image by J - from the fashion themed gallery
J and I went to take a look inside the newly re-opened National Museum this evening - and we loved it. Well, to be precise, these were what we loved:
(1) the restoration, extension and renovation works to the building by W Architects (Mok Wei Wei) with CPG Consultants. It created a sense of space we did not think was possible in Singapore - not the space that came with having miles of shopping floor, nor the empty granite hollows of our train stations. Instead, the unobtrusive glass and stone created new public spaces from or with the plastered surfaces of the 19th century building that were, consequently, at times grand, intimate or expansive. These spaces felt both storied and yet to be written.
image by Y & J
(2)the large LED wall installation by artist Matthew Ngui titled The building remembers/Remembering the building. The wall of LED lights captured and "reflected" images of the visitors standing before it, both in real time but sometimes in also recorded time. As such, there were stretches when instead of seeing your own immediate LED image, all you saw were random images instead of people who had stood before the wall seconds or minutes ago - creating these abstract patterns of bodies past and passing. When unlit, you would not guess that it was an LED light wall. All you saw was a stone-like surface of black that appeared as if it was a slice of the Fort Canning Hill behind the museum.
Y looks better in LED - image by J
ampulets reckon this wall would be a hit with the school kids.
(3) the things people wrote as a document of their lives, loves and their island's life. It may be my bias for words, but what struck me as I walked through the fascinating "Singapore Story" galleries that attempted to trace this island's history from the 13th century was the centrality and importance of writing as a record - perhaps even greater than image, taste or sound. Because the written word endures, not only physically or literally, but also as an evocation and an invocation of the past, the present and truth.
on the left is the Temasek Stone, supposedly the earliest stone text found on the island; and on the right are manuscripts of the Malay Annals which I want now, more than ever, to read - image by Y
the back of a pair of movie tickets from the 60s, on which a man/woman has written down his love - from the "film" gallery. Click for flickr view & J's translation of the text - image by J
(4) the possibility of return visits because there's really that much more to see. I especially recommend the "Singapore Story" galleries, or rather, the galleries that begin from the new rotunda extension. Go with the audio aid, which is easy to navigate and makes the entire visit so much more meaningful. The themed galleries on the second floor (on "food", "fashion", "film" etc) are disappointingly superficial, despite the profusion of fancy "experiential" displays. They pander to nostalgia, but fail mostly to scratch beyond that cosy wooly surface.
The "film" gallery is the themed gallery I enjoyed and would revisit. Maybe it is because, unlike food, film is an aspect of our modern history young islanders know the least of. Or maybe it is because films are themselves documents - unlike food or fashion, which have been presented only as objects of consumption - and have been curated as documents.
Y having tea with the colonial tai-tais - darling, that's just so yawn-making, you should go to the national museum instead
Well, the weekend's coming up - so you know now how to spend it!
The museum's opening festival runs 2-31 December. There're film screenings, performances, and - hey, there's the history itself.