By People, For People: Departing and Arriving with Singapore International Photography Festival (SIPF)

Singapore International Photography Festival (SIPF) is back for its 7th edition, and it’s back to redefine everything you thought you knew. Set amidst a pandemic, this year, the festival is returning with a theme that seems extremely fitting with our current circumstances. 

SIPF 2020: Gwen Lee
Festival Director, Gwen Lee delivering her opening address at 37 Emerald Hill

Departing and Arriving. It is a very simple, yet complex concept. In simple words, it means coming to terms with the things and people in life that come and go. But it’s also so much more than that.

It’s also about the arrival and departure of new and old habits and ways of life, brought about by modernity and the strange healer we call time. It’s about revisiting unspoken societal topics that were considered taboo or too “obvious” to speak up about. It’s about the arrival at finally understanding identity and belonging, through a journey of departure. Poetic, really.

As a preview, if you will, before the official kickstart to SIPF, I got a chance to visit the ‘Inside Out’ project. With the pandemic putting everything on hold, this event rose to the challenge posed by the COVID-19 virus, to spread smiles to people’s faces, literally.

SIPF 2020: Inside Out Portraitures
A curator for SIPF showcases the portraitures from the ‘Inside Out’ project

SIPF invites you to sign up and get your photos taken, and printed out as portraitures to be displayed around Singapore, depending on where you visit the iconic ‘Inside Out’ van, for free. Participating locations include: DECK, The Substation, 37 Emerald Hill, Tekka Centre, and ION Orchard, all from 12pm-7pm, and Kreta Ayer Square from 11am-6pm.

It aims to spread positivity and smiles amid the spread of the COVID-19 virus that has changed all our definitions of ‘normal’. 

Now back to the main event, which blew me away and redefined everything for me. Allow me to bring you along with me on this journey of Arrival and Departure, but with a little disclaimer – I’ll be covering merely some of the fine artworks I got to witness, from the artists I got to meet. There’s so much more at the magnificent festival to be explored, and for the sake of suspense, I shall leave that part to you!

But other than that, let’s begin.

SIPF 2020: 37 Emerald Hill
37 Emerald Hill, one of the locations of SIPF

I visited the leading exhibition for SIPF at 37 Emerald Hill, in the heart of the city, Orchard. The venue is an old school. Intended or not, using an old school to display artworks that integrate the past makes the whole exhibition feel, whole

I was part of a guided tour and got to meet the artists themselves. I went into different rooms holding the various artworks, starting with Memory Blocks by Bob Lee. 

SIPF 2020: Bob Lee
Bob Lee talking about Memory Blocks

Bob Lee is admired for his iconic works of documenting HDB homes in Singapore. Starting in 2009, Bob Lee took over 100 photos of HDB homes with the burning curiosity to see how people interacted in the place we call ‘home’. Memory Blocks is a metaphorical time-capsule that encapsulates the evolution of change, and of course, arrival and departure.

All photos are strategically taken at dusk, to show how after a long day at work, the family comes together and the living room bursts to life, with televisions blaring, conversations erupting, and the lights brightening the home that was waiting for its inhabitants to arrive. The juxtaposition of past and present, as we look at his collection of photos since 2009, is mind-boggling as we arrive at the realisation of how fast-paced our lives are. 

SIPF 2020: Memory Blocks
Bob Lee with Memory Blocks

Over the years, the significance of these photos grow as things change – circumstances change, people’s habits change, even the people in the home change, with the arrival and departure of members of the family. A part of the exhibition that especially touched my heart, is that there were more photos outside the window. It was to replicate how the artist felt when he would look out the window and see his neighbours. As the years go by, we’ve become more detached from our neighbours as we struggle to catch up with our own lives, due to the fast-paced lifestyles that we, Singaporeans dwell in.

Following this fine artwork, I got to witness another time capsule, but this one was different. This one was a family’s private time-capsule where they retained the smallest details personal to their habits and lifestyles. I present to you, Flesh and Bloody Weaknesses by Holycrap.

SIPF 2020: Holycrap
The Holycrap family

Holycrap (yes, that is their name!) is a family of four – Pann and his wife Claire, and their two young children Renn, 17, and Aira, 14. Pann and Claire love their children and call them their weaknesses, hence the title of their artwork. Their exhibition for SIPF celebrates the arrival of their children into the art world and pays homage to the departure of their parents, who passed on some time back. 

SIPF 2020: Quote
Quote on the wall at the end of their exhibition, in memory of Pann and Claire’s parents

Their whole exhibition was beautifully detailed with tangible memories of their family’s likes, dislikes, habits, milestones and memorable incidents. Things like their children’s old passport photos, and oatmeal since Aira hates oatmeal, Aira’s first brace since she was diagnosed with scoliosis, and Renn’s hats as he experiences sensitivity to light, and so much more. So many little details that explode with bittersweet memories filled their room as Pann went through every detail with pride in his voice.

SIPF 2020: Pann
Pann sharing about their work, with Aira’s first brace to the left

Their art piece documented fleeting moments in life and opened my eyes to how we often deem ourselves, victims, to our weaknesses. In contrast, the Holycrap family took pride in these weaknesses and celebrated them. Quite possibly a silly, but definitely a relentless attempt to preserve all that we know and hold dear, Flesh and Bloody Weaknesses takes us on a journey to arrive at the realisation of identity and personality, and depart our childish ways of hiding behind our weaknesses and instead, embracing them.

Next, I stood witness to a documentation of Singaporeans’ perfectionist living habits in Liu Ying’s piece; It Can Be Better.

Liu Yang was the winner of the ‘Best Portfolio’ award in the last edition of SIPF in 2018. She has been given the esteemed chance of setting up her own solo exhibition.

SIPF 2020: Liu Yang
Gwen Lee, the Festival Director (right) introducing Liu Ying (left)

Her artworks are an exaggeration of routines and habits that we, Singaporeans continuously engage in. We don’t even realise how obsessive our habits seem, that is of course, until we lay our eyes upon Liu Ying’s works. Her photographs are inspired by her own mother’s routines and habits, that even often resulted in disputes in their household.

The most striking photograph was of flowers in a vase, that was covered with cling wrap. It’s hilarious how relatable this is, with our parents refusing to remove plastic covers from newly-bought items to keep them clean. Adding the same cling-wrap to flowers is an exaggeration of these habits. While the intentions to ensure cleanliness are justified, we forget that this same cling wrap could kill the flowers. 

SIPF 2020: Liu Yang 2
Liu Ying sharing more about her pieces

We, Singaporeans, are in the constant, never-ending pursuit of excellence. We have weaved such a fast-paced lifestyle for ourselves and our families to dwell in, and it seems that this pursuit made us forget how to live. It has robbed us of our ability to be human. It’s like we’ve become obsessive and maniacal machines with nothing but the strive to be perfect.

Therefore, this exhibition aims to intrigue viewers and even spark an arrival to the epiphany as to what we’ve become and how our constant perfectionist habits and lifestyles could backfire on us, and the departure of this mindset.

These were just three of the many breathtaking art pieces I got to witness at 37 Emerald Hill. There are many more works that blew me away, but if I were to begin talking about them, this article would see no end. Hence, I shall leave the exploring to you! 

SIPF 2020: Giles Massot Artwork
Interactive station with Gilles Massot’s artwork

But just to tease you a little, some of these include city landscapes of places like Jakarta. Several interactive pieces like an all-dark room of artworks that require a handy-dandy flashlight to view, a room with a photographic 100-meal feast with recipes you can have a seat and check out yourselves, and you can even create your own retro-style visuals using the acclaimed photographer, Gilles Massot’s rejected camera slides!

SIPF 2020: Artwork Display
An intriguing artwork on display at 37 Emerald Hill

The exhibitions for SIPF are officially open to the public and are at various locations throughout Singapore – 37 Emerald Hill, DECK, ArtScience Museum, Esplanade Tunnel, Downtown Line MRT Stations (Beauty World, Rochor, Chinatown, Newton, Little India, Bugis, Bencoolen). The main exhibitions will take place at 37 Emerald Hill and DECK, with key exhibits being displayed at the Esplanade Tunnel and six Downtown line stations.

Guided tours and photography walks will be conducted to give you the chance to experience the event as intended by the artist. There is also a lineup of virtual events that you get to share from the comfort of your home. 

For more information on SIPF, you can always check out their offcial site.

This festival indeed blew my mind, and I’m sure it will do the same to yours. Given the circumstances, we’re in and the nature of our lifestyles as Singaporeans, it’s easy to lose track of who we are and what holds significance in our lives. Maybe others’ experiences and memories will remind us what we’ve neglected. 

I walked into the building, not understanding what the theme of ‘Arrival and Departure’ meant, but walking out, I felt more evident than ever. It will do the same to you.

Photos by Darren Chiong of the DANAMIC team.

Baani Kaur

Aspiring to achieve great heights like every human in the world, but till then, enjoy the most dramatic and sarcastic person you will ever read from.

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