Wednesday, June 06, 2012

The state of the arts

Since last week, strange yellow circles began appearing at different locations on the floors of our neighbourhood void decks. Now it's clear what they are meant for.

What's interesting about them is that they are painted on by stencil in a public location. They present information in the form of text and graphics, but they are dry, humourless and terse. Obviously not meant as art, but they have a legitimate purpose for their presence in the public eye.

This public service is in direct contrast with what's been happening with the so-called 'sticker lady' and her attempts to perform her blend of design and cultural commentary, within the context it is relevant. Her unilateral action to paste authority-impersonating wry stickers on public amenities and stencil officious-looking, yet irreverent text on public roads has met the ire of the authorities whose duty it is to maintain public order.

There was no doubt in anybody's mind that she would get into trouble. I doubt she had any illusions about that. But she went and did it anyway; to give passers-by a chuckle and wonder at the mystery over the identity of this bold individual thumbing his?her? nose at the norms of civil society, at least while it lasted. Her art was not in the design of the stickers or the stenciled text themselves but in the performance of placing them where they could be found and making her audience connect with her observations of Singaporean life.

Since her arrest, the artist has ignited a public debate over what is art and what constitutes public nuisance. This coming from a nation that once had no time and no energy for such impractical, unprofitable considerations. This is an artist's highest achievement: to be talked about; to have a people challenge the once comfortable cut-and-dried standards and values that underpin their culture; to push the boundaries of what is accepted so that we start to think about what we stand for instead of blindly accepting status quo without question.

Perhaps I may be over-romanticizing her objectives. It could be that all she wanted was a little fun, that's all. But whether she's right or wrong, let's just say if she didn't get into trouble with the powers that be, her performance would have fallen flat. Her statement would have been pointless and meaningless, worthy of an lol comment on Facebook, but little else.

So don't feel sorry for her. Rather, respect her as a true artist who has given her all for the sake of her art. Whether she wins or loses in court, this entire performance with its slow, patient build-up and mass audience participation scores a total WIN.

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