July 12, 2009

I had to go back: my dying father. News came on what was for me just an ordinary day. The phone rang, it was my sister. She said she was calling from home, and then she told me why. They had been trying to reach me, but couldn’t and my sister, having just arrived, tried again. This time she got me. Our mother was too upset to speak, and my sister only managed to tell me the news before she had to hang up because she couldn’t speak anymore.

He was gone.


Dear Nietzsche,

July 12, 2009

I have failed you.

the wonders of television

July 12, 2009

they finally broadcast a segment on television last night, here in Singapore, that included a photo taken of me by a student photographer. in the promo to the show they said that the show would be about the art vs porn debate, and showed the nude photos that had been taken by the local photographer Djie. Naturally when 10:20pm came and The Big Picture stated there was no debate around art or pornography – CNA obviously is not interested in debate  – instead they just interviewed the photographer and asked her about the more risque subject matter of her photos. she gave some answer about exploring her own comfort level as the reason why she had chosen to do nudes.

Of course the art/porn debate would have been far more interesting than three photographers stiffly trying to explain their art.

now the thing was, as one of the models, she never said that to me at the time. she also stated in the interview that she maintained a connection with the models via eye contact etc. As far as i remember, this did not happen. when i asked her at the time why she was doing this project, this was not the answer i got. nor did i feel particularly comfortable modeling for her. her rapport with me was not very good, and as a model standing there naked she did not tell me what she wanted. i got a vague ‘be as you would be naked’. sure i get naked, but i don’t flop around in someone’s studio doing it, in front of strangers all the time. she had to realise the artificiality of the situation and that asking an amateur model to be natural was not the path to take. as a result i think a lot of the photos she took were not good. although i must say the few that were good, were very good. I do not doubt her technical ability as a photographer, but her rapport was less than satisfactory.

the video of the show can be seen here:

art as i hate it

February 11, 2008
The form of art, taken from the 20th Century and the era of modernism, no longer speaks to the 21st century. Its isolation in art galleries and its specific clientèle assumes its position as a tool of upper class dominant ideology with little meaning or relationship to the outside world of social and material relations.

It is still tamed within itself, moving but never outside its conservative boundaries. It has turned in on itself, to introspection, self-reference, to tired games. It cannot break the white walls which enclose it in the galleries it occupies. What is it supposed to represent, all this posturing, these childish constructions? Art’s crime is that it can justify itself though its own logic, that is impervious to questions of use, purpose, meaning. Its justification is that it’s “art” and nothing more needs to be entered into or said.

i always see you

January 30, 2008

        my name is not important. i am merely one who sits and watches. you will have never noticed me as you scurried past, or as you stared blankly into space on the train, or as you sat talking with your friends. we are different people, you and i. i always see you, you are everywhere. pervasive. your homogeneity makes me sick, but i can never escape it. you are like a soldier who only knows the sound of command, and who can only stay in predictable step.

have i offended you? that is to be expected from someone with an ego as bloated and as fragile as yours. if you saw what i see from here, your movements and your thoughts, you would understand. perhaps. but you don’t, you can’t. you remain in your shallow hypocrisy and your reactions are always the same. outrage, offence, feigned hurt. you don’t really know what these emotions and feelings really are. you merely put them on, like masks, to be taken off again at the end of your performance  to an audience to whom you play and from whom you seek applause……

work in progress….

the boy dreaming to be a machine

December 28, 2007

Playing with a theme. written more than a month ago, and they need to be aired. they are getting musty. love.


Some days his father would let him come to his work after school. These were the days he loved.

The factory towered above everything else in the area. Its chimney rising like a church’s spire high above the ground. Sometimes he would stop his bike out the front and stand and daydream as he stared a the chimney, watching the exhaust from the heavy machines inside. He wondered where it all went, the smoke. Some days the smoke was so thick it seemed to cover the whole sky. Other days it was just a trail upwards, a long thin line that extended and then dissipated into the sky. Today the chimney was quiet. A bird circled high above it, perhaps happy that the chimney was not releasing smoke.

The man at the gate knew him, and had seen him often enough and let him in with a wave and a smile. As he passed through the gate he could already feel the atmosphere change. Men walked across the yard in front of him, their faces and hands dirty from a day’s work.


‘tick, tock’, ‘tick, tock’ went his heart. like that, like a clock. his image sensors told him that it was now 10:27am, his head moving 13° to the left to read the two hands on the clock above the door. although old clocks like this could mark one of two possible times with the way it operated, he new from the lightness that it was morning and not night. his aural receivers told him that the human with authority was still making noise and that nothing of value was being uttered. his central computer analysed the language that was emitted, analysing it upwards from its tone and timbre up to its grammar and its references with other texts that had been catalogued previously. so far only 5 new words had been used all morning. more interesting, and indeed more challenging to his computational skills was the character of the tone this morning. a slight hint of exhaustion in the voice, and another emotion he had not learnt yet. somewhere between apprehension and anxiety. he calculated the likelihood that conversation might yield the factors behind the tone, but his probability calculator told him that he only had a 14% chance of getting time to ask, and then only a 30% chance that sufficient information would be divulged. he decided, going on those statistics, to not pursue that course of action. of more likelihood was the girl to his left. he had already registered 3 glances from her direction, two marked by embarrassment and the third with a smile. however he also had seen the glances coming his direction and to hers from a male member a row behind. these were not friendly gestures. he computed the best time to engage her further in interactivity. the midday ingestion and yard time would be opportune.

did this still mean that he was because he thought? Descartes remained in the back of his memory banks all day, occasionally coming into correlation with other thoughts he was processing. why not the other way round his logic circuits pondered: i am therefore i think. Descartes’ logic was all wrong. filed away in reference slot D-423345.

the mall in indonesia

December 12, 2007

many writings about indonesia begin with attesting to its diversity but then proceed to treat that diversity as a homogeneous whole or worse, present indonesia as dominated by particular conservative norms. part of this diversity entails kinds of heterogenisation, where parts of indonesia do not mix with other parts. a modern example that i want to suggest here takes the form of the shopping mall, a space of shopping and consumption but also a space in which elements of the diversity of indonesian society are manifest. this brief essay will outline the spatial abilities that the mall provides to particular sections of the population to not only physically separate themselves from the rest of society, but to give them space in which they can enact their own particular brand of culture.

the mall is an increasingly common structure in cities across asia and across the world as the nature of modern cities evolve to sediment the prevailing social and economic structures of the time. the mall is a product of capitalism, in which shopping and consumption are key activities, and the mall is an all-in-one place in which this can occur. this essay is based on observations in senayan city, jakarta. a new mall build next to plaza senayan another well known mall in downtown jakarta. it houses the usual range of branded clothing and homewares, food court and cinema. more than just a physial structure that encloses an area of consumption, it is also a space in which aspects of culture are enacted.

one of the interesting features of the mall is that it’s enclosed, andinside, oblivious to the outside world. this is a common feature of postmodern sites where replication is predominant, found in the case of McDonald’s, 5 Star Hotels and airports. in so far as the mall ois the town square of the 21st century, is it marketable different from the former by the fact that it is enclosed, privitised and entry is regulated. windows are very rare in malls, except in this case, forming part of the view from the male urinals. indeed i allows the mall to be air conditioned, and hermetically separated from the heat, noise and dirt of the city around it. the mall becomes an escape or sanctuary from the city whose streets are increasingly uninhabitable. of course, the point of the mall is not to provide continuation with the outside world, but rather to create an internal environment, in which its own logic and scenery predominate. any reference to the outside world is only seen in the idyllic photos of shop display windows and the films screened upstairs.

these are general characteristics of the mall, that are repeated throughout cities across the world. rarely recognized in our class shy discourse is the fact that a mall is a space for the consumption patterns of a particular class in indonesian society. although entry is technically free, participation in consumption is not, window shopping merely becomes a parade in the unattainable. this is provided that someone poor can get past the security at the door, if they even even the desire to enter what is an alien space to them. with its brands the mall encapsulates a particular formation of consumption, that of symbolic value.

as the mall is not a space for the poor, it is a space for the middle and upper classes. it provides them with a social space separate from the threat that the outside world poses to them. they are able to socialize with their own kind , participating in activities common to themselves as a class – shopping, drinking brewed coffee, drinking and so on. the mall is very safe as an environment, in which a middle class morality prevails. middle class mores of sexual display and appearance, of maintained anonymity and distance between people. for indonesian women, it is also a space for them to enact a different display of dress and femininity, not possible in broader indonesian society. codes of dress could be regarded as more ‘liberal’ in the mall, with more skin revealed. the mall’s prevailing norm of live-and-let-live towards what other people wear is part of the encoded civility towards others. it is possible because people can travel house-car-mall without ever leaving spaces the comfort.

on the day the mall was visited, the ground floor had two displays. the first, about global warming. presenting ironically within the air conditioned space of the mall, conforming to all the middle class characteristics of political and social action. that is, largely to the satisfaction of the individual rather than to the cause itself. this position is also cynical, but the point is poignant.

more telling, the photography display further down the hall. it displayed the poor and unfortunate of indonesia: children and adults, struggling to feed themselves. the poor in the display have been photographed and turned into objects of display, for admiration or horror of the viewers. some photos had been sold, with prices more than the subjects would ever see in their short lives. the poverty, found within 100 metres of the mall itself, has been sanitized for the consumption of the mall’s inhabitants.
what senayan city presented that day was a structure indicative of broader social and economic changes within the city of jakarta, and extractable in a general sense beyond. the mall provides an insulated space for the middle and upper classes to not only enact their consumption oriented lifestyles, but also to experience sanctity from the decaying world of the metropolis outside. it attests to the growing isolation of elements of the city from others, and the enactment of a bourgeois culture, complete with its worldview of the world it itself is trying to distinguish itself from.

“Just Do It Legally” says Nike

November 16, 2007

nike advertisment - singapore

Yesterday at the press conference to launch their new advertising campaign, Nike spokesman Michael Lim said that Nike were committed to helping skateboarders improve their public image by promoting them to wear designer clothes and to not break the law.

Nike said they had studied skateboarding culture and after extensive consultation with various ministries and police, launched their new city-friendly campaign.

“With skateboardes” Lim said “we want them to remember that only law-abiding skateboarding should be conducted whilst wearing Nike clothing. We don’t want the good image of our company ruined by a bunch of rag tag troublemakers who think they can wear their clothes as they please, and do what they want when they wear them.”

Minister of Youth, Culture and Public Order, Mr Md Sangat Tua applauded Nike’s stance and said that he was impressed with Nike’s social responsibility especially as more young kids were taking up skateboarding.

“We are very happy that Nike understand the situation on our streets, and the trouble that skateboarders cause.” he added.

He said he was considering having his own civil servants wear Nike clothing in order to improve their committment to law-abiding behaviour.

Mr Lim said that in other countries where laws were more lax, skateboarders may find it easier to break laws, especially if skateboarders outsource their clothes and skateboards to other people.

Josh, 26, a local skateboarder said that after spending $300 on Nike clothing he now no longer considered breaking the law and in fact had given up skateboarding altogether in fear of getting his outfit dirty.

Mr Lim added that Nike were considering new ways of sponsorship and had been looking at sponsoring the Worker’s Party over the next 5 years. Mr Sangat Tua declined to comment on this point.


October 23, 2007

Men who are anxious to win the favour of a Prince nearly always follow the custom of presenting themselves to him with the possessions they value most, or with things they know especially please him; so we often see Princes given horses, weapons, cloth of gold, precious stones, and similar ornaments worthy of their high position. Now, I am anxious to offer myself to Your Magnificence with some token of my devotion to you, and I have not found among my belongings anything so dear to me or that I value as much as my understanding of the deeds of great men, won by me from a long acquaintance with contemporary affairs and a continuous study of the ancient world; these matters I have very diligently analysed and pondered for a long time, and now, having summarized them in a little book, I am sending them to Your Magnificence.

And although I consider this work unworthy to be put before you, yet I am fully confident that you will be kind enough to accept it, seeing that I could not give you a more valuable gift than the means of being able in a very short space of time to grasp all that I, over so many years and with so much affliction and peril, have learned and understood. I have not embellished or crammed this book with rounded periods or big, impressive words, or with any blandishments or superfluous decoration of the kind which many are in the habit of using to describe or adorn what they have produced; for my ambition has been either that nothing should distinguish my book, or that it should find favour solely through the variety of its contents and the seriousness of its subject-matter. Nor I hope will it be considered presumptuous for a man of low and humble status to dare discuss and lay down the law about how princes should rule; because, just as men who are sketching the landscape put themselves down in the plain to study the nature of the mountains and the highlands, and to study the low-lying land they put themselves high on the mountains, so, to comprehend fully the nature of the people, one must be a prince, and to comprehend fully the nature of princes one must be an ordinary citizen.

So, Your Magnificence, take this little gift in the spirit in which I send it; and if you read it and consider it diligently, you will discover in it my urgent wish that you reach the eminence that fortune and your own accomplishments promise you. And if, from your lofty peak, Your Magnificence will sometimes glance down to these low-lying regions, you will realize the extent to which, undeservedly, I have to endure the great and unremitting malice of fortune.

— Niccolo Machiavelli to The Magnificent Lorenzo De’ Medici


October 10, 2007

the fear had gripped him. it’s infectious presence now inhabited every movement, every thought and every part of his body. there was no escaping it, except by facing it. how ironic did the words of “there’s nothing to fear but fear itself” now appear. his breathing had quickened; the weight of his chest had crept upwards to create that pressure in his lower throat. the sensations of a headache lingered in the frontal lobes of his brain. and the fear was overwhelming.

confronting what he had to was both inevitable, usual and at the same time horrifyingly new. as it always is. no amount of rationalization and reflection can pierce the wall of fear that builds up when an acrophobe finds himself high above the earth. the fear is gripping, its presence impenetrable. and the fear just grows. and the steps one takes within the fear are steps of uncertainty, entirely conditioned within the fear. the world outside has no meaning: it is just the self, the fall and the fear.

he wasn’t crossing a bridge, nor riding an escalator to the top floor, but rather facing an exam. just words on a page to be written. the explication of ideas into written words. the summation of his work and reading over the last two years. yet that was enough to paralyse him. he was consumed by his thoughts. the view outside the window was now meaningless, and he focussed on nothing. and the thoughts kept swirling and swirling, driven by that fear. and nothing made any sense.