'Banjir Kemarau' (Flooding in Time of Drought) by Sherman Ong


Having heard so much about some of the pieces like Apitchapong's Morekat and the alien installation piece, I finally paid a visit to the Singapore Biennale. Sporadic in its location, it is mostly anchored by its 2 main spots at City Hall and South Beach Development.

A friend once expressed to me that compared to visual and fine arts, cinema is so much younger - probably 1000 years. Hence, who are we to dismiss sometimes alienating, inaccessible pieces as trashy indulgence. I must admit I am a bit underexposed to fine arts. So, I literally peered into every piece on display.
Sherman Ong was the only filmmaker whose work was presented. He has 2 pieces of video work - Drought and Flood. I think I watched Flood because there was a lot of water dripping sound plugged into the film. Meant to be conceptual in its form, it showcases several characters who are all foreign immigrants in Singapore. The mise-en-scene is minimal and consists largely of stationery wide-shots. The dialogue is naturalistic but the setting borders on the surreal because of its visual bareness. Like Hashi, I remembered more space than characters. Interestingly, these were all indoor shots. With the characters speaking in their mother tongues, I sometimes forgot they were all in Singapore. Like Hashi and perhaps his works, you feel as if all he did was plant the camera. So the actors simply 'get on with their screen lives', the space dimensions remain the same throughout only broken by the actors who enter and exit, making you imagine the larger works beyond the stationery rectangle.

Because the actors never really face the camera and the distance is respected, we are forced to contemplate on the interaction between the more emotional humanistic part of the film respresented by the actors and the conceptual part represented by the spaces and context. I most vividly remember a scene between a Korean couple. The wife shares her dream (like in Hashi) to her husband. It is peverse and brutal. And it involves a monster who rapes her. When she is finished, her husband non-chalantly says that he is the monster. While challenging in its message, somehow it had an impact closer to a twitch than a shake-up. But that might also be because my buttock muscles were aching under my weight while watching it on the floor.
I chanced upon this comment left on the biennale blog. It was the title caught my attention first - precisely my first reaction when watching Hashi.
Here is an interview with Sherman Ong by my friend, Loo Zihan, another very bold filmmaker.
A full explanation of his work 'Banjir Kemarau' http://shermanong.blogspot.com/search/label/Biennale

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