Sorry I’ve been so disoriented of late with my backlog blogging. I blame it (semiconveniently) on the sea: our sailing expedition with Charles Lim. Charles: Olympic sailor for Singapore who boggled the eyes of the scholarship boards when he elected to study Art.
At Documenta XI in 2002 he and Woon Tien Wei of Tsunamii.net (which also included Melvin Phua) walked 30 days from Kassel to Kiel where the Documenta Server was housed: theory at this time was chockfull of declarations that the Net is Flat, global interconnectivity = democracy, let the subaltern chat: Charles recognised this concept as inherently flawed because he kept getting knocked off Counterstrike for being a “high ping bastard”: players from the USA where every signal passes through the servers of the CIA could tell a thirdworldy slowed the game down: likewise, at Documenta, say a Bangladeshi video artist watching her own work on the website would have to pay to go thru the German server itself, back and forth, centre to periphery: why not physicalise this hegemony itself by walking to the site of the data, said Charles? 30 days of trudging from village to Teutonic village to get to the server farm: major bum rash, plus they missed the opening party.
Today Charles buses us to the Sentosa jetty, just off the country club ONEº15, boards us on a ship by good ol’ salt-haired Captain Blake who drifted here from New Zealand in 1965. Life saving drill: “quite hard to fall off if you’re sober,” Blake tells us: there are three bows he says on this trimaran (a word half Polynesian and half-Greek) so we can do the Leonardo di Caprio thing thrice over (David and Julie do), as long as we keep an eye out for icebergs.
We are on a 5-hour odysseyette (ideally it should have been have been 10, to circumnavigate the island) to discover a distant strip of reclaimed land: Charles brings maps and .wavs to demonstrate the changing shape of ourselves since 1819: bizarre outcroppings and conglomerations, Tuas, Sisters'-St John's Island, once we were a country of hills (compare Malaysian horizons) but we flattened the ground. And once we ran out of mountain we started to buy our sand; once they cut it off we kept buying under the table; come here weeknights he says and you'll see the clandestine barges, ferrying tons and tons of black market Indonesian sand.
On the way, we're scarpering across the deck, clad in shirtsleeves and speedos, lunching on 3-minute microwave otak-otak and white wine. When the yawling begins I climb to the wheel: Blake tells me how he only started commercial sailing this year: curses the corporate assholes who pay big money to party hardy on the boat to hip-hop when he wants Chopin; blesses the Edusave schoolkids whom he's licensed to take on 7-day peregrintations to the uninhabited islands of the South China Sea, lots of 'em, he says, where you can hike up a trail with a telescope and study astronomy with none of our lonely light pollution.
Eventually, we reach not the island but a promontory, an-insular-peninsula, a snaky reach of dumped sand that winds all the way back to the mainland. Illegal to dock here (HDB owns the land for chrissakes, though its identification as Singapore land is laughable yet legal) so we drop anchor and speedboat and swim.
I have no pictures of the land itself. Brian popped into the water fishlike with his glasses on and I did likewise, forgetting that I swim like a stone: took all my stamina and presence of mind not to lose my 200-degree lenses in the briny deeps; hit the beach with the back of my head while backstroking for breath; bumbled over, scrabbled onshore where the girls were ouching at the shards of shell and coral beneath their barefeet: this is what you call a new beach, says Melati, who's seen them in Indonesia: the detritus hasn't had the time to grind itself fine into powder.
Of course I couldn't bring my camera, but others did: they will have the photograph of our raggletag ensemble poised on the bizarre mesa in the centre of the strip: Naeem's T-shirt hoisted on a length of driftwood IwoJimastyle: DEFEND BROOKLYN is our flag. Also images of my excursion with Charles and Chee Wai, walking steadily back to the mainland, encountering landbound creepers of purple labialike flowers, orange parasitic networks strangling the orphan tuffets, dogprints, abandoned tupperwares of kimchi, a barnacled Pokeball, a superior grade of sand Charles stuffs into a bottle, and a beautiful mound of hysterical driftwood that inspires us to re-enact the legend of Sindbad and the Old Man of the Sea (minus the bit where I defecate all over his face).
We are the last ones back: we change and hurry into the salon, where Charles delivers a lecture on his practice while Blake sails us back to Sentosa, rocking our poor seasick bellies like so many jellybeans in a pinata. We are an odd sodden lot:
Charles details his practice: from the rupture of SEA ME WEB 3 and the inaugural New Media Arts grant to his Sea Stories series, shooting buoys from an interior and exterior view of the island (and why all this value on land, he asks, given that historically it is the sea that the Orang Pulau Singapura lived on: fish prawns and trade while the land itself was inhospitable, untameably jungled, malign). SEA ME WEB 3, incidentally, was and is the Internet cable that connects Singapore to the States: every time a shark chomps it or an anchor rips it apart or a seismic seaquake pops its guts the Wonderful Worldwide Web gets chopped off, brutally. The Net is not flat, nosiree. Then reawakening to the reclamation projects: woohoo, wanna talk about Land Art? Move over, Robert Smithson: HDB does it for realz.
"People talk about their land, their soil, their blood. But in Singapore, land is just another commodity that can be traded."
-someone or other, forgot to take note
"Buy land. They're not making any more of it."
"You guys are really obsessed with that. Being part of the world map."
Xref. environmental impact of all this monkeying around: more land => smaller straits => higher, more dangerous currents, fishing habitats transformed, we used to be natural haven for dolphins and dugongs, you know? Julie takes this very personally, being a mermaid herself.
Also a screening of Charles and his wife Wee Li Lin's new silent film, Wrong Turn. Trust me, it's AWSUM.
Roundtabled adjourned slept and docked. Read one of DJ Spooky's comics before he left. Went home to pack. Realised only when I collapsed into bed for a three-hour shuteye that Charles's warning had been right: after you've been on the sea, you get landsick: our bodies are attuned to naturally compensate for the motion, so afterwards stillness disorients us.
Which is why I've been feeling like shit lately. Better now. Ta.
UPDATE: Photos from Charles Lim: the island looks like that.