into the frame of illusion I was editing every day in the studio. At night, I stepped into the film, onstage. Maybe I was affected by the national museum project for 881. the special effects of the malay films, the magical feeling where you just act and out of nowhere you start to sing – that's a trigger for 881." Royston Tan, filmmaker
"Suddenly, the tunnels were filled with voices – some eerie, some painful and some even cheerful. Events are only dates, times and a collection of actions. It is always the people who make events meaningful. It was with this experience and attitude that I came into the National Museum. I have always been fascinated with people’s thoughts, people’s voices and how they make sense of the world around them – and how I make sense of the world around me, before me and hopefully after me.It’s never about the object – it’s about the people."
Iskandar Bin Mydin, senior curator
"Everyone knows about the National Day Parade, what more can you do with it? For me I was always interested in the rituals and how it is used to illustrate nationhood. So this was my dream project. It's a 7 minute cycle on a loop. I watched 40 years of NDP to make this 7 minutes. I watched one, two NDPs and then suddenly I realized that I have watched them all. The only difference is the ageing faces and the different personalities. That marked time for me."
Tan Pin Pin, filmmaker
"History keeps changing and yet you want to remember the past. So…it is fulfilling its purpose by changing to this image now and yet you have Matthew Ngui’s exhibits…to bring back recollections of the past. I think that is the function of a museum. It should present a modern front and yet bring back to mind the old things. Things that have gone on before. You have to live with those as well…but you know things must change. It’s wrong if it doesn’t. You can have good recollections. I think it is good to feel the nostalgia. They should feel it…and realise the passing of time. But it’s fantastic to be able to have fun also isn’t it?"
Constance Sheares, Curator National Museum 1970s - 80s
"Can I just say at the onset that this extension has cost me many, many sleepless nights. I don’t want to sound melodramatic but I often wake up in the middle of the night thinking that something was amiss. I worry for it because it is the NATIONAL MUSEUM and it is a public and civic space. It is meant to be iconic, monumental and … well, let’s just say that I did my best and sometimes, I had a nagging feeling that my best just wasn’t enough for it."
Mok Wei Wei, architect
"I graduated from the University of Malaya and joined the museum in 1956 as the first local curator of zoology. The museum then was the biggest building along Stamford road; there was nothing else like it. It was only shophouses all the way to the seafront. it was a stately awesome building, the visitors would walk through the main entrance, stand in the Rotunda and look up at the skylight. That was something worth looking at. You walked up the stairway and suspended above you was a huge skeleton. You thought it was a dinosaur but it was actually a whale. Not many people have seen such a sight before, it was a fantastic introduction to the museum."
Eric Alfreds, curator/director Raffles/National Museum 1950s - 70s
"We started with a blank page. we took a long time to absorb, I didnt design at first, I needed to bathe in Singapore. we wanted to have a sense of nostalgia, to create emotions, but to craft this is not an easy thing. I don't have memories of Singapore, there is a lack of sense of belonging but I know what could be important to who. I had to work closely with locals to make it real. I wanted to leave room for people to bring in the real thing. I dont want to have a style which imposes... this is a contemporary museum, it is an expression of today, special to this place and this people."
Laura Miotto, designer
"There is a sensation that I get from tableaux vivant, you freeze a body in the film, you know the body is alive, the blood is flowing, breath is coming in and out but the human body has to react against movement by freezing itself. It creates a sensation for me. You see the leaves, the grass moving in the background, the flags, the wind, the external world is moving. You look at the actors and you know that their internal world is still moving. That sensation becomes a way for me to express my ideas of history, it is a certain freezing of a moment from the past. It is totally constructed as well."
Ho Tzu Nyen, artist
"The false ceiling of the upstairs galleries in the 1887 building was demolished to reveal the original timbre ceiling. But in order to bring the airconditioning above the timber ceiling, we had to deconstruct the entire aircon/dehumidifier unit into small elements so that they could be brought above the timber ceiling through a hole in the roof. The small elements had to be reconstructed again in the attic and then installed. Imagine breaking a brand new system that you have bought so that you can install it."
Kenneth Ng, conservator
"I tried to permeate it with some of the popular taste of these films and also the cultural experience of these films. It was also about my own identity, my estrangement from these things over time and coming back to it after these years. You cant see it innocently anymore, you see the blueprints, the architecture. Very rarely do you allow yourself to be absorbed in the whole experience anymore."
Alfian Saat, writer
"I wanted the merderka not to be portrayed as a period of despair, shortages, insufficient everything. I wanted to show hopes, dreams, creative communities emerging, nationalism was taking shape, young leaders with alternative political theories communism, Fabian socialism. People spoke their minds freely without fear of being arrested under operation coldstore or operation what have you. This was before people started moving in a certain path, developing this famous apathy of Singapore. People were all out there! Everybody wanted a little piece of the pie. We wanted to convey that excitement. It was not a meek, gloomy period."
Selvi Siva Subramaniam, curator
"Another thing that is lost forever. I suppose that happens. No need to get too attached."
Kaylene Tan, writer
"I suppose the larger question is whether or not a history museum simply represents a reality, often positioned as the truth or whether a history museum can take a politicized position through the highlighting of alternative perspectives which radically expose that the truth is but one imagined reality. This necessitates moving beyond simple multiplicity of perspectives which sometimes further perpetuates stereotypes. Rather a history museum can put forth propositions of modalities which define future actions."
Ong Keng Sen, theatremaker
"I was interested in awakening the people. You don’t awaken them with just somnolent sentences. You awaken them with drama. 'Hey, we are human beings. Hey, we have got the right to vote. …Hey, we have got a right to elect our own representative. We’ve got a right to a voice in how we are to live.' Now that is something you don’t understand today. But that was very, very radical at that time. You know, it’s like a four-legged animal suddenly finding himself standing straight and looking upwards instead of looking to the ground. It really was a radical change of psychological atmosphere, to awaken the people to….'Hey we are standing on two legs."
David Marshall, former Chief Minister, Singapore
"The thing is, you can’t push history too hard on the people – you just can’t. History had to be made relevant, and packaged in a way that the young people would even be bothered to know. They had to want to know: and frankly, my job is to try my best not to put them off. History had a problem – it was old. It is old. Like everything old, it seemed austere and distant; inaccessible and serious."
Lee Chor Lin, Director, National Museum of Singapore, 2007
With special guests Irene Ang, Kumar, Hossan Leong, 120 hosts luminaries from the Singapore stage including Alex Abisheganaden, Serene Chen, Nelson Chia, Jeremiah Choy, Chua En Lai, Caroline Fernandez, Koh Boon Pin, Janice Koh, Sharon Lim, Lok Meng Chue, Noorlinah Mohd, Alin Mosbit, Neo Swee Lin, Jean Ng, Rosita Ng, Nora Samosir and Rizman Putra and Sze Chen.
The performance will usher the audience through the galleries, halls and exhibits playfully: inviting the audience to see this space in a different light, through alternate frames, against a wallpaper of people. The performance may take the shape of pockets of ‘happenings’, walks and guided tours, lecture performances and theatrical interventions.
Audiences, too, can countdown with the performers the timeline of 120 years of National Museum artefacts. Carefully selected from the Heritage Conservation Centre, many of these artefacts have never been displayed before.
Conceived and directed by Ong Keng Sen
written by Ong Keng Sen and Robin Loon
costume design by Koji Hamai
choreographed by Jeremiah Choy
wig design by Ashley Lim
with the participation of actors from the Theatre Department of the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts.
with curatorial advice by Cheryl Ann Low, Jason Toh, Heritage Conservation Centre
www.nationalmuseum.sg or ring : 6332-3659 for more details.
Stamford Visitor Services Counter, 10 am – 8 pm
Canning Visitor Services Counter, 10 am – 5 pm
*Concession rates are available to students, senior citizens, NSF and National Museum members
Please check with Visitor Services Counter at (65) 6332 3659 or visit the website for more information.