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Ghosts and Spectres digs up the past
THERE are two sides to every story - so the old adage goes. The idea is that the truth value of a story can be a nebulous thing that depends on who is telling it. But at the same time, we are taught history as a matter of immovable fact. It is understood to be an official record of the key dates, significant places and pivotal people who have shaped the world.
And yet, the word "history" shares much of its lineage with the word "story". The word "history" entered the English language in the 1300s to mean "relation of incidents, story".
Ghosts and Spectres --Shadows of History presents the works of four artists: Ho Tzu Nyen (Singapore), Apichatpong Weerasethakul (Thailand), Nguyen Trinh Thi (Vietnam) and Park Chan-kyong (South Korea).
Curated by Ute Meta Bauer, founding director of NTU CCA Singapore,and Khim Ong, Deputy Director of Curatorial Programmes(See amendment note) the exhibition explores the role of the vernacular, examining myths, rituals and oral histories that are not widely discussed beyond local communities. What is provoked is a scrutiny of what is left out in the writing of historical narratives.
Each artist engages with his respective social and geopolitical contexts to investigate his own cultural histories in post-war and Cold War Asia. The works presented are complex, multi-layered video installations and films that merge fact and fiction.
Ho's The Nameless (2015) explores the ambivalent role of communism in Malaya through the shadowy figure of Lai Teck. The infamous Sino-Vietnamese triple agent embodied the political forces that influenced South-east Asian history in the 20th century. The counterpart work, The Name (2015), looks at the little-known writer Gene Z Hanrahan, author of The Communist Struggle in Malaya.
Letters from Panduranga (2015) by Nguyen delves into the Cham people in an area formerly known as Panduranga. The spiritual centre of the Cham and their last surviving territory, it is also the site where the Vietnamese government intends to build their first nuclear power plants. The artist's documentary film Love Man Love Woman (2007) illuminates the struggles of the Vietnamese gay community which finds solace from discrimination and isolation in the ancient religion of Dao Mau, or Mother Goddess Worship.
Park's Citizen's Forest (2016) examines the idea of collective trauma through the traditional shamanistic ritual of spirit-exorcism believed to heal historical trauma. He references the tragedies of modern South Korean history in stark contrast to what he perceives to be a cultural amnesia brought on by rapid economic growth.
Fireworks (Archives) (2014) by Weerasethakul takes the viewer on a nocturnal journey through Sala Keoku. The Buddhist-Hindu garden on the Thai-Lao border is famed for its fantastical sculptures of mythical creatures. The site was previously a military target as it was believed to be a hiding place for communists.
The installation recalls the disjointed snippets that make up our dreams and memories. It explores how their fleeting, liminal nature contributes to a fragmentary understanding of the world.
Ghosts and Spectres is an exhibition that stands in stark contrast to its current political context. Just last month, US President Donald Trump made headlines for attributing the violence that occurred at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia to "many sides".
The widespread outrage his response provoked stemmed from the troubling fact that he seemed to be distancing himself from a denouncement of neo-Nazism, choosing instead to ambiguously shift blame and explain away the violence.
In this climate, the exhibition poses urgent and pertinent questions about the role of power, authority, omission and oppression in the construction of historical narratives.
An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the exhibition was curated by Ute Meta Bauer, founding director of NTU CCA Singapore, alone. The article above has been revised to reflect this.
- Ghosts and Spectres - Shadows of History runs from Sept 1 to Nov 19 at NTU Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore.