An inspirational post I read in a book

July 29, 2011 0 Comments

By eighty-six year-old Nadine Stair,

"If I had to live life over again, I'd dare to make more mistakes next time. I'd relax. I'd limber up. I'd be sillier than I've been this trip. I would take fewer things seriously. I would take more chances, I would take more trips, I would climb more mountains and swim more rivers. I would eat more ice cream and less beans. I would, perhaps, have more actual troubles and fewer imaginary ones. You see, I'm one of those people who was sensible and sane, hour after hour, day after day.

Oh, I've had my moments. If I had to do it all over again, I'd have more of them. In fact, I'd try to have nothing else - just moments, one after another, instead of living so many years ahead of each day. I've been one of those persons who never goes anywhere without a thermometer, a hot-water bottle, a raincoat, and a parachute. If I could do it again, I would travel lighter than I have.

If I had to live all over again, I would start barefoot earlier in the spring and stay that way later in the fall. I would go to more dances, I would ride more merry-go-rounds, I would pick more daisies."


Random Events

July 25, 2011 0 Comments

I walked into my tutee's kitchen, with the gait of an infant elephant.

I had no conscious desire to move so ungracefully but, somehow, I managed the impossible.

The isle was wide. I had space to move. There was absolutely no reason for me to crash into the fridge, to cause a few magnets to drop and splinter into pieces.

Really no reason to do that.
When I saw the packaging of the sweets, I knew I had to buy it.

It wouldn't hurt, I suppose, to improve my sense of humour. Many people had commented on it and with good reason. It's time to change. I should stop saying jokes that only I find funny. Yes, change we can believe in.

In my mind, I travelled through space, time and matter to relive moments of embarrassment:

:] ---------------------------- :[

Guess what the above diagram represents?
It is a zwitterion! It is positive at one end and negative at the other. (I said this after a JC lesson on organic nitrogenous compounds. No one found it remotely funny.)

My funniest joke was made during Cambodia's OCIP:
"Don't you feel that we are in Disneyland?" I asked as we traversed though the verdant countryside. Everyone was soaking in the tranquil scenery and my words were met with surprise.
"There's Winnie the Poo everywhere. Winnie the POO, geddit?"

Indeed, cow dung as big as your face were drying in distinct piles everywhere.
The memories came back to hunt me. I decided to splurge on that bag of nutritionally deficit sweets.

Do take a look at some of the questions:

Q: Which bus can cross the oceans?
A: Columbus

Q: What is a sad strawberry?
A: A blueberry

Q: Why can't the skeleton climb the mountain?
A: Because it has no guts

If you ever see me face to face, beware of my improved sense of humour.
The kids asked me questions to which I had no answers.

They were looking at my sketchbook, oohing and ahhing at all the right junctures. (It was a trick I found out while working as an ad hoc primary school facilitator: show them the sketchbook and they'll keep quiet for a blessed stretch of time.)

When they saw the above drawing, they asked impossible questions and made impish comments.

"How come you make the babies cover their penises?"

"Are the babies both guys? If so they're gay."

"Are they having sex?"

I blushed and struggled to think of apt answers. I'm over twenty years old. They're only primary 5 students. Why am I behaving like a Jane Austen character while they're all Sandra Brown-ish?There is a dichotomy somewhere.

And heaven forbids! They kept asking the same questions. It was as though they're canines with a bone that they couldn't let go.

One kid stabbed her index finger at the baby's thigh and repeated her question loudly. Much to the merriment of her friends.

"You're not supposed to know such stuff at your age."       -.-


Credit Suisse: Innovation In Art Series Video, An Art, A History 1965 - 2010 A Selection from the Centre Pompidou and Singapore Art Museum Collections

July 21, 2011 0 Comments

Can videos be art?

The apt answer: Yes, anything can be art.

But I can't seem to reply with absolute conviction. Video art is so avant garde, rather unfathomable - at least to me.

It abandons all traditional tenets of aesthetics. It is mechanical, devoid of human imperfections and coolly aloof. Like other expressions of technology, it entertains while leaving an eventual sense of deprivation.

It is one of those art forms that inspire ambivalence and in the resultant space of confusion, finds its niche.

Why not take a look at one blockbuster exhibition in Singapore Art Museum?
My friend and I spotted a rather charming video installation.

Images project on two puppets and they converse in curmudgeonly tones. Their voices are gravelly with age and disdain. They sound like uncles in a wet market, something that I could unfortunately relate to.

The puppets are placed in obscure corners. Delightful to spot them as they lurk about. Somewhat enchanting.

It's an excellent concept, to give faces and voices to puppets. Eerie but inspired.
The following installation is by a Singaporean artist.

On first glance, it looks like a crumpled snake. In the background, a relentless stream of plaintive complaints issues.

Turns out that we're supposed to pull the circular hoops further to peek at a video of a berating Singaporean. A very literal interpretation of having tunnel vision... -.-

Didn't spend much time in this section. The pitched voice resonating in the room is unnerving.

We get to fill up a questionnaire.

What makes a world class society? Is Singapore one?

Out of gormless boredom, I decided to answer one. To my surprise, the museum attendant rewarded me with a badge. An unexpected gift.

I was shocked to see the works of Nam June Paik and Bill Viola in SAM.

They're the pioneers of videoart. They pushed the frontiers of aesthetics then. They're people who I studied in my H2 Art History syllabus. Awesome to finally behold works by them.

The following presentation of flesh and flash is disconcerting. Colours flare as people dance madly. Perhaps this videoart is a social commentary on the moral degradation with the onset of technology?

The below sequence of a fading moon turns out to a series of adjacent televisions. An interesting optical illusion.

Had to stand really close before I could see the individual outlines of the TVs. The silence and darkness of the exhibition space lends a meditative aura to the artwork.

Bill Viola's Portrait stretches the traditional definitions of representational art.

In the past, way before we were born, way before cameras exist, people painted to document events and characters. Art then was functional. It has a purpose.

Wealthy families could afford residential portrait artists. They paid handsomely for their images to be immortalised. With the advent of technology, art became less realistic and more liberal. Realism gave way to other isms - Surrealism, Impressionism, Fauvism, Abstract Expressionism and more.

Viola's take on portraiture is cheeky. In comfy armchairs with earmuffs, his audience sit and stare at recordings of people. There is little action.

There I was, staring at virtual people who were staring right back at me. I observed them and they, in turn, appeared to appraise me. I could only imagine how they must have felt as they gazed into the mechanic eye of a camera. Vulnerable? Bored, tired? Confrontational?

I like Bill's idea, this very playful reinterpretation of a traditional aspect of art - portraiture.

It gives art a continuity.
As I sit and write now, I realise that it doesn't matter what I think about videoart. It will exist with or without my opinions.

Well, this art form challenges many of the preconceived ideas I had. It is confrontational in its subtlety. It lacks all aesthetics; it isn't really pleasing to the eye. But it makes me think.

Methinks that I can learn to like it.


UOB POY 2011 Results

July 18, 2011 0 Comments

The UOB POY 2011 exhibition is now ongoing at Esplanade's Jendela.

Quite a visual feast, some of the artwork. Really envious at the creativity and skillfulness of the winning artists.

Unfortunately, I can't seem to find any photos of UOB POY 2011 (Singapore) online. It is a brilliant Chinese ink work on rice paper depicting snatches of Singapore's architecture, by Mr Gong Yao Min. An unexpectedly meticulous mastery of the medium, one that is often expressive. Rare to see a highly detailed, carefully rendered Chinese Ink piece. Wondrous.

UOB POY 2011 (Malaysia) shows the ravaging of nature by a fiery hued robot. In the smoky background, the Petronas Twin Towers can be seen. Isn't really captivated by the chosen medium though, hmm

Portrayal of Development by Ng Swee Keat

UOB POY 2011 (Thailand) depicts a family, tightly knitted even in sleep. There is a charming simplicity in this artistic exploration of kinship.

The oil painting relies on thick coats of paint to create a satisfyingly rich depth. A thin layer of varnish coats the painting, imbuing it with a yellowish tinge of yesteryear.

Hugs of Love from My Family by Suwannee Sarakana
UOB POY 2011 (Indonesia) is a oil painting inundated with cultural motifs.

Can't really grasp the message the artist was trying to convey. There are gears and chains ferrying figures past places of worship. Pulleys powered by water; oriental clouds.

Since I'm not privy to Indonesia's cultural symbols, I can't really make an informed interpretation of the artwork.

It does come across as a socio-political commentary on the mechanical nature of the modern society, hmm.

Repacking by Billy Indrajati
The triptych below is one of the Platinum award winners. The lyrical arrangement of the canvases contribute to a palpable sense of nostalgia.

I quite like the pieces with shadows of leaves and a peeling, weathered sheet. They sort of left an aching sense of emptiness, a moment of weakness immortalised in art.

Old Haunt by Ong Jie Yi
The oil painting below is also one of the Platinum award winners. Imaginative use of oils to create a visual tension - textural and tonal - tightly contained within a limited canvas space.

My friend is entranced by the tired strokes of thick paint, the languorous pose of the dancer and the inspired use of a Chinese motif, so startlingly red against the monochromatic background.

And he gets his act together by Arivan Shanmugaratnam
The below painting has to be my favorite. It reminds me of my friend's painting style. Pastoral hues, a languidly optimistic atmosphere, dreamy hopefulness...

Can't help being infected by good cheer once I lay my eyes on it. It is a happy painting painted by a happy painter and therefore, evokes happiness. Lovely, beautiful.

It is one rare work of joy in this age of cynicism. In fact, come to think of it, I haven't seen many works of such airy optimism in a long while.

What's up, Bruce? by Camille Louise Garcia Balete
More information about the artists and their works here.

Do take a trip down to Jendela and rest your eyes on this visual buffet :] It's worth your effort.


Random Thoughts from Whispers Past

July 17, 2011 0 Comments

Last night, he dreamt.

He was swept away by a tidal wave, by foamy waters and churning quakes.

It was weird - he usually couldn't remember any of his dreams.

Perhaps it was the tea he had in the morning, or the coffee the day before. Yea, he shouldn't be dreaming.
She looked into the mirror and fingered its smooth surface.

Who was this girl with the mildly expectant look on her face? She didn't look sad. She simply looked as though she was waiting. For something, anything.

She tried to flick a water droplet off the mirror's image but couldn't.
They sat, side by side, gazing but not seeing, strangers once more.

They were once friends. Were. Once. Past.

What was could no longer be.


A letter to trainee teachers

July 13, 2011 0 Comments

An excerpt on a book about educational psychology:

"Emphasize how to learn, rather than what to learn. Students may never know a particular fact, but they always will need to know how to learn. Teach students how to read with a genuine comprehension, how to shape an idea, how to master difficult material, how to use writing to clarify thinking. A former student, Anastasia Korniaris, wrote to me, "your class was like a hardware store. All the tools were there. Years later, I'm still using that hardware store that's in my head."

Include students in the process of teaching and learning. Every day ask basic questions such as, "what did you think of this homework? Did it help you to learn the material? Was the assignment too long or too short? How can we make the assignment more interesting? What should the criteria for assessment be? Remember that we want students to take ownership of learning...

Useful research has been conducted lately on learning styles and frames of intelligence. Read that research. The basic idea is to keep in mind that students should think for themselves. Your job is to teach them how to think, to give them the necessary tools. Your students will be endlessly amazed at what they can do. You don't need to show them how intelligent you are.

In the early years of teaching, you must expect to put in hours and hours of time. You would invest similarly long hours if you were an intern in medical school or an associate in a law firm. Like other professionals, teachers work much longer hours than outsiders know.

Here are four final bits of advice. I've failed at all four of them for years - except the last one, which has kept me sane. When I follow my own advice, my teaching life feels happier:

1) Sign up for season tickets to cultural events. Schedule regular outings with friends.
2) Hunt for a place to work. Try to get your own classroom. Moving all your belongings every 50 minutes will drive you crazy.
3) Try to stay out of petty politics. There is more squabbling in school than you can imagine.
4) Find a friend with a sense of humour...

You have the potential to be an excellent teacher. My only concern is that you exhaust yourself before you begin. Naturally, you will want to work hard as you learn the craft."

- Margaret Metzger



July 10, 2011 , 0 Comments

There is something fascinating about unhappy people living unfulfilled lives.

Why? He asks inwardly.

Perhaps they're reminders of what you may end up as, he answers himself.

When he was young, he believed in living his dreams. He wanted to be an artist, a teacher, a writer, a doctor and a singer.

With age, the veneers of ambitions strip away, leaving a hollow center.

He saw people struggling to put food on the table. He saw the mentally disabled and aged being sidelined in a sprawling metropolis. He realised his helplessness.

He heard stories of people achieving what they aimed for - only to realise that what they wanted wasn't what they needed. He read The Great Gasby, Of Mice and Men and The Bluest Eye.

Little by little, he realised that almost everyone was unhappy, that almost everyone was unfulfilled.

A parade of facades; a farce of what should be.

Why is life so sad? He asks himself.

Why is life so sad? He asks God.

No answer is given. He stares at his wrinkled left palm, quietly fingering the longest crease.

From the corner of his vision, he sees his drawing of a little frog. That amphibian seems to be frowning at him, its mouth pursed. His eyebrows draw closer and he stares back. What's your problem, froggie? Wanna fight?

After a nanosecond, he gives up. He should seriously stop being so lame, to resort to a meaningless staring contest with - heaven forbids! - a frog.

And you, he speaks to himself, must not be a living zombie.

Dream of flight
Yvan Lozzi Pestalozzi


Teaching a Class of Primary School Students: A Day in the Western Classroom

July 06, 2011 0 Comments

There I was, perspiring in the stuffy classroom, all aflutter.

It has been a long while since I last led a group of primary school students around. As a camp facilitator, as a talk coordinator. Those experiences were stuff that nightmares were made of.

It was with great ambivalence that I accepted the opportunity to be an ad hoc math trainer. And yesterday's experience, surprisingly, wasn't as daunting as I had envisioned.

The kids were rather well behaved. I gave a boring lesson in model drawing and algebraic patterns. They whispered to each other when they thought that I wasn't looking. I ended with an almighty sore throat and headache.

With age, there was a shift in perspectives. I was once a little kid too - yes, difficult to imagine - all innocent and shy.

And, for better and for worse, I was about to be a teacher.

It's rather disconcerting, the entire experience.

Primary school students, to some extent, are narcissistic. They lack the worldly wisdom to cease projecting their thoughts on others. If they're hungry, they'd think that others are hungry too. If they're needy, they expect you to respond to them immediately.

It was a refreshing challenge.

I'd be trying to explain a particularly trying question to a befuddled kid when two students from different corners of the classroom will start to call for my attention - "Teacher! Teacher!" From their urgency, you'd think that they just discovered the Grand Unifying Theory. But, no, they just wanted to go to the toilet/ ask for answers/ complain about their friends' farts.

And the kids processed the assignment at vastly different speeds. One was able to handle all the questions by himself - a feat, considering that these questions were pegged at Secondary 3 E math level. Some can't even manage simple addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.

The faster students were bored and clamouring for attention. The slower ones were frustrated and unwilling to attempt the questions.

I sat next to the slower students and projected calmness in my voice. Sometimes, I did a half squat as I explained. It was important to be on the same eye level as one explained concepts. To stand and tower over them would create a counter productive psychological oppressiveness that impede effective learning. This was true for communication in general.

The lesson, while standard, was nothing brilliant. It was spoon feeding of facts and memorising of approaches. It threw up some vital questions:

How to engage a group of students with different inclinations?

How to cover diverse and voluminous materials in such a short span of time?

How to inspire students to be interested in learning?

What should be the objectives of the lesson, anyway? What about the purpose of education? To impart facts? To teach vocational skills? To guide minds on how to think?

All questions with no easy answers.


Dali : Mind of a Genius @ Marina Bay Sands

July 02, 2011 0 Comments

It is impossible not to be fascinated with Dali's art.

His works are technically brilliant and wondrously creative. Drawing inspiration from his dreams, he superposes impossible events on realistic sceneries to perpetuate confusion, chaos.

The below oil painting on civil war depicts two figure tearing into each other.

The Temptation of St Anthony (below) is rich in motifs of repressed desires. Thin, long legs recall that of spiders' and are symbolic of sexual wants. (Spiders' legs = lust? I've no idea why. According to art critics, spider legs are supposed to be arousing...)

Of all the historical art movements, I must admit that I'm most enchanted with the rigorous creativity of the Surrealists. They alone stepped into the world of dreams to retrieve ideas of startling clarity.

So it's with great trepidation that I entered exhibition, Dali: Mind of a Genius, at Marina Bay Sands' ArtScience Museum.

The first quote I read had me laughing. Everyone around me was equally tickled by Dali's egotism.
"Each morning, when I wake up, I experience a supreme pleasure: that of being Salvador Dali. What is this fantastic creature going to do today, I ask myself. What prodigious works of beauty will he create?"
That guy's mad, way off his rockers. Perhaps that's why his works are so resonant.

The Persistence of Memory (below) is a meditation on life's ephemeral nature. Time melts, time flows. And, what does time mean? This is an easy question to ask but with no easy answers.

A series of engrossing sculptures follow one after another in a relentless pace.

From beautiful and dreamy to subversive and sexual, Dali's art evokes a maelstrom of emotions. Even though he has been long dead, his works will continue to live on.

Evaluation of the exhibition:

The curators brilliantly direct the flow of traffic such that viewers are inexorably drawn into Dali's realm. We first lay our greedy eyes on the maquettes, sculptures and ink drawings before feasting on Dali-designed furniture, perfume bottles and jewellery. As the finale, we bide farewell to an inspiring installation of ticking clocks and fun house mirrors.

The curators are all the more respected, considering the limited type of materials on display. There were only one Dali painting - Spellbound - and it isn't even one of his more renowned. Quite disappointing, but somewhat expected. His paintings are rare and extremely expensive...

Dali's sculptures are beautiful. Wonderful. It makes me feel like a fool. (Haha, the sentences rhyme.)

All in all, the exhibition is great, worth every cent of the entrance fees.

Besides, it influences me to install certain furniture - such as the Mae West Lips Sofa - in my home next time. The signature lips can also be the logo on my namecard or something. Hahaha.

Interesting trivia not included in the MBS exhibition

- After gaining fame, Dali sold stacks of plain papers with his signatures to other artists. It is unclear how many ink sketches were actually done by him.

- Dali was very conscious of the image he portrayed to the public and sought to remain in the limelight.

- After his death, his sculptures were recasted and many imitations abound. For example, his Space Elephant reportedly has 900 copies floating around in the art world. Many auction houses do not accept Dali's sculptures for sale. Only his paintings are well received.

Yup, the guy on the left, he's the famous Dali. Mreow, he whispered.