R: The idea was really to have someone who hasn’t really been personally involved in the history of the Substation at all. And coincidentally, I’m the same age as the Sub, so it’s like we have both been growing together, but on separate trajectories. In a way, I’m now trying to reconstruct all these memories for myself, to understand and negotiate the gaps between my generation and the one which came before it. Eventually what we are looking at is not a documentary or a strictly factual archive. We’re thinking of using these memories and impressions more as raw material to create a certain object, but I’m not sure what this object is going to be yet. At the moment, we are looking more at a book, and it’s probably going to be more experimental fiction than anything else.
S: So you have already been talking to the various practitioners and other stakeholders who have been involved in the Sub, I presume? Before we start, can you just let me understand what is the kind of angle you are taking for these interviews and why.
R: I’m really trying to keep it as open as possible. But I suppose ultimately we all don’t want this project to be about nostalgia – not that there is anything wrong with nostalgia per se, and I do think there is a place for nostalgia in society – but I think we really need to move beyond that for the purposes of this project. We are still very much looking into the past, but I’m more interested in using these memories for the purposes of pointing us towards the future, not just for the Substation, but also the larger arts community. So to begin, why don’t you start by telling me about your relationship with the Substation?
S: Before we do that though… this is really like me turning the tables, can you tell me what has your association with the Substation been like?
R: My association? Are you referring to my background?
S: No no, that’s for another occasion. I mean, has the Substation featured in any way at all in your thinking, your being, in your activities, your socio-cultural or personal identity, prior to taking on this project?
R: Hmm… Well, I’m 20. I just completed my NS. And before that I did art when I was studying in JC. I suppose when I was studying, because of schoolwork and all that, you know, I didn’t really have much of an awareness of what was happening in the arts community here. I didn’t really watch any shows whatsoever. Going out to watch a play or an exhibition was something I rarely did. I think it’s pretty much the same for most in my generation. I suppose it was only after I graduated that I found the time to do whatever I’m doing now and that was when I became more exposed to the Substation – not that I never knew about its existence before. I had heard about it, mentioned here and there, but it was probably existing more on the peripheries of my conception of the arts scene. In terms of a formal or a personal relationship, there hasn’t really been one. It’s just really more of a place to see shows and this project here is really my first time working with it. I do somewhat gather the same sentiment for the people I talk to: that the Sub no longer holds the same value for my generation as it did for those who were here during the nineties. So this gap is something I want to address in this project.
S: I see. So you want to think about why the Sub doesn’t hold what you think it held for others a decade earlier. Just on that matter, for someone like you, coming through the mainstreams of being Singaporean, which is the education system with of course, junior college as the culmination, and then the national service which was a political obligation you had to fulfil, I’m wondering if there is any sense of place, any at all, which figures prominently in your life. Is there a place that possess for you some form of significance or strong resonance?
R: So you’re asking me about my past?
S: Yes, your past twenty years. In terms of a place, I’m curious to know. A place. Does the idea of a place mean anything to you? In terms of location – not rootedness, but location, where certain things happen to you and you happen to that place, and there is a kind of deep empathy connecting you to it. Any, at all?
R: Primarily the places where I grew up then, I guess. My school would be one such place, since I was there during a significant and formative period of my life. But of course, I’m not sure if that would change in the future. The feeling may become stronger, but it may also diminish.
S: I’m asking you this because I have strange premonitions and prejudices about these things. Premonitions that have to do with, generally, an increasing sense of placelessness… and I feel that very strongly. If I were to like you, think of the place I was born, the school I went to, the community I grew up with, none of them exist anymore, physically. And if they exist, they exist somewhere else. It’s like River Valley Road School not being on River Valley Road anymore, which is about the severest form of dislocation you can think about, the whole geography screwed up in a way. And I was just wondering because I have only one son and he’s thirty-five years old and I have very little connection to people of your generation. So I just do not know what you all feel about this sense of floating placelessness. That’s what prompted me to ask if you have any thoughts about this place… but you have already answered that.
R: I suppose before this, it just didn’t strike me as a place – you know, a place, as opposed to a space, though it is, in a way, both a place and a space. I just didn’t feel as if there was something special going on in it.
S: And I’m wondering if there are any such places in Singapore at all – places that strike one, that tell you there is something special and amazing going on inside.
R: I think that’s because the idea of a physical space is progressively something that my generation and perhaps even other generations as well don’t feel that connected too, because space these days is becoming a virtual concept. A lot of our interactions happen over the Internet. Most of us connect more online than physically.
S: So there is not even bodily contact, or not as much?
R: I’m not saying that it’s good or bad, of course. It’s just a different mode of communication.
S: Yes, of course. No judgement. I’m just curious about the phenomenal aspect of it. How it works out… the shifts in terms of the relationships between people, between spaces and between people and spaces… the kind of sensibility that people have today… You’re right. It’s just a different world we live in today, isn’t it?
R: Yea, I guess.
S: Well, now that we’ve got that cleared, let’s get back. My relationship with the Substation. I’ll wait for you to prompt certain things, but if I can just kick off by saying that as far as I recall, my connections with the Substation was virtually from day one…
Images courtesy of The Substation.