By Tze Yang
By Tze Yang
I enjoy taking walks. It’s a habit I have cultivated since young. I often take walks with my parents. Usually after a meal we will walk, while also on the hunt for a decent cup of kopi. Gradually, standing at a spot for a minute or two to snap a few shots or film a scene with my handphone has become a habit of mine, which has gradually grown to become a huge part of my artistic practice – the casual record of daily life; the possibility of meaning in the obviously banal. In the conversational transcript in the exhibition booklet I talked about a painting Neon (2015) which is an example of how walks affect my practice greatly.
Walks were also a big part of this collaboration with PG. Or rather our friendship. Aimlessly walking around a place we just had dinner at, walking through the alleys behind shops or run down old shopping malls, doing that “poetry in everyday life” thing. And we do see curious things on these walks, that eventually lead to interesting conversations. For instance, one evening, after a Hainanese Curry Rice dinner at Jalan Besar we were walking around the area and we stumbled upon a getai show in a kopitiam (the one with the very famous charcoal-cooked laksa). Intrigued, we sat and watched for a bit. After we left we conversed getai and the distance we felt from getai and other related culture – things quite distant from the younger generation, or at least the jiak kantang (English-educated) generation. We discussed on how the art scene around us is extremely Westernised, and how there will always be a gap between us Singaporeans with all-too-Asian backgrounds and the Western “ideals” the art scene pursues. Such are topics that come from simple sights during walks… that lead to thoughts that float around your brain for quite awhile, or maybe even become part of an artwork.
So I guess walks, whether they are with my family or friends like PG, are time slowed down, like a painting – a small fraction of time distilled over the time you take to make a painting. An interesting sight, a beautiful sight, a face, leaves lit by neon lights, that lead to conversations that lead to even more interesting thoughts for the long term.
Come to think of it, it’s pretty amazing walks are still a part of my life. Everything moves so fast now. The changes, the developments, the endless construction sites, the speed of your 4G data. Walks counter that. Walks ask you to take life one step at a time literally, to look at all that is around you, even if it’s just a plastic bag in a drain or an air-con repair advertisement on a lamppost. And I guess they are also good for your health haha.
“In talking about memory of something that no longer exists, one cannot forget the traces they leave behind. Traces, present in physical and psychological environments, are similar to memories in that they can be very personal. A friend recently commented that I am doing rather well (after not seeing me for some time) citing that I am wearing a Rolex watch. “It was my father’s.” The response created a moment of awkward silence, but that was quickly replaced with a light-hearted discussion of the authenticity of the watch. To her, a Rolex is symbolic of a certain status, while to me this particular watch embodies many personal experiences and stories, mostly formed through my own observations and eavesdropping of my parents’ conversations about the watch. I thus assign a sort of significance to this watch. This collaborative nature of traces is intriguing to me. And through making works based on my experience of my father’s passing, I feel that the outputs are products of our collaborations.”
– from Beyond THE END by PG Lee
I was never really fond of Rolex watches. They always remind me of Ah Peks or Uncles who may (or may not) be well off and are showy – a very common and clichéd status symbol.
I did not come from a wealthy family. Pa, the sole breadwinner at home, had been a car spray-painter throughout his working life, right till the moment he passed away. There was a period during my childhood that we seemed to be more comfortable due to Pa’s fortunes but it was short-lived. During that time he owned a big car and had a Rolex that was gold plated and adorned with diamonds. He even bought a similar one for Ma. Somehow all these status symbols disappeared, in fact quite swiftly, and his gold Rolex became something less flashy, a stainless steel one with a black watch face. My memory of this humble Rolex watch as a child was that it felt heavy and big.
Pa passed away very suddenly in 2011. Ma kept the watch that he would religiously wind up every morning safely in a cupboard. One fine day she asked if I would like to have it and my reply was “Its a fake Rolex la!” When I became an adult, I had, in numerous occasions, picked up the watch secretly and analysed it closely. It felt really, really light and weathered. I am not an expert in watches but it did not feel like that watch he used to wear when I was a kid. From the 90s till his death, Pa did not do very well with his finances and had to occasionally borrow money from various sources, so I concluded that he could have pawned that original heavier, bigger Rolex for some cash and replaced it with something similar. Still, after much consideration, I took the watch and started wearing it. It became my duty to wind it up everyday before putting it on to leave the house for work. Whether it was a fake Rolex no longer mattered as it made me feel like Pa was still very much part of my life.
The mystery of the watch was put to rest on 31 May 2016. I had accidentally cracked the glass a while back and had to send it for repair. Even though I had always doubted its authenticity, I decided to send it to the Rolex Service Centre. I had to wait for a while for it to be assessed. Eventually the receptionist came back and told me it was real and they could repair it, but it would cost a lot.
It felt like I had woken myself up from a beautiful dream.
By Tze Yang
At the end of June 2015 I asked PG if I could paint a portrait of him from life. It’s never easy to ask someone to sit for you. Most people would ask me “Why not simply paint from a photo”? So when it came to someone who understands the value of painting from life, I was grateful. The following weeks comprised of 3-4 hour sessions of painting, and every now and then, dinner at a nearby zichar shop. And naturally, we conversed thoroughly through these sessions and meals. No, we didn’t dive into deep existential, philosophical topics, but rather, like anyone else, gossiped, talked about our families and friends, talked about films and music, talked about Singapore’s art scene, talked about art-making. By the end of July I had completed the painting. On hindsight the value of making and time spent on this portrait was what triggered me to ask PG a few months later if he was keen to work on a show together. A show that would culminate what our conversations were about; the things we felt about our own lives, the people around us, what art means to us, and what it means to be an artist. And so by the time PG had drunk up the bowl of um (rice gruel water) after a late Teochew porridge supper in January 2016 the decision to collaborate on an exhibition was made.
Oil on canvas
61 x 76.5cm
Artist Personal Collection