Monday, July 29, 2013

Every Song Is A Time Machine


I was sitting in the back of the van. Or it could have been somewhere in the middle. I fail to remember the exact seating arrangements as we made our way back from abseiling and rock climbing.

Aberystwyth, Wales. That was a scary experience. I have to admit that the balls I had at the time were considerably (and metaphorically, I hasten to add) smaller; though I have now developed an attitude akin to “I’ll try anything once”, at the time the fear of heights, as well as the unappetising collection of rocks many feet below was enough to make me tap and remove my gear a lot quicker than I had put them on.

I did, however, manage to do some rock-climbing. Perhaps it is the feeling of going up, and of extending muscles to truly make that happen. Dropping down at a pace not controlled entirely by myself, with less effort, was probably something that was not wired consciously into my mind. I had enjoyed that, and it would become something of a minor activity I would indulge in some years later.

We then packed up our stuffs and headed to the center we temporarily call home, packing the van with the 15 or so public school boys that we were. The night before was one of the first nights I’ve spent away from my family, and the farting competitions were of tremendous entertainment value.

As such, you can imagine the kind of stuff we got up to in the van.

The cassette player (or was it the radio?) played its music, grinding through some selection of songs before reaching Oasis’s Don’t Look Back In Anger. A recent hit, it made its way through the speakers, and the opening strains of the song almost immediately silenced everyone.

“Slip inside the eye of your mind…don’t you know you might find…a better place to play…”

The opening words was not something everyone knew. You know of the song, but you know what it’s like; anyone who attended a concert will know that the one, single unifying point of any song is rarely the opening few verses.

It was, is and forevermore shall be the chorus that gets our juices flowing.

And it was from this moment on, from this second, that a new memory was created, one that would be revisited time and time again in the near and far future. Anywhere I am in the world, whatever I am doing, I would be taken back to this very event in my life.

By now, the entire group sang along, everyone far more confident in the numbers.

“And so Sally can wait…she knows it’s too late as we’re walking on by…”

A song allows us to step through and back in time, a memory, an event, a life-altering moment hailed by the rhythm and verses of a musical creation.

Even if we have no particular preference for the song, or any inclination to buy the album and single, it drags us back, ripping through time and space, to the moment when that memory would be created.

“Her soul...slides away...”

You can disagree with me, but I do believe that every song is a time machine.

“Well don’t look back in anger…don’t look back in anger…I heard you say...”

At least not today.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Orientalist Pastiche – Pacific Rim


"This movie serves not so much as something completely and utterly new, but as an homage, as a self-aware text, as a film that does not in any way seek to be taken seriously whatsoever. It has the Asians deifying the White People, but it knows that. It has the Americans coming in to save the day, but that’s OK…it’s played by a Brit, in a film featuring other Brits directed by a Mexican."

An excerpt of a Pacific Rim film review I wrote for Thoughts on Films.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Finding the truth in Malaysian media


"The dissemination of news, or rather the platform of it, becomes not so much a method with which people gain their information, but a way of finding the ‘truths’ that fit with our own identity. We are , then, the news we read and accept; whether an analysis written is great or otherwise depends in large parts on how much we agree with the content. Or perhaps, to be more precise, how the content agrees with us."

An excerpt from an article I wrote for JOM Magazine.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Of Life and Death


If ever proof is needed that the arts covers the heart, as well as the mind, then Bill Viola may well be the artist to provide it. Dealing mainly with video installations, his works, concentrating on “the human form traversing the gap between heaven and eart, suspended between light and darkness, time and eternity, life and death.”

These concepts are on display at his exhibition, entitled 'Transfigurations'. Initially, it brought to mind the Harry Potter movies, in which the transfiguration spell allows a person to change into another being, like an animal. While this may appear comical to begin with, the same concept works here. The human body, indeed, the human life, is a constantly dynamic process, always in the act of changing from one form to the other. Physically, our bodies changes its shape and size, as we grow older and bigger. We also move closer, day by day, to the other end of the spectrum of life; from the day that we are born, our ultimate end is the end of life itself.

We see this, then, being described in various ways. In 'Transfiguration', 'Three Woman' and 'Acceptance', the video shows various people (mainly woman) in grainy, black-and-white compositions. They move closer and further away from us, crossing the divide between light and dark. At times, the human form disappears completely into the darkness, suggesting overtones of life's end. However, this is where the most interesting thing occurs: in seeing the darkness, I find myself trying to impose on the composition a form I am seeing in my own mind. By concentrating harder, I can't help but extricate small bits of clarity in the darkness. The graininess also contributes to this, as its ambiguity suggests that the difference between life and death is not that big.

The following art works, 'The Innocents', 'Small Saints' and 'The Arrangement', plays on similar themes, with the figures stepping forwards and backwards through the wall of water. To some, water signifies life, and the journey to go through the water, and getting wet, signifies life in a way. The video installation of 'Lover's Path' seems more like an abstract short film than anything else. However, the journey clear plays on the theme once again, as the couple walk through the dark forest, and their journey ends at the sea.

My favourite piece, however, is the 'Five Angels for the Millennium'. Unlike the previous works, it was quicker for me to understand this piece of work. Similar to 'Transfigurations', I find myself imposing features on the dark, underwater environment. The sudden entrance of a human body into the mix breaks this trance, but captures my attention even more. The video, which I am convinced is film upside down, sees the human body going deeper and deeper into the bottom of the ocean, sinking further into the darkness of death. At the same time, however, as the body is positioned to move upwards, there is this sense that the soul has the ability to go to heaven as well. It is this juxtaposition that I find incredibly interesting.

Thus, Bill Viola manages to capture life and death in his video installations. He manages these in different ways, and some works are not as effective as others. Using light and dark to show this journey, it is an emotional journey that satisfies the heart as well as the mind.

*A write up about the Transfigurations exhibition in the summer of 2008.