Image features an early alchemical ouroboros illustration from the work of Cleopatra the Alchemist (10th Century). Source: Wikimedia Commons


Letters To What We Want is a series of letters composed by friends, responding to the question ‘What do you want? In 2021 and beyond?’. The format was left open, as was the choice to sign off anonymously or with a pseudonym.

In exchange, I sent them an artwork, which can be viewed at the end of the post.



Images of Country Musik: Movements #20, given in exchange for this letter.
An edition of this work is available in the shop.

This image features a stock image vintage illustration of a twinned work basket weave.

Letters To What We Want is a series of letters composed by friends, responding to the question ‘What do you want? In 2021 and beyond?’. The format was left open, as was the choice to sign off anonymously or with a pseudonym.

In exchange, I sent them an artwork, which can be viewed at the end of the post.


I keep an altar in the home I’ve been living in for 3 years now. I had set it up with my dear friend Liy, who lived in this home too, for a time. We would come together during new moons, full moons, shifts in astrological phases and “reset” the altar with new items, old items, textures and elements that felt right for whatever we perceived our present to be, for whatever we hoped for the future.

I knew I wanted to set my altar with manifestations of my intentions as we left 2020 and moved into 2021. I wanted to do something that wasn’t writing words. And I knew that I wanted to build a house with a broken heart in it. That was my 2020 after all — this house, everyone in it that left, me still here, my heart determinedly beating through what has felt unbearable.

So I built walls and a roof, to symbolise the new home I wanted to make, to signify shelter and greenhouse for my wild, unrelenting hope. I thought about what I want to keep doing as we move forward, what has saved me this year, and I wrote those words on the walls: Make. Connect. Heal. To make, I made a bevy of tools to write with, to cook with, to garden with, to sew with. To connect, I thought about intimacy, about all the different types of love and touch and connection I desire in my life. I gathered works from three artists (Roza Nozari, Guanyin Ma @ SLUT, and Manimanjari Sengupta) and weaved them into a pillar. To heal, I made a 3D heart out of paper, imagining the final kintsugi effect of covering it in glitter cracks but it was in the process of cutting and gluing it together and closing up the seams that felt like the real repair. On the outside of the walls I stuck paper coins of seeds for better worlds and just futures by Chiara Frances LAc.

As 2020 comes to a close, I pray and dream with my body and hands. Whenever I have the opportunity, I try and bring whatever I can from the chambers of my heart into being. Every cut of paper, every dab of glue, every wash of colour, every slide of graphite: a seed. May everything you plant for 2021 grow. May we all get to savor the fruit.

– Syar S Alia


Image of Country Musik: Movements #9, given in exchange for this letter.
An edition of this work is available in the shop.

This image features stock image vintage illustrations of conjoined twins Chang and Eng Bunker (1811–1874), and a knot.

Letters To What We Want is a series of letters composed by friends, responding to the question ‘What do you want? In 2021 and beyond?’. The format was left open, as was the choice to sign off anonymously or with a pseudonym.

In exchange, I sent them an artwork, which can be viewed at the end of the post.


18 Dec 2020

Letter to a friend

If undelivered, return to:  

Anonymous
24, Kuala Lumpur, Writer

————–

Dear Mermaid Emoji,

If I want anything at all, I want you to be able to see your family again. If it’s not too much for me to ask, I also want for everything to turn out alright for you in the end.

Perhaps more than anyone I’ve ever met, being friends with you has taught me what it’s like to live out on the very edges. Most of the people I know have places they can come back to—even if it causes them a lot of psychic pain and even if it means giving up their last shred of dignity. Most of them have somewhere to return to, whether it’s blood family or chosen family or you-don’t-get-to-choose-your-family family. You scare me more than anyone I know, because you’re so very alone. You’re like the last neon light blinking on a dark empty street, just asking for trouble.

The truth is, if I think about you too much, I get sad. There is so much about the world that is hopeless—you and I became friends by commiserating over this fact. We believe that the light at the end of the tunnel is just the light of an oncoming train. But it’s one thing to say, abstractly, that the future of humanity is hopeless; yet another to say that a single person’s future is hopeless, even though that’s the logical conclusion of what we talk about. The only way it is possible to keep living within so much suffering and chaos without succumbing to despair is by deliberately dampening our consciousness of other people’s suffering.

In general, people are lost causes. Most of us become stuck as we progress through life, and after a certain point, it’s either take it or leave it, there’s no changing anyone. The same with our fates: take it (i.e. suffer through it), or leave this world. But I tell myself that the fact of us being lost causes is the humbling thing about being human, and also the thing that makes our mere survival seem incredible, even if it is tampered with a little self-induced ignorance (and alcohol, and cigarettes, and etc., etc.) to make it more bearable. The fact of us being lost causes is ultimately where love springs from. If we were all perfect beings higher than our nature, then we wouldn’t need nor be worthy of love, which is voluntary blindness.

When I was younger, I very naively thought that I would never grow up to do anything illegal. Like, just don’t do it, right? As I grow up, I start to realise how easy it is to fall through the cracks, especially in a world splintered over. 

Down within the cracks, you meet people that it’s impossible not to become friends with, and in the underground there’s freedom in the air, freedom sometimes confused with nihilism, and for a while we have fun, but only one of us can emerge back into the surface-world, while another one of us cannot. You tell me all the stupid things you’ve been up to, and I pull your ear and slap your wrist; in this way, I try to restore morality and a sense of justice into this tiny world, so we don’t fall so far down the hole. For me, I can go home and afford not to think too much about you, but for you, there is no exit, you cannot be anyone other than yourself. Maybe in a few days, when we meet again, we’ll share some laughs, we’ll part again, you’ll continue going to places I don’t follow. What I want for you is more than the freedom of nihilism. I would rather that you have real material freedom in this material world, which you still exist in, even if it feels like you don’t. You will say that this is just a false idea of freedom, and that anyway there is no one who is really free on this earth that has been forsaken by god, but still.


Image of Country Musik: Movements #1, given in exchange for this letter.
An edition of this work is available in the shop.

This image features stock images of a group of stars in the Centaurus constellation, from Universe and Humanity (1910), and of a lump of coal.

Letters To What We Want is a series of letters composed by friends, responding to the question ‘What do you want? In 2021 and beyond?’. The format was left open, as was the choice to sign off anonymously or with a pseudonym.

In exchange, I sent them an artwork, which can be viewed at the end of the post.


Dec 12, 2020

Dear Grey Diamond
(Hexagonal, 0.44 carat, set in a Gold Ring with Two Smaller Diamonds)

Katie Carder Juniper Ring with Grey Hexagon Diamond, meekajewelry.com

All of the last eight months I have been thinking of you, since the day you announced yourself in my dreams by way of this jewellery shop I saw on the Instagram Explore Tab. 

While employed, I calculated how much I would have to set aside each month. Unemployed, I have pulled up your image to try and work myself up to open LinkedIn again. Impending hunger was not enough motivation.

Your brilliance, fire and heft, forged by both earth’s magic and jeweler’s flame, is everything I didn’t know I wanted before. But I need to tell you that it’s been too much, and I don’t think I can do this anymore.

I’ve always thought gemstones were among the best things to wear. Precious, so universally beautiful and so, like, exposing of human absurdity. Like, all we needed was to survive. But somewhere along the way, and early, we realized what we really wanted was to be adorned. And when stones entered the picture. Oh man, the lengths we went just to be P R E T T Y. We went to murder lengths!

The thing is, I know that exchanging money for you is beyond useless– it’s nothing but wasteful. Scarcity has been created and is as real as you and I, despite the best efforts of abundance mindset horseshit from the wells of Self Help Youtube. 

It just feels awkward, in a time when labs can replicate your chemistry, colour and iridescence in any size, to continue to pine for something just because it was squeezed into being in some cave for a billion years, then yanked out to maybe fund a repressive regime. I’m sorry, I’m being rude. It’s not your fault. You are perfect.

I was watching all of the fourth season of The Crown recently, and was freshly struck by how much jewellery these guys have. It’s their actual birthright, heaps of stones set in hulking wearable sculptures for elevating their squishy selves above everyone else. THE CROWN. D’UH. Is that what I want from you– to be better? To be worthy of the sparkle? To maybe camouflage my lowly social class at events? It’s either this or something else, right? No such thing as beauty for its own sake.

Is it because I need yet another arbitrary item to peg meaning to? Something to remind myself that… I am breakable? Ya, of course, sure. Every desire is a Death Thing. I’m not alone in feeling death around every corner right now. Incidentally, the old aunty next door died yesterday, the one who used to yell at the stray animals. She also used to wear pretty pastel floral tailored shirt suits, which she hung to dry on our shared fence. 

Anyway, I think right, I don’t even need a Death Thing. I won’t have children to pass you to. At best, some young person I care about in the future will have an accessory they never got to choose, but can’t sell off because they’ll feel bad. At worst, you’re just going to be a reminder of how awful I’ve always been with money. Imagine, “Wah, she really only left her laptop and phone with their dying batteries. And this ring.” 

All this is to say I will love you forever, but maybe not in real life. Please don’t get too upset by the plastic seed beads I wear. I love them too, cause I strung them together myself. Still, you know that I know they are not the same.

Yours Faithfully,

Grace


Image of Country Musik: Movements #18, given in exchange for this letter.
An edition of this work is available in the shop.

Image features screenshots from “HAUSU” (1977, dir. Ōbayashi Nobuhiko)

Slowmix is an online multimedia mixtape series, consisting of things I like or find interesting. It’s performative, but not in the way I associate with social media, more like when you want to impress someone you care about. It’s partly ‘do you see how cool I am?’, but equally, trying to get closer by sharing something small and personally significant. Each mix has a name, which doesn’t indicate a theme, just a vibe.

At the end of 2020 I made you a slowmix called WOLVES with: an amulet, folktales, horror zines, a Russian painting, binturongs and animal guts.


Amulet

This strange, dark, poem is included in The Puffin Book of Twentieth-Century Children’s Verse. I bought this book as a teenager, more interested in the idea of being someone who read poetry, than actual poetry.

It’s by Ted Hughes (1930 – 1998), an English poet I don’t know anything about, except that there is good reason to think being married to him is what led Sylvia Plath to kill herself by putting her head in a gas oven. A lesser known fact is that his partner after Plath, Assia Wevill, a holocaust survivor, also killed herself, and their four-year old daughter… with a gas oven. Regardless, history seems to agree that he was a great poet.

An amulet is supposed to protect you, but to my ear, the poem sounds like a cursing chant used to trap someone or something. Maybe it has to be both. For traveling unknown roads in the dark alone, maybe what’s needed is a fearsome song you can sing on loop.




Ivan and the Grey Wolf

Asked to provide a myth to understand these times, the mythologist Dr Martin Shaw offers ‘not the whole story, but an image’. He tells us about young Prince Ivan who sets out on a quest to find the firebird. As night falls, the prince comes to a crossroads. If he goes right, his horse will die but he will live, and if he goes left, he will die but his horse will live. He chooses the right road. Out of the gloom springs a fierce grey wolf, knocking the prince off his beloved horse before tearing it apart and gobbling it down. With bloody jaws, the wolf turns to Ivan and growls: ‘Get on my back. Where you’re going, a horse is useless.’

‘We’re in wolf time now’.




Buaya dengan Serigala

I couldn’t sleep and started looking for cures. One of them was this old book, published in 1977 by Dewan Bahasa & Pustaka. It’s a collection of folktales from Asia, translated into Malay.

‘Buaya dengan Serigala’ is a story from Bangladesh. Wolf is very smart, so Crocodile wants her to educate his seven children. Wolf tricks Crocodile mercilessly, eating all his babies, lying again and again to escape his wrath. The story ends with Crocodile dragging Wolf down into the river. There’s a curious moral ambiguity that’s quite rare in these kinds of tales, or at least in the more modern re-tellings. Wolf satisfied her appetite for young crocodile, and Crocodile sated his thirst for revenge.

The end page of each story lists the author and the illustrator (both from the tale’s country of origin), as well as the English translator and Malay translator. Something about this polyphony – a tale passing through many hands and tongues – is soothing, and perhaps instructive.




The Panthers

It is a painting of a dream. Day opens like a portal in the night. Orange lights flare in the dark and silent town, reflecting eyes from deep shadows in the trees. The scent of animal was strange in the streets where it walked out from, not heading in the direction towards dawn. It would stay there, just outside the walls.

The Panthers, 1907
Matiros Saryan (1880 – 1972)
Tempera and oil on canvas. 35.5 x 51cm
The Picture Gallery of Armenia, Yerevan

This is a painting from another book I had as a young girl, Fantastic and Imaginative Works by Russian Artists. It was published by Aurora Art Publishers, Leningrad, in 1989; and printed in USSR, thus, before the fall of the Soviet Union.




Rumah Hantu Comix (Malaysia) & Subp A Roht (Thailand)

Rumah Hantu Comix was one of the coolest discoveries in a year when I could hardly finish reading a book. They publish horror comix from South East Asia. The first issue of Kesumat Maut is pure pulp joy. Corpse humour doesn’t get fresher than this.

It reminded me of Subp A Roht (sadly, R.I.P.) from Thailand, a graphic broadsheet published in 2011. My friend Shahril Nizam contributed artwork to the Monster issue and gave me a few copies, which I treasure.




Binturong cam

Here is Arctictis binturong (family VIVERRIDAE) caught on night cam. Apparently, this creature smells of buttered popcorn, which, not knowing, if I were to encounter an odour so distinctly associated with civilization in the deep Borneo jungles where binturongs are usually found, would scare the shit out of me.

Images from eMammal.




Guts



Happy New Year!

Slowmix is an online multimedia mixtape series, consisting of things I like or find interesting. It’s performative, but not in the way I associate with social media, more like when you want to impress someone you care about. It’s partly ‘do you see how cool I am?’, but equally, trying to get closer by sharing something small and personally significant. Each mix has a name, which doesn’t indicate a theme, just a vibe.

This week I made you a slowmix called SPARRING with: Susan Sontag, John Berger, Ole Kiatoneway, Boonlai Sor Thanikul, Common Malayan Wildflowers, Miharu Koshi album covers and podcasts about masculinity.


To Tell A Story

This electric conversation between Susan Sontag and John Berger took place in 1983. Both were renowned writers of fiction and essays. They had quite alot to say about visual culture, which makes them interesting to artists. Sontag wrote On Photography, and Berger is most famous for the TV mini-series Ways of Seeing.

Here, they face-off about storytelling, the moral responsibilities of the author, and the effects of new technologies on art. It’s the exact opposite of a hot take – a timeless conversation. As in, useful and energizing no matter what decade you tune in. Yes, there will be decades after this one, and in some small way, this video reinstates that crucial reality.

The way they talk to each other is thrilling, almost erotic. The quality of their eye contact! It’s like an instructional video on how to listen, pay attention, respond and disagree – remedial class for those of us with internet- induced communication damage. Outside the reactive spaces of social media, differences and disagreements are not bullets, but seeds that burst forth, scattering the ground with possibilities.


The Black Pearl vs The Iron Twin

This is a match between Ole Kiatoneway “The Black Pearl from Andaman Sea” (blue corner) and Boonlai Sor Thanikul “The Iron Twin” (red corner), narrated in English by Phet-tho of Sitjaopho Muaythai. [Update: unfortunately the narrated video was removed, but I’ve replaced it with the original fight video with commentary in Thai]. Both were master technicians of Golden Age era muay thai during the 80s to mid-90s.

In my mind, this Ole-Boonlai fight will always be paired with the Sontag-Berger conversation. Their poise, grace and skill, embodied as total presence in the face of each other, makes my heart race. They help me name a thing I aim for, and search for in fighting when I don’t encounter enough of it in art: not virality, but virility.


Names, or how do we know what we know?

Here is what Common Malayan Wildflowers has to say about its use of names:

The scientific or Latin name of each plant is given immediately after the common English name, because the Latin names do not vary from place to place as the common names tend to do. For this reason it is recommneded that the Latin names should be used in preference to English or Malay names even though they may be more difficult to memorize. Many Malayan plants do not have well known or long established English names. Malay names are often very well known but they are usually given only to plants which are locally of some economic importance, such as food or medicinal plants, or to plants with some magical significance. 

The book was published by Longmans in 1961 (i.e. four years after Malaya’s independence from British rule, 2 years before the formation of Malaysia and 6 years before Singapore separated from Malaysia) under their Malayan Nature Handbooks series. It’s written by M.R. Henderson and illustrated by Juraimi Samsuri. There’s no additional information about the author or artist.

How do we know what we know?

A scientist friend recently told me about a species of shellfish that’s been consumed locally since the late 1800s, but has yet to be described by science, i.e. yet to receive a Latin name. I can’t say more at this point, because the ‘discovery’ of any ‘new’ species is a major scientific event and I don’t want to scoop my friend.

I know many of the plants in Common Malayan Wildflowers by sight, and I love the book most for its beautiful, homely botanical colour paintings. The names, however, disturb the order of my world. For example, it lists ketumbar jawa as ‘Stinking Shareweed (Eryngium foetidum)’ whose ‘leaves when bruised give off a strong smell like that associated with stink-bugs’, whereas I know it to be a delicious and fragrant edible similar in taste to coriander. Another example: I noticed a plant with fleshy leaves and pink flowers growing in the garden this year, and identified it on Google as Surinam spinach. The book calls it ‘Sea Purslane (Sesuvium portulucastrum)’ and gelang laut, because it’s ‘found always near the sea, both on sand and in tidal mud’.

There are many ways to know a thing, to order and organize the world.


Haircuts

I want to know who else Youtube recommended Miharu Koshi’s Swing Slow (1996) album to. It’s a great downtempo album.

Parallelisme (1984) I didn’t enjoy so much. The *look* on this album cover, however… I sent it to Boon, who’s been cutting my hair for over a decade. He got excited, and that became my first post-lockdown haircut.

Maybe I will try out all her album cover looks.


The man in me is killin’ me

I had a dream about hunting down an enemy. I was in a room, searching for them. There was a large oval mirror in front of me. I looked into it and as the view panned left in my dream, I saw reflected in it a man sitting to one side, at the back of the room. He was tall and heavyset, wearing a white shirt and long pants, and glasses. He had slightly wavy grey hair. I had never seen this face before but I can remember it even now. I realized with a shock that I was the hunted, not the hunter. He stood up. The urge to run was overwhelming, but I knew I had to face him. I turned around. He held a large knife, and stabbed me in the chest with it.

These podcasts are about men and I found them illuminating. Good medicine if you need it.

The Mythic Masculine #12 – Courting the Undefended Heart – Boe Huntress (Thirteen Queens)

The Mythic Masculine #7 – Thriving Life & A Prayer for All Men – Pat McCabe (Woman Stands Shining)

The Mansal Denton Podcast #031: Tyson Yunkaporta (Pt 1) – Aboriginal Teachings: Rites of Passage for Men, Community, and Personal Agency

The Mansal Denton Podcast #032: Tyson Yunkaporta (Pt 2) – Becoming One With Nature and Listening to Her Wisdom

The title of this post belongs to my friend L.Low, who texted it to me as a joke sometime last year while I was preparing my work ‘In The Skin of A Tiger: Monument to What We Want (Tugu Kita)’ for Singapore Biennale 2019. Gnarly is American slang for a tough, intense or complicated situation (the ‘g’ is silent).

I wanted to publish my proposal and budget, with annotations to show how projects change as they cross from idea into real life. 90 percent of how art actually gets made and shown in the contemporary art world is an opaque process. I hope this small crack in the wall will be useful to fellow artists.

Recently, Patrick Flores presented a paper about being artistic director of Singapore Biennale 2019 (SB 2019) for Conference: Contemporary Art Biennials – Our Hegemonic Machines in States of Emergency hosted by the Post-Graduate Programme in Curating, Zurich University of the Arts. In this recording he talks about taking an art historical approach to curating contemporary art in biennales. One of the threads he pursued at SB 2019 was abstraction. He mentions ‘In The Skin of A Tiger’, as well as the works of Boedi Widjaya, Alfonso Ossorio and Carlos Villa in terms of abstraction and how they sit alongside, ‘in critical adjacency’, with modernity.

Screenshot of video. To view video please click this link: https://vimeo.com/439928499

Here’s a quote from the Q & A portion of the talk [42:30]:

“I’m a trained art historian. I tried to hijack the Biennale with some art historical methods. I tried to smuggle, like some kind of contraband, some art historical methods into the Biennale structure. I think this was one way for me to discuss the colonialism and modernity through the development of modern art in Southeast Asia. It was fortunate that the National Gallery Singapore was one of the sites of the Biennale. In that site, there is a huge collection of Southeast Asian modern art. I wanted to complicate that modernity, and to find out how that modernity relates to the history of the contemporary that is embodied by the Biennale.

Hence, the transitional nexus that come in the form of the work of abstraction, not only through the contemporary works of Boedi Widjaya and Sharon Chin, but also the neglected works in America of Alfonso Ossorio and Carlos Villa, who were also responding to abstract expressionism, but can nowhere be found in the art history of that movement. It was a good opportunity for me to do that in a Biennale. By doing that, I was doing art history, but at the same time, responding to the concerns of contemporary art, which are about racism, migration, colonialism and sexuality. But all of these were inscribed and embodied in material form, through the idiosyncratic abstraction of Ossorio and Villa.”

– Patrick Flores, June 2020


Below is my annotated project proposal and budget for ‘In The Skin of A Tiger’. I hope reading it alongside (in critical adjacency with) Dr Flores’ presentation will be fruitful, prompting deeper thought about how power and material conditions affect the production and dissemination of different kinds of knowledge, across all the stories we tell ourselves about time: the time-stories of modernity, the contemporary, art history or, that gift, scarcely understood, of the present, now.

ITSOAT-SB2019-notesV3


A few notes about career opportunity, privilege and ‘getting selected’ for biennales:

This is not my first time at the Singapore Biennale. I did a public performance project ‘Mandi Bunga’ there in 2013. It’s rare, though not unheard of, to participate in the same biennale more than once. Biennales are not designed for continuity. Or rather, they are designed to continue certain structural aspects of the contemporary art industry, but tracking the development of individual art practice across different editions is not one of them.

Curators have their own reasons for selecting artists, and each biennale has its own structure for deciding on curators and/or artistic directors. The curatorial process of SB 2013 compared to SB 2019 was very different. I won’t comment on the curatorial process here because it’s not my purview.

What I can comment on is my choice to take part. In the case of Singapore Biennale, both times, I was invited by curators I had strong personal relationships with. For my part, this was the main deciding factor. The other was geographic proximity and the shared history between two nations. My works in both Singapore Biennales were about important socio-historical events in Malaysia. That ‘Mandi Bunga’ was staged outside an institution in 2013 and ‘In The Skin of A Tiger’ inside one in 2019, is one way to read the trajectory across these two works.

Another reason I accepted the 2019 invitation was because I thought there could be an opportunity to talk about biennales and the selection of who gets to participate. Let me be clear: meritocracy is one of the foundational myths of our times. I know biennales represent coveted career opportunities for artists. Participation brings one into the circulation of an international art circuit, market prices may rise along with recognition, acquisitions follow, etc. My antipathy towards this structure is ideological and publicly stated multiple times. I participate selectively because I too, like Dr Flores, wish to be a smuggler. Perhaps we all do, and perhaps that is how we all justify doing what we do. The question is, what do we smuggle and for whom? Here I’ll be quiet because true contraband is usually passed around in silence.

Anyway, if you’re an artist and want to increase your chances of being selected for biennales whatever your reasons, these are my suggestions:

  • At the very least, have a website that archives your work. Social media accounts are good, but not enough.
  • Language privilege is real: Write about your own work, invite friends or other artists to write about your work. Write about other people’s work. Interview fellow artists. Archive this writing together with your artwork. Do this relentlessly. If you’re not good at networking or forming relationships with powerful people, this is how you create currency around your work and your name.
  • Language privilege is real, part II: most of this writing should be in English or translated into English. I’m sorry, it’s not fair, none of this is fair, but as of now, that’s how it is.
  • Take every opportunity you’re given, whether it’s in speech, art or writing, to say and do what’s truly in your heart and mind. Treat it like there will not be a next time. Yeah, be too much, it’s fine, that’s your job. Be brave and rise to the occasion.

Last year Amanda Nell Eu asked me to do production design for her second short film, ‘Vinegar Baths’. I worked on her first (my first too!) a couple of years ago: ‘Lagi Senang Jaga Sekandang Lembu’, which I blogged about here. In the process, I developed an appetite for designing sets and characters for film. Compared to my main body of artwork, it’s a much weirder and darker me that comes out to play.

Incidentally, the shooting of ‘Vinegar Baths’ began just as I’d gotten out of a terrifying encounter with the supernatural while on an art exchange programme overseas. It was the darkest experience of my life, from which I count myself fortunate to have returned intact. Maybe it wasn’t the most sensible thing to plunge into making a monster-ghost movie immediately after, but it turned out to be good for my mind and spirit. Film-making is about assembling a story piece by piece. I had to do the same, to survive and heal from my experience. Step-by-step, scene-by-scene.

This is the first drawing I did, of the main character, Chin, a maternity nurse who also happens to be on-call when women and girls don’t want to keep their fetuses. She’s looking kindly down on Vivian, one such woman.

penanggalandrawing

penanggalan1955

Above is a page from Hantu Hantu: An Account of Ghost Belief in Modern Malaya by J.N. McHugh (Singapore, 1955), with illustration by A.F. Anthony. I was particularly taken with the description of her as ‘a flying rope of fire’.

After reading the script, I texted Amanda this photo of moth balls, saying ‘I already know what the colour palette will be’. Candy-pastel poison. In public toilets in Southeast Asia, you’ll often find these pretty balls in the sink holes, to stop cockroaches from crawling up.

mothballs1

Here are some scene drawings. I was inspired by Akira Kurosawa’s painted storyboards. I used Buncho oil pastels to force myself to be less precise in the drawing, to focus on mood and atmosphere.

vb_sketch001_bathroom

 vb_sketch002_CHINoffice

vb_sketch004_Corridorvb_sketch003a_BirthRoom

I would’ve done more full-coloured drawings, but was pressed for time. Art for film is about the film, not the art.

Some stills from the movie (all courtesy of Amanda Nell Eu, don’t reproduce without permission):

VBstill3

VBstill2

VBstill1

I like set design, but I REALLY love costume design. Working on Amanda’s films, I’ll see the overall colour palette first, then I’ll see what the characters are wearing. Everything else comes pretty smooth from there.

Here’s a page from my character deck for Chin. (Btw, I learned how to do decks for film by taking part in ASTRO Shortcuts Workshop in 2016. I was invited by Amanda to be part of her team for ‘Lagi Senang Jaga Sekandang Lembu’)

VB DECK Chin

Her make-up look was faded, badly-done semi-permanent tattoo make-up. Inspired by these trippy pictures on the internet:

liptattoo-pic4

liptattoo-pic5

‘Vinegar Baths’ just won the Next New Wave Award and SeaShorts: Best Cinematography Award at SeaShorts Film Festival 2019 in Melaka. Happy to have worked on this pastel-coloured, blood-soaked film. Shout out to the stellar Art Team for bringing the production design to life.

71497121_905104599865507_6013362137508872192_o

Amanda along with other winners at SeaShorts Film Festival 2019. Photo from SeaShorts Film Festival Facebook page.

About that blood. Here’s a couple of my own production shots:

IMG_8166

IMG_8172