Our person in Singapore: Under a white sky of clammy heat…

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The TPC wanders, with one of the creators of the Te Puna Quarry Park, to another adapted landscape – Fort Canning Park. In keeping with the very very man-made environment of most of Singapore, Fort Canning (its third name) has mod cons as well as heritage items such as Malay Gates, Governor Raffles’s house and several guns. When asked about the modern transit convenience of choice for our own local amenity, Shirley rejects both an outside escalator and a cable car (“I’d sooner have a donkey cart,” she opines), but, when pressed, proceeds to remind herself of the charms of the funicular railway that goes up Mt Snowdon in Wales. It’s unlikely that any such mechanical device would find favour in this most pridefully modern of cities, celebrating a short but vigorous (and highly socially engineered) history since independence in 1965.

But there are some impulses in creating an island of calm out of a place of noise and dust that are clearly universal: Fort Canning has a butterfly garden of great, if manicured, calm, a spice rather than a herb garden, and a grove planted to celebrate religious harmony and freedom of worship. There are a lot of opportunities to worship in this city of money. The oddly spelt CHJMES Illus2converses across Victoria Street with the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd (the TPC established later in the day that there have never been sheep in Singapore) at present looking like a refugee from Christchurch. Illus3A thunderstorm, blessed by the locals as a means of clearing the haze, drives us out of the park and into the modern clip-on (it turns out we used the back door), four days ahead before anyone can see anything much at the Singapore National Museum.

The grand opening (“Ministers! Ambassadors! Big, big job!”) is to be on 19 September, but meanwhile the TPC has the fun of seeing the pack-in of exciting crates of exhibits and interpretative panels, Illus4 Illus5(Illus #4 & 5, glad-wrapped objects moving) reminding us all that these things do not just appear by magic, but have to be actually done by someone.  And Illus6tiny tastes on show in the original building Illus7show just what a stylish effect can be expected throughout the new museum once the ministers and ambassadors have done their thing and gone. The original building also turned out to be surprisingly rewarding. Illus8Purpose-built as a library by Sir Stamford Raffles, possibly because Singapore had similar problems with the whole concept of a library as Tauranga does, it exudes pomp and grandeur. And it was surprisingly well-populated: tour groups and camera crews as well as refugees from the storm were thronging the drop-dead gorgeous domed foyer where one of three brass plaques revealed a similar big opening job was accomplished by Governor Sir F A Weld in the Jubilee Year of Queen Victoria’s reign.

Jubilee, indeed. A shuttle bus then takes your correspondent through the steady rain to the Singapore Art Museum, which was very ready to receive. This was an entirely unexpected and very high-quality adventure, which quite oversets your correspondent’s ideas about the possibilities for the arts to flourish alongside social engineering… The entire museum, a converted from a religious school alongside the church of Sts Peter and St Paul, is at present entirely dedicated to a large and important exhibition, ‘After Utopia – Revisiting the Ideal in Asian Contemporary Art’ of installations set around four themes: ‘Other Edens’ featuring some ravishingly disturbing renderings of variously ravished landscapes, ‘The City and its Discontents’, giving your correspondent a chance to realise not only the charms and tensions of living in a vertical space, but also to see how others, like us, love their landscapes and make up stories about them.

Tang Da Wu’s ‘Semboyang’ was not only deeply intriguing in detail Illus9but was also the only artwork ever to ask the observer not to climb on to it because its uneven surfaces might threaten one’s health and safety. Illus10The third theme, punning lay entitled “Legacies Left”, offered the dead and the very much alive in one dark, one pristine white, installations of the dead heroes of communism (Shen Shaomin’s ‘Summit’) and a five-camera video of the bright young things of the propellor Group brightly discussing consumerist communism. And the fourth theme, The Way Within, combined enthralling fear and simple joy. Bomba’! Kawasaki De Guia’s bleakly beautiful installation of mirror-tiled missiles with exquisitely modelled fishtails, and an illuminated Sputnik, in the exquisitely modelled chapel,Illus11 fortunately preceded the TPC’s engagement with 366 sitting figures, achieved over a single year of deep contemplation of what it might mean to stay still and be, by Kamin Lertchaiprasert of Thailand.

This  was the absolute highlight of our day in Singapore: your correspondent, feeling at the moment rather like this may have started in Te Puna, but is today a citizen of the world, although Utopia it is not.

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The Te Puna Correspondent.  Allez Te Puna!  As usual our Te Puna Correspondent provides a word and image picture to stimulate the imagination of the reader.

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