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Then, Now

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Description of campaign/project

This work appropriates political speeches, documentaries and state-commissioned National Day music videos, juxtaposed with the artist’s own footages to reveal the multi-faceted nature of national identity. Singapore as envisioned in the 1960s was remarkably different from today, brimming with nationalistic pride. However, in the name of economic progress, Singapore has inevitably embraced capitalism and shook off its nationalistic overcoat. In a less than a century, Singapore has transformed itself from a kampong slum into a city-state boasting great wealth. The artist is intrigued at what costs did it take to procure this material wealth and if such material wealth translates to a cohesive national identity.

I used various communication approaches to this work. One, I used found footage such as state-commissioned National Day music videos and recontextualize it. Two, I used multiple screens to associate various videos to create new meaning. Each video/screen on its own has its own self-reference, but by playing with multiple screens, meaning is created through a web relation.

My work dissects assumed parameters that define Singapore-ness. From the documentaries, speeches and music videos, I revealed the disjuncture between the projected and the actual. And through this process, reveal that national identity exists in a constant flux between a projection into the future and the present.

The work was part inspired by the artist’s experience living overseas. The idea of nationality or race did not occur to him. He saw himself first, as a Singaporean, then a Chinese. However, he found himself confounded when people saw him first as a Chinese, coming from Mainland China. Yet, he has no affinity with the place. It then occurred to him that his individual identity is intertwined with the history of the young nation called Singapore. I have come to accept the complexity of national and personal identity in a globalized world.

Curators comments More info on Curators & Editors ›

Hi Benjamin, Benedict,

This project is very interesting both conceptually and aesthetically, addressing a subject that is marginally represented, if at all, in the 'west'. In all honesty, in order to curate this work with any sort of contextual understanding, I have had to read up on the history and current state of Singapore, and was surprised by how little I know of its turbulent history, and of its current global position as one of the wealthiest nations in the world. The contrasts you address in your project description are fascinating, and I am eager to learn more.

As I don't have a strong grasp of the context from which this work arises, I will focus my comments on the aesthetic and communicational aspects of the work. The use of multi-screen video and the running text is very engaging, and the supporting soundtrack enhances the experience.

I noticed as I was watching the video, I was mainly drawn towards the speech text (what is the source?), while at times the peripheral imagery (especially when it changed scenes) would gain my attention. It is interesting how the imagery shifted in perception from background to foreground information, and how it becomes "read" in an almost subconcious way. I feel the typographic treatment of the text could have been slightly better considered. Viewing it online, it is a bit difficult to read at times, and I wonder if the pacing and treatment could have been slightly more expressive.

The choice of footage in the top frames and its repetitive treatment works well, the contrast between the historic footage and what I read to be "nationalist" propaganda is striking and revealing, creating an evocative and slightly disturbing dialectic across time. Literally framing the political speech in the centre, creates a "trialectic" that very clearly illustrates and describes the fragmented identity you mention in your description.

The (original?) footage at the bottom of the video intrigues me, as it is here that I feel you are actively making your mark, and positioning yourselves as artists. Within it (and aided by the ominous soundtrack), there seems to be an implicit critique of the consumer/capitalist culture that has "replaced" the national identity in Singapore. However, perhaps given it's positioning and scale, but I think also due to the footage itself, it feels a bit ambiguous.

"The artist is intrigued at what costs did it take to procure this material wealth and if such material wealth translates to a cohesive national identity."

I'm not exactly sure how to read the video as a whole. It certainly reveals the complexity of Singapore's national identity, and is a trigger for reflection and thought, but (perhaps as an outsider) I don't have a clear take away in regards to your position. Perhaps this ambiguity is intentional, but I can't help but feel that the critique I sense could be strengthened or clarified through aesthetic means while still presenting the complexity of the situation. Though symbols of capitalist society and its associated "ennui" are presented, I wonder if stronger "arguments" could have been presented for how this has actually transformed Singapore's society in your eyes. From my cursory reading, Singapore seems to be a stunning example of the quick transition from colonialism to an extreme market capitalism, and your video raises issues around this, but without additional context I am left wanting to understand more from people currently living under these conditions.

Your video has whet my appetite for further understanding, and I look forward to seeing additional artistic work that addresses these issues.

View other works commented by Kevin Yuen-Kit Lo  ››

Other comments

8 years, 1 month ago

Hey Kevin,

Thank you for selecting our work and for your generous feedback.

First, I will address the idea of this work. The quotes are excerpts from speeches in the 1960s by the “founding father” of Singapore, Mr Lee Kuan Yew. As I was going through his speeches, it revealed this utopian aspiration where every man and woman has a right to a dignified life. It revealed many anti-colonial sentiments and a fight for just and fair society. After independence, the country quickly embraced free market enterprise. In here, lie many contradictions. Firstly, there is nothing radical about the shift from colonialism to capitalism. The shift merely represents a change in approach in regards to extracting resources. Secondly, Mr Lee espoused socialism in his speeches yet invited many MNCs to utilize our cheap labour in the early decades. Lastly, we are known to the world for our free market policies, yet the government through share purchases owns many big local companies. It was this various contradictions that informed this work.

It is because of these various contradictions, both present and in the past, that I felt the work had to be ambiguous. To me, it seems almost inevitable to embrace this new form of colonialism or Singapore would not progress forward. It was these various ideas and elements, past and present, which I felt a 9-screen approach would work. But this meant that the work had to be projected as opposed to an online viewing. Maybe I could have made better aesthetical decisions. Currently, I am considering extending this work into a 9 CRT-TV installation.

Once again, thank you for your time and feedback.

Curators comments

This work has been commented by 1 curator(s):
Kevin Yuen-Kit Lo go to comments ›

Entry details


Then, Now


Then, Now

Concept author(s)

Benjamin Lee; Benedict Lee

Concept author year(s) of birth

1988, 1992

Concept author(s) contribution

Benjamin Ziggy Lee Benjamin Ziggy Lee is an artist born and raised in Singapore, working mainly in video and photography. His photography works have been exhibited locally and internationally from South Korea, United Kingdom and China. Recently, his short film has won the ‘Originality Award’ at the Very Shorts International Film Festival, Singapore Edition. On top of that, he was awarded a grant in which he undertook a six-month internship in New York City. He plans to further his studies in screenwriting after graduating. Benedict Lee Benedict Lee makes tiny universes and and strange sounds. Currently studying at Singapore Polytechnic under a scholarship, his primary interest is to create meaningful evocative games that express truths about our reality. His most recent work was Bosnobo: Primate Change, a research-oriented game developed at the Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab. When he isn't making games, he's twiddling knobs on synthesizers, experimenting with electronic and orchestral music. Crane Wife was his most recent musical work. His other works can be found at Karaidon.com.



Competition category


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Subfield description

Nanyang Technological University, School of Arts, Design, Media, majoring in Photography and Digital Imaging.