Cave of forgotten dreams

Image by J, taken near Henderson waves

The filmmaker Werner Herzog describes the 1994 discovery of the 32,000 year old cave drawings in the Chauvet cave in France as one of the most important cultural discoveries in human history. Indeed, the care of the caves come under the  French ministry of culture. 

Over the weekend, J and I watched Cave of Forgotten Dreams, Herzog's 2010 award winning documentary (available on iTunes). The film haunted our weekend and sent us back to the Macritchie nature reserve on an incredibly hot and sticky afternoon.

"Cave of Forgotten Dreams" official trailer on Youtube

The drawings of mammoths, rhinoceros, lions, cave bears, bisons, antelope and horses in herds, singly or locked in battle are large, some 6 feet long. The bodies of animals are often drawn in one elegant, sinuous line. Their faces, however, are shaded in - and display surprising detail and animation. There is only one drawing of a human figure, of what looks like the lower half of a female body, juxtaposed against a bison's head. From this comes the film's title. Herzog explains - in Picasso's series of drawings of minotaurs one sees this prehistoric drawing, as if man's eternal visions had visited Picasso; from one artist to another, a ghost of a dream.

The cave is closed to visitors. So we know we are getting through Herzog's documentary a rare and precious 2 hour glimpse back into 30,000 years. The camera moves your gaze across these drawings countless times. Once with a palaeontologist's voiceover. Once with the cave's "curator" giving her personal tour. Another time with Herzog's crew. You see these drawings as if they were recurring visions.

The landscape that surrounds this hidden cave (hidden because a massive rock wall had collapsed and covered its entrance for thousands of years) is itself hauntingly beautiful. A massive arch, carved by nature, frames an emerald water body. On either sides the limestone (?) walls are ragged and pale, harsh and soft at the same time.

Image by J, taken at MacRitchie

You are drawn into this timeless landscape of nature and art. Your mind wanders and sees mammoths, wooly rhinoceros, lions and bisons roaming the high plains, the limestone turned into ice.  And in that landscape there are these human figures.

In the documentary, Herzog finds and interviews one of the archaeologists. Herzog has a knack for finding the odd ones (and it is lovely to find so many dedicated professionals in the film!). The young archaeologist was previously a circus performer who shared that after a week in the caves he had to take a break because he is haunted by dreams of lions. Then there is a master perfumer (President of the French association of perfumers, no less!) who has retired and so walks and sniffs the earth, and he is invited to sniff the cave for the traces of bear and to record the scents of time. Another interviewee talks of culture.

And so culture. We are taught to think of archaeology and all the technology that allows lasers to map the inside of the cave as science. And hence, not of the arts. But culture is broader. It is the sum of what makes us human. Our choices. Our creations. Our relations. Our expressions and projections of who we are.

Image by J, taken at MacRitchie

In the cave there are also prints made from a a red pigment thrown on the stone walls against a hand. There are multiple handprints of someone with a crooked last finger.

Who is man? A print. Hands that make. The bottom half of a woman's body - from where we are born. Knower of animals. Hunter of animals.

That weekend I read also magazine articles of forgotten genocides, 100 years old; and today's wars, with already forgotten deaths. What defines human culture in time, as much as the works of art we create and leave behind, are our acts violence against one another, our violence against the animals we are given to live alongside and our violence against the environment we live in.

We don't always have to make and invent - the fecundity of our imagination, laboratories and factories, oh enough already - we sometimes just need to cherish and protect, and not destroy.

So friends, if you have not taken a quiet ramble across our lovely MacRitchie nature reserve, do so. And you will know why it must be cherished and protected.


Not for a memory

Never have I seen so many different butterflies in a day.

It's been months since we last ran or took a walk in the MacRitchie Nature Reserve. Today, butterflies accompanied us all along our midday trail from MacRitchie to Bukit Timah. They swooped, fluttered, flitted, floated, danced and circled the dirt and gravel - into the undergrowth - rested to draw on the salty earth and to feast the decay - teasing our watchful chase. Something is always dying and being made anew in the forest.

When I got home I was eager to record their colours and patterns before the memory faded. But J decided that the forest looked best instead in black and white today. This picture was a kind of  compromise. J vetoed two dainty yellows.

There should be no compromise, however, for protecting and preserving as much as possible of this nature on our tropical island. Certainly not for the subway, highway, or even flats for newly wedded lovers.


huat together

Friends, amps wish you all a year of love, contentment and giving - huat together!


Donald Judd and I at 23:12, 23/12/2015

I was reading about American artist Donald Judd in Apartamento. And it happened.

With all the hype about "craft" and "making", and the general ease with which we customise, create, mass produce and distribute with the digital media, there's so much noise to get distracted by and lost in.

Donald Judd with his objects in space, these cumbersome boxy things. And his ranches. The arid land. The angular boulder walls that do nothing but stand in space. 

Since I was a teenager I always made books. Picture books. Word books. There was the typewriter, water colour, and transfer type. The photocopy machine at times. Ring binders, thread and needle. Cloth and cardboard, glue and duct tape. Fancy paper and paper made fancy. 

The name Donald Judd sounded familiar. But really, I've never really seen his art before. He died in 1994. 

I wondered how it happened, that I stopped making books. The last was Kidnap Bob in 2005 perhaps. I got calculative. I started to think about why, who, and how. It got complex. 

Donald Judd left a whole lot of land, ranches and houses - and debt - to his children. The article in Apartamento was an interview with them, their memories growing up on these ranches, and what they were doing with the houses now.

J says that I just like to do and do, and not think. My revelation from Donald Judd is this: it's not about not thinking, it's about not calculating. It was more enjoyable just making the books. It's ok to just create.

So friends, that's what I want to share with you as the year draws to a close. Everything is really quite simple when you create with what you have, and not think too much about what you don't have. And most of the time, you have plenty. 


Thank you for the Good Sweat!

Photo by Edward Teo

Sometimes when I take a pause and look back 10 years back when we were just messing around making Tshirts under "ampulets supplies", I realise how time has flown by and how much older we've become - after J quit being an employee in 2006 to start his design studio under the "ampulets" name as well, plus "Neighbourgoods" in 2012.  It's important to not take things too seriously, I think. We need to just feel the ground we walk on, breathe, and keep mostly still. The important things in life never change. And they are never complex.

Anyway, read J's reflections on ampulets' third edition of Good Sweat under his studio's product label Neighbourgoods:


Rhythms and repetitions in Taipei 2015

Photo by J - Taipei night light

It's old news that some things in Taipei don't change...and neither does the itinerary of our visit every other year. [See http://ampulets.blogspot.sg/search/label/taiwan for past trips]

But as with every trip, we would always discover a few nice new spots in the city.  Here are some that we were at first loathe to share because we wanted them to ourselves, but hey, our friends and the city have been generous to us, so we can only be generous back!


Good Sweat again!

Good Sweat is a project that is always very close to our hearts because it allows us to work with folks we admire in a simple but meaningful way. And for J, it is right up his preachy alley. 

So while we thought hard about whether we should bring it back, when we finally decided to do it, we had an even harder time thinking about who to feature - there are just too many people whose work and person we love, and who embody the spirit of sweating the Good Sweat!

This year, we are real pleased these 5 individuals agreed to come on board:
  • Kenny Leck / BooksActually, J calls him his favourite Ah Beng bookseller whose tenacity and persistence can only be admired.
  • Theseus Chan / WORK, J's nickname for Theseus is the "Godfather of Singapore design". Theseus is a real gem, too cool for words!  
  • Tan Pin Pin, a dear friend and our all time favourite filmmaker who gave J his first "job"almost 10 years ago when he quit his "proper" job.
  • Edwin Low / Supermama, I don't know how he does the things he do. But when we first stumbled upon Supermama years ago when they had first opened at Seah Street, we didn't think such a store was possible in Singapore. 
  • Carrie Yeo / The Freshman. How many indie singers in mandarin do you know? How not to admire someone who pursues their dream everyday?

And of course, J cannot resist adding in one more phrase for the 6th hankie this year. 

This year, each Good Sweat hankie also comes with a calendar-poster that features all 12 phrases from 2010, 2012 and 2015.

As with 2012, we will be making a donation in the name of the project and from the sales to a charity. Most likely it will be to the same charity as 2012 - the Chen Su Lan Methodist Home for Children.

Each time it is always challenging finding companies in Singapore who will work with us in making these handkerchiefs. Partly because J is very particular about the quality of the work and people whom he feels he can trust. Secondly it is hard finding the right fabric. Thirdly, embroidery of the elaborate traditional/繁體 Chinese characters on thinner and finer fabric is more difficult to perfect...and more costly as a result. So we were real chuffed to find a young Singapore company Kamilinen to work with, using 100% linen from ethically sound sources. We like their youthful enthusiasm and attitude to doing good work.

So friends, check out our Neighbourhoods site for the latest www.neighbourgoods.sg; or like us on FB www.facebook.com/Neighbourgoods/ to not miss out anything.
copyright ampulets 2005-2015