The State of Motion: A Tour of Rediscovery

I have to admit I was never much of a history buff. Still, the one afternoon retracing and relearning the history of local Cinema made me realize how grave a misconception I had, in thinking that the early Singapore was a cultural desert. The tour was almost an imploration to uncover my historical narrative again - not just where we came from, but how far our roots in art and culture have propagated.

This was the State of Motion tour that I was on, a twin programme (tour and exhibition) organized by Asian Film Archive, and a precious product of the extensive research done by artist and filmmaker, Toh Hun Ping. 



Armed only with excerpts from Cathay-Keris films shown to us and a head full of curiosity, the group of us packed into a cozy van that transported us to places of the past. Interestingly, the directors of Cathay-Keris films advocated shooting only on locations, using spaces such as existing kampongs and fusing popular spots to string the physical and imaginary narrative. 



We arrived at Outram Park, where Outram Prison once used to be. Unsurprisingly, it is now a barren field, with a surrealism heightened by an artwork that resembled a labyrinth of white mesh. It was meant to be a collaborative piece - encouraging more democratic forms of memorialization - but knowing that I could write whatever on the artist’s work actually made me feel nervous. Isn’t this monument too sacred to be drawn on? Yet, as I watched others pen their thoughts and well-wishes, I started to understand how art could coax our reflective process. 



The rest of the tour rolled forward nicely, save for the rain that burdened us with ponchos; we strolled down Queen Elizabeth Walk listening to the bizzare whisperings from an audio guide, I imagining myself as the lovesick protagonist in the film My Darling Love (1965). At Kampong Siglap, we were educated on the nuances of Sumpah Pontianak (1958); though the film appears to be a horror flick, it reflected the anxieties of society then, embodied in the female form. Along Pilot East Coast, the sculpture of a bus stop made of sand referenced the film Mat Tiga Suku (1965), but more ingeniously, made us question the notion of displacement and re-think the idea of a mirage.

That was what I found meaningful about the afternoon. It wasn't a mere lesson on films of the past, nor simply a revisit of locations that were filmed in the past, but a genuine provocation of thought through art, seeing, and being. 



Though at times, because the films had such vivid imagery (and memorably kitschy tunes), it was hard to reconcile its scenes with the actual locations today. Like how a quiet estate of private houses was a thriving kampong a mere 50 years ago. It was a rather bittersweet experience - witnessing how much we have progressed, yet knowing that all these quaint, singular spaces will never be again.

While I ended the tour feeling a little more knowledgable, there was also the painful awareness of how our history has been left behind. I would never sell nostalgia, but I do think that even as we reimagine a future in these evolving landscapes, the curiosity to discover our heritage should be ever expanding.

Written by Amelia Tan


State of Motion was a bus tour that retraced lost monuments of Singapore captured on film, with Singaporean artist and filmmaker, Toh Hun Ping through his extensive research on 20th century Singapore films and their filming locations. With a focus on a selection of classic Cathay-Keris films, audiences went on a trip to these film locations where an artwork responding to both the film and its site awaits them. 

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