Ai WeiWei at the Mori Museum, Tokyo - all images by J
Three conversations (or rants) about "Why Not?"
(1) The "Why Nots" of Old
Over a cup of coffee in Katong, a good friend was recalling his years growing up in Toa Payoh. He said, or as I recall him recalling, "everyday I would hear this: don't bother, this is not for you; yes others can do it, but you must understand what you are capable of; you don't have to try so hard, just focus on...When I was much older, I suddenly realise, f*** it, I can do whatever it is I set my mind to do."
It's never too late, friends.
The devil at the door
(2) Art and "Why Not?"
After a discussion with some folks about the arts in Singapore and what they want or see in the future, I felt a little depressed but did not know why. Everything I heard was linked, in one way or other, about what we could "realistically hope for". They were not entirely wrong. With limited resources in an absolute sense - finances, talent, physical space, lived heritage - it seems the wise thing to set our sights more "strategically". Tonight, after some sake, I suddenly realised why that conversation was so depressing. Isn't there something about the spirit behind artistic discipline that is about what others would not "realistically hope for", but nonetheless worth believing in and pursuing.
Perhaps this is why the artist and the manager will always be at odds. In the best of situations, the tensions and relationship between the two can bring about great work. Of course, I think this is a statement of the hopeful realist.
Nature, design by God
(3) "Why Not" is not just whimsy
J was telling me about the publicity material for this year's Singapore Design Festival that he had noticed on the MRT trains. The tagline for its campaign was" Why Not?" He remembered one of the train advertisements - "Edible Buildings. Why not?" His complaint: why must art or design always be promoted as a kind of cute, whimsical proposition when it has all the power and ability to change the world for better? His alternatives: "A world without petrol. Why not?" "Cycling lanes in Singapore. Why not?" I can understand his frustration. The whimsical is valuable, but art and design can often be limited by popular perception and even marketing to this one realm.
However, don't let this little advertising blip discourage you from checking out the many varied events being organised as part of this year's Singapore Design Festival. Keep an open mind, listen, observe, and there'll always be lots to learn - and question.