This was posted on The Substation’s FB page. Duplicated here for those of you not on FB and also for our own records. Post-Museum started a 2-month residency in The Substation on 11 Jul.
Post-Museum Residency Update: Ghosts, Hauntings, the Seventh Month
One of the first things we heard about The Substation residency was that there are ghosts in the building. Ooh, exciting! We have a strong interest in the supernatural, and though we can sometimes feel them, we have not been able to see any. In our artwork The Bukit Brown Index, we have created a Supernatural Map of Bukit Brown, a drawing of where people have experienced ‘encounters’. And, of course, we are living in Asia, where most people believe in ghosts, and specifically in Singapore, where book series The Singapore Ghost Stories has been on the bestseller list for as long as we remember.
Ok, back to The Substation. So, it seems that there are 4 spirits that haunt this place: a little girl, an old couple and a shapeshifter. Don’t be scared, this is not unique to The Substation – as far as we’ve heard, all the old buildings and especially museums in Singapore, have their own in-house spirits! Anyway, they are everywhere and are generally harmless, just that we usually can’t see or feel them… So, as our residency coincides with the Seventh Month aka Hungry Ghost Festival, and we’ve recently learned about the special service that the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple offers, we decided to do something for the 4 ‘friends’ in the building. The special service offered by the temple is a 5-day chanting session during the Ullambana Festival (from 16-20 August), where the merits of the chanting could be dedicated to one’s ancestors, named deceased, karmic debtors, wandering spirits and/or spirits at a specific location.
The earliest written evidence of the existence of this festival that has been found by researchers is from around 400AD. ‘Yulan Pen’ (盂蘭盆) is the Chinese name, and ‘Ullambana’ is the Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit name. This festival is also called ‘Zhong Yuan Jie’ (中元节) as it has been held in conjunction with services honoring the ‘Zhong Yuan’ (Middle Primordial) of the Taoist pantheon. This festival is important to both Buddhists and Taoists, and because of the interwovenness of early Chinese society and religion, it is considered an important Chinese festival. Variations of the festival exist in Korea and Japan.
‘Yulan Pen’ is widely considered to be connected to the story of Mu Lian (目连 aka Maudgalyayana) saving his mother. It is said that his mother has been reborn in the deepest of all hells where she suffered retribution for her evil deed in a previous life. She was starving and unable to eat as any food that was offered to her would burst into flames upon reaching her mouth. The Buddha told Mu Lian that the only way to save her was to provide a feast for the monks who were emerging from their summer retreat on the fifteenth day of the seventh month. This ritual indeed resulted in his mother being released from hell, and hence this festival is celebrated as an act of filiality, to achieve salvation for ancestors.
In addition to the story of Mu Lian, the Taoists also believe that the fifteenth day of the seventh month is the day when the Officer of Earth (Zhong Yuan) adjusts humans’ life spans according to the good and evil they have done. This is also the time when hell’s prisoners and hungry ghosts are allowed back in the human world and can eat their fill. As such, this is not only a time for Taoists to make offerings to gods and ancestors, it is also a time for rites of confessions.
We hope this post has helped you to understand a bit more about what this festival is about. We’ve always just thought that this festival is a time to appease the spirits but it is actually much more. If you would like to read more about it, we highly recommend the excellent book from which the info in this post is from: The Ghost Festival in Medieval China by Stephen F. Teiser.
Post-Museum has been invited to participate in Jakarta Biennale 2015: “Neither Back Nor Forward: Acting in the Present” as one of the artists. We will be working with the community in Rumah Susun Marunda in Cilincing, Jakarta Utara, to create Jakarta Really Really Free Market. This will be the fifth in our RRFM Series, where we create the temporary market of free goods and services with various communities around the world.
The Substation celebrated its 25th Anniversary recently with a month of activities including The Substation Conference, which was entitled “What is Next? What was Now? 25 Years of The Substation”.
The brainchild of Kuo Pao Kun, The Substation’s mere existence is an ode to the vision of the public intellectual and the tremendous support he garnered. Someone pointed out that The Substation has existed for half of Singapore’s life as an independent country. To be sure, surviving in this country that is obsessed with economic success above everything else, is no mean feat. To survive as an independent arts centre, that is consistently open and embracing the alternative in Singapore, is next to impossible.
Many of us in the arts owe The Substation a debt of gratitude, whether we were directly nurtured or indirectly inspired. The Substation was our entry into the art world, we met others like us, we had our first shows there, we hung out there. Over the years, despite newer better arts spaces, we still look at The Substation with a special fondness (some call it love).
Over the years, The Substation has changed a lot physically. The Gallery has been modified twice, the Theatre seats and setup have been changed, the Garden has been rented out entirely to Timbre, the facade of the building has been painted blue then grey, the “Home for the Arts” has been dropped from its signboard, and its side walls are now filled with commissioned graffiti. I suppose one could consider these as mere “facelifts”, and not read too much into the changes. As long as The Substation remained independent and relevant – those are the main issues, right?
T Sasitharan mentioned in his speech during the conference that everyone had their own ideas and wishes of what The Substation was and should be. In his superbly written and read By Way of A Manifesto, which he penned when he stepped down as its Artistic Director in 2000, Sasi expounded on what he saw as The Substation’s “uniqueness”. He said,
“It is in this unsaid empathy, this embrace of the “alternative” (that which by its very nature can only live outside the box) informs and directs the seemingly amorphous, almost chaotic array of Substation activities. This is the invisible hand that brings structure and coherence to our work. This is the underlying logic that informs the methods of our madness. It is this inkling or instinct or glimmering for a particular way of being which is the most valuable aspect of the Substation. It is the heart of us; and it needs to be protected and cherished.”
Tania De Rozario also gave an impressive speech during the conference. Because she is boycotting NLB over their homophobic removal and pulping of And Tango Makes Three last year, her speech was delivered by her proxy Raksha Mahtani. In it, she spoke about how NLB has effectively invalidated her as a queer person, and in contrast, how she felt that The Substation has always held that space and “played a part in mediating difficult conversations”. She reflected on the current situation of the arts in Singapore and the relationship between artists, art spaces, society and the state.
It was a series of pertinent questions that she proceeded to ask that really struck many chords. I think everyone who is vaguely invested in the arts here really should think about these. I’m quoting all of her questions here:
“At what point does the integral purpose of the space collapse under the weight of this commercial viability? What rules or standards can we use to ascertain this? And once that integral purpose collapses, for what purpose does the organisation exist?”
“How, for example, do I, as a queer person see my role as an artist and writer, in a culture that allows its out-of- boundary markers to be dictated by conservative outcry? How do we who occupy marginal identities while contributing to cultural production in Singapore, navigate boundaries both seen and unseen? What obligations, if any, do artists have toward the state and its people, when it comes to transgressing these boundaries? How does a space like The Substation affect answers to these difficult questions?”
“What is the role of an artist who works on subject matter deemed ‘sensitive’, during this period of time in Singapore’s history? Is our role to agitate, and to flout these regulatory practices in spite of consequences? Or does it serve us better to adhere to these regulations in order to showcase the problems inherent to their processes? Alternatively, are there ways to showcase art (and I specifically say ‘showcase art’ rather than ‘make art’) that are completely free from these concerns, that can come about from neither adhering to these practices, nor consciously resisting them?”
“What is the role of a space like the Substation in this equation, with its history shared by art-makers as well as civil society? In what ways is socially conscious art-making compromised when artists engage with it via a state-sponsored platform? As artists, what strategies can we employ as a community to help keep spaces like The Substation sustainable? Will there ever be a day when The Substation will be able to run without state funding?”
“Given the financial burden of (legally) showcasing material that deals with ‘sensitive’ issues or themes, can we assume that only state institutions, commercial establishments and financially-endowed individuals have a legal right to contribute related content to our national narratives? If that is so, should we even care that our identities are erased from, or distorted within, these narratives? How does a lack of queer role models in our media affect the psychological well-being of young queers Singaporeans? How does our institutionalised invisibility in the mainstream media affect their views of themselves, and other people’s views of them? How can those of us who occupy space within marginalised communities employ our respective skills to reach out to those around us, without manufacturing new and equally harmful hegemonies?”
I’m sorry I cannot include the full texts for both Sasi’s and Tania’s speeches; the transcript of Tania’s speech is here and please contact Sasi directly if you want to know more about his. I’d like to end this post by adding three more observations and questions:
1. The conference was attended by less than 100 people, and only a handful of them are artists and people who are long-time supporters of The Substation. I wonder why the turnout was so bad, whether artists still found The Substation relevant, and whether there is still a healthy level of active support for the space.
2. KC Chew, Chairman of The Substation, mentioned that the Board serves to protect the independence, integrity and sustainability of the space. I wonder whether it is really possible to ensure all three values simultaneously, and when push comes to shove, which will come out on top. For example, as mentioned earlier, the Garden has been entirely rented out for several years. To ensure the sustainability of The Substation, have its independence and integrity been compromised? What are the considerations that took place and how was this decision made?
3. The Substation ran for 10 months without an Artistic Director. Is it not possible for it to really be community-run in the long-term, without an AD and even without a Board? I think it is important to rethink and evaluate how our art spaces have been run, especially one like The Substation which values diversity, inclusivity and the alternative.
The Substation Conference on its 25th Anniversary threw up a lot of questions. I hope we all take this opportunity to reflect on them before we rush on from Now to Next.
Singapore Really Really Free Market 38 was part of the inaugural EarthFest which was held at Marina Barrage last Sat. It was great fun and we were very happy to find out about all the cool and interesting eco initiatives in Singapore 🙂
Here are some photos:
Thanks to those of you who came by, see you again soon!
It’s a collection of wishes for Singapore from more than a hundred of our friends in the arts, culture and civil society communities here. We hope their heartfelt wishes will inspire you to think about what you wish Singapore can be and how you can help create that.
An event by LATENT SPACES x Post-Museum x Studio Bibliothèque
7 August 2015, 9.37 am and 9.37pm
Wonder Wash Laundromat, 71 Rowell Road
BYOL – Bring Your Own Laundry + Hookup #2: Professional Speed-Dating for Artists & Dealers + Is this seat taken? + Acoustic music + SG50 Readings
Here are some photos we took:
> Hookup #2: Professional Speed-Dating for Artists & Dealers