The Joys of Chatting with Amanda Heng

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For those who have attended a guided tour of Amanda Heng’s current “We Are The World – These Are Our Stories” exhibition at STPI, you would have been enthusiastically regaled with this Singaporean artist’s resolute decision to take up the prestigious institute’s residency with absolutely no pre-conceived ideas as inspiration in her collaboration with its innovative print and paper making team; brazenly utilizing only her renowned “Let’s Chat” performance as the primary basis of propagating her creativity.

So she had started her residency with its curator and technical personnel gamely seated round a dining table cleaning a mountain of freshly wet market-bought beansprouts and sipping Asian tea with her, cheerfully making small talk; ever so reminiscent of a simpler, gentler and less hectic lifestyle our grandpas and grandmas on this tiny tropical island had once led.

In this intimate almost idyllic setting, Heng continued to be at her artistic element; kindly and reassuringly drawing the voluntary people seated with her to begin sharing all manner of things that matter ever so much in their personal lives – from what they treasure in themselves, the family and community to significant catalysts that resolutely transformed their lives and careers.

Their captivating stories became the precious gems of sown seeds that required 12 participants, of very varied walks of life, to individually in rounds after rounds of even more cozy one-on-one; confidingly showing her a much loved object; delighting her with what made it so special in the current juncture of their wondrous journey through the crescendo highs and trench-deep lows of life, and subsequently working side by side with her in collaboratively deciding on what to aesthetically include in their own unique pair of QR coded and figuratively composed mono prints – be it much cherished family photos or spontaneous home-made videos; bearing not just a tiny portion of their very souls, but also those of their love ones, to the world.

The result of spending 80% of her residency doing just that exemplifies her eternal position that its entire duration and the subsequent crowd-drawing exhibition, with its well-received accompanying artist talks and workshops, is a natural extension of a personal personality-infused artistic oeuvre that so captivated Singapore and those living beyond its shores that she was deservingly awarded a Cultural Medallion for visual arts in 2010 by the Singapore government: the same consideration for others during her “Let’s Chat” performances – be it for the diversity of fellow artists or for the even more divergent audience – that ensured the resounding achievements attained by The Artist Village she set up in 1988 and by the Women in the Arts in 1999, equivocally facilitated the 12 Singapore residents – from within and without STPI – to not only let their hair down during her residency, but to let their guard down as well; all without the slightest of regrets.

That Heng has repeatedly performed “Let’s Chat”, since its inception in 1996, in a myriad of local shopping malls, markets and museums, along with its jaunts far and near the city-state’s geographical boundaries, is certainly testament of her inherent ability to encouragingly coax whoever chooses to sit around her table in rediscovering the quintessential joys of tropical Southeast Asian kampong living, despite the evident costs of dramatic material and economic progress here since its independence from British colonial rule.

If like me, your curiosity is now well and truly piqued, we have the wonderful chance to not just watch Heng perform her “Let’s Chat” live. You can become momentarily an integral part of her intangible art by just as sportingly sitting with her, and along with others across Singapore leisurely removing the roots off the sprouts and daintily sipping comforting fragrant tea too. Heng is recreating her sanctuary for round table conversations; where thoughts – fleeting, mundane or immediate – may come together and connect, perhaps transforming the casual encounter to an intimate space of mutual empathy. And with the storytelling, experience memories collectively constructed within the costs of economic progress that will continue to enhance every one of your tomorrows.

Freely chatter away with Heng in her “Let’s Chat” any time from 10 am to 6 pm on 23 March, 20 April, 20 July, 24 August, 21 September, 19 October and 23 November at the gallery in NUS Museum, University Cultural Centre, 50 Kent Ridge Crescent, Singapore 119279; and as she gets to know you, gain uniquely your own insights into the very essence that makes her who she is today.

Photo credit: NUS Museum

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