work in progress

On our walk after lunch one day, J spotted a strange "flower" rising above the general mess of green along the road. So we took a closer look. And wow - it was botanical skyscraper architecture! Some ants had created a sort of nest by sealing up the leaves at the end of a branch, resulting in a rather elegant bubble-like tent, with only the slightest of gap between two leaves to serve as an entranceway.

Two animated films and several documentaries later, ants are still fascinating. Regardless of shape or colour, you seldom see them still. They are always in the process of getting somewhere, doing something. In fact, those crazy black species that seem to run randomly around (J and I recently found out that they really are just called "Crazy Black Ants") are like a species created specially to parody their more purposeful cousins - they are the fastest, most frantic, most busy, but also the most seemingly lost.

When I took this year off work, I thought I would have more time to get some stories and drawings done (other than the dissertation, of course). Compared with last year, there are possibly a few more drawings. But it suffices to say that my productivity does not agree with my ambitions. It is a pace of work and living that is, as a friend recently put it, "utopian". I have thought of it as "Australian", recalling an Australian uncle's description of his 8.30-4.30 workday with morning, lunch and tea breaks thrown in.

Taken out of the context of formal, paid employment in any organisation, i.e. "a job", work can assume a freer definition. For example:

(1) Keeping clean the environment J and I live (and work) in is work. On one hand, it is work that reminds me how futile any work can be. The dust gathers, you sweep it up, it gathers again, you wipe it away, it gathers, you vacuum it up, it gathers... you get the picture. On the other, it is work that is necessary and labour that is gratifying in its immediacy.

(2) Getting the research done and writing up the dissertation is work. It is self-directed, satisfies a certain intellectual curiosity and, hopefully, brings more understanding and practical support to the arts. Technically, this could count as my only paid work* this year.

(3) Drawing is work. Besides the illustrations that were made in collaboration with J for Tiger Translate and Union, all the other drawings don't have a "client" or public platform as yet. But it is work that is enjoyable - an exercise of the mind/eye/hand to make visible and communicative what otherwise are fleeting ideas and stories.

(4) Helping J with the administrative bits for his design projects is work. It is work that, mechanically, most resembles a job - except there is no personal monetary profit plus CPF at the end of the month... (are you reading this, boss J?)

(5) Giving time to some community-led projects is work. On this list, it is the activity least like work. Yet it is a kind of labour that reflects all aspects of this list so far.

None of it is "work" in the way I would have defined a year ago. It is labour, but not laborious. There are no real externally-driven "KPIs" or financial profit, but it remains fruitful. I would like to go so far as to agree with the friend that it is "utopian", but it isn't. It isn't imagined. It is also not without financial conditions, especially considering the realities of the economic climate: i.e. I am aided by a generous scholarship* that gives me a monthly paycheck, for which there is a reasonable three-year service bond. In this sense, it is not "Australian", but very "Singaporean". ;>


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