a light spirit

light spirit - from an old sketch

Walking home after lunch today, we saw 2 boys walking toward us, one holding a can of lemonade. We did not know them, but they were - without doubt - neighbourhood boys.
Y: Hey, did you smell that?
J: Yup.
Y: Those boys just sniffed glue huh?
J: [turns around] He's still sniffing. See.
Y: I wonder why...what on earth can be so compelling about that smell? And the damage to your brain cells!
J: I don't know. It's the same for people who wake up and immediately start to drink beer, or need to have a smoke. Maybe it numbs or relaxes, leaves a good feeling.
Y: I guess, I can understand how having a smoke can be relaxing... but things at the human level - they're strange, aren't they - smoke, glue, alcohol. Whichever government or culture, for all the talk the big time folks do at parliament, it can seem so removed from these smaller realities.

So this explains the empty tins of tiger brand glue or some other solvent by the large monsoon drain, their contents poured into less conspicuous lemonade cans.

Later that day, J and I overcame our dislike of musicals and watched Georgette, a musical by a young writer and a team of "volunteer"/amateur performers. It was surprisingly enjoyable - well-paced, clever funny lyrics, and a spirited performance by the cast. Of course, that it was about one of Singapore's pioneer artists that had probably the most dramatic biographies helped. (Picture on the right is a Self-portrait of Georgette Chen from the SAM collection)

There's a song I'll call "a bowl of fruit" - this being the refrain. Anyway, "a bowl of fruit" is sung when Georgette Chen is at her own gallery show in New York and she introduces a painting done in Malaya of rambutans and jambu fruit. The artist, apart from her husband Eugene Chen (a Chinese foreign minister - picture on the left is Georgette Chen's portrait of him), had wanted to preserve a slice of her Malayan experience for him. Fruits may rot, but a painting of them will not. But there is nothing really striking or radical about it - it is, after all, just another still life. In the play, however, her husband, upon seeing the painting, launches into song about "a bowl of fruit" -praising the solidity and assurance of the painted "bowl of fruit" against the chaos and confusion of the impending war between China and Japan.

OK, so it's really rather corny. But I wonder if a part of modernism was this - a belief that the artistic form is of an enduring reality and meaning, even if it cannot hold off a war. And that war itself, not art, was the ephemeral one, its devastation will be powerless and can eventually be overcome.

A can of lemonade, a bowl of fruit - intoxicants all.

See some of Georgette Chen's works here.


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