2005-2009: performing in a shinyglossysheerfabulousness theme park!

Upon returning home after 3 years in Japan, Kai began appearing in her own work. It was in response to a place that she felt was increasingly resembling a Theme Park. Instead of merely watching and commenting from a safe distance, she positioned herself as someone in cahoots with the Grand Plan. Hence, she pops up amidst the mise-en-scene and performs, as if a prop, mascot or performing monkey – as the city, too, performs. There were a few major commissions over this period of time. This was also while she was teaching full time as a Pathway Leader and Lecturer in video art in an art college. The works made during that period include:

  • 3 new installations at the Biennale of Sydney 2006, Guangzhou Triennale 2008 and Asian Art Biennale 2008.
  • A new permanent, public work, commissioned by the Land Transport Authority (LTA).
  • A multimedia design for Ivan Heng’s theatrical production which showcased in the Moscow International House of Music to top bureaucrats from Singapore and Russia.
  • A new work at the inaugural show at a new contemporary art space 8Q, and a ‘video tour’ for the Singapore Art Show.
  • Invitation to take part in the Nanjing Triennale. However, it seemed that the work was not exhibited. It might have something to do with the fact that tThe Japanese curator who invited Kai wanted to show ISLANDHOPPING – specifically the parts that talk about the Pacific War?

Kai underwent 4 artist-in-residencies during this time, including

All the music for my works created in these 4 years were beautifully-composed by Philip Tan. With Philip Tan, Kai appeared in a couple of TV programmes – and they both were nominated and subsequently awarded the Young Artist Award from the Singapore President in 2007.

Installation for the Guangzhou Triennale 2008

This work was entitled MAKING A LIVING OF SORTS IN (Y) OUR THEME PARK: HERE/THERE/WHERE. Kai played a person suspended in a liminal space that resembled a fish tank. Was she sinking or floating, immobilised, or free? The video was shot underwater with an underwater camera. Theme of the Triennale: Farewell to Post-Colonialism. Kai was categorised under ‘Free Radicals’. Research curator: Sopawan Boonnimitra. Curators: Gao Shiming, Sarat Maharaj, Chang Tsong-zung. Other artists and curators at the Triennale include Werner Herzog, Trinh T. Ming-ha, Feng Mengbo, Chen Chieh-jen (LIKE!!), Roger Macdonald, Jun Nguyen-Hatsushiba and Ade Darmawan.

Permanent, public video installation

Commissioned by the Land Transport Authority of Singapore, this installation was entitled The Amazing Never-Ending Underwater Adventures!. Kai played ‘Desyphus’, which is a neologism of ‘Sisyphus’, ‘Decipher’ and ‘Deceit’, a perpetual rider of the Circle Line of Singapore, which has 29 stations, in a series of 29 video cycles that comes on each evening at 19:29hrs (when sun sets in Singapore), at a total run time of 29 minutes, with 29 riddles for commuters to solve as they descend 35 metres underwater into the station. The work is a permanent video installation, and it is the only new media work commissioned by the LTA. It is sited at Bras Basah Mass Rapid Transit station, which is a subway station located at the Civic and Arts and Heritage district of Singapore. The work was voted by arts journalist Mayo Martin as his favourite of the artworks that run on the Circle Line. Have a look at this and that video for a summary of the work. Additionally, Kai has talked extensively about the work here, here, here and here.

Singapore Art Show commission

Entitled The Rather Terrible Slaughter Of The Tour Guide, this work consists of 2 video tours filmed in the same location. The audience could select which tour to go on, both located in the main shopping district of Singapore. Kai changed the name of sites, for instance from City Hall to ‘City Gall’, and City Link to ‘City Sink’ in my artwork. Along the way, you ran into urban denizens such as the ‘Flaneur’ and ‘Godzilla’ (renamed ‘Godsiliao’, or ‘god has died’, in local dialect). The two tours are identical, save for name changes such as someone called ‘Local’ in one, who is called ‘Global’ in another. This was an attempt to question the validity of these terms which are thrown about easily in a city that likes identifying itself as ‘globalised’ (terribly cool!). At the end of the tours, the tour guide/artist dies. Curator: Joselina Cruz.

8Q Contemporary Art Museum commission

The full title of the installation is A FOOL ON A STOOL IN SCHOOL DRAWING MARGINS TO EXERCISE HER COMMON SENSE. In this 2-room, multi-screen installation, Kai ran about as if the star/victim of a theme park, albeit one of a disused school, to be converted to a white cube of a contemporary art museum, in which the same video was to be exhibited. This work dealt with the binary-feature of destruction/renewal, which characterises land-scarce Singapore. Kai shot and performed this work wearing a hard hat when the building was being renovated. The work was commissioned for the inaugural show of the museum. The audience experiencing the work also re-lived the history of the room and building where they stood. Curator: Kwok Kian Chow.


1999-2001: back in spore: urbanity, histories, identities. and chlorine.

After 4 terrific years in London, Kai went home. That was when all the big grand questions flooded her small brain: Where am I? Where have I come from? Where am I going? So many questions. So, so many many works. Kai made many many installations, films, texts, and showed her works in film festivals, museums, galleries within and beyond Singapore – and opened up more and more and more questions. So far, so arty, so indulgent, so reflective. Kai was also a responsible adult. She had a job. She taught in a film school, where there was a swimming pool. To make all this working/living business palatable/stomach-able/logical, Kai started swimming.

Chlorine Addiction (transmediale, YIDFF, Fukuoka Art Museum)

That is the short story behind Chlorine Addiction, one of Kai’s most popular works. The cine-essay was structured as a swim, with a series of 10 videos with a runtime of 3 minutes each, which was the time she took to swim each of the 10X100-metre laps daily. The films encourage the audience to ‘re-map’ or re-order and edit them. They may be viewed independently, in any order, as short films or an installation in space, or from the ‘beginning’ to ‘end’ as a linear film. Using images and sounds collected from Singapore, San Francisco, Bangkok, Taiwan and elsewhere, the work contemplates the everyday, rather strange, reality of Singapore and existence in general. Chlorine Addiction has been shown, for instance, at Transmediale and the Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival 2001. An early version of a clip was collected by the Fukuoka Art Museum in Japan. Kai also published a book which is distributed by Select Books, and produced an interactive DVD. The poetic + dynamic music was composed by Philip Tan, who also scored most of my pieces I created in this period.

SPRING.BEAUTY.LOVE. (Shot In the Face show with Song Dong)

SPRING.BEAUTY.LOVE. was another work that Kai holds dear from this period. The subtitle of this installation is Her story of trying to tell the stories of the three sisters. As a young person from a young country (with its own histories nearly wiped out), one of the first steps that she took to understand myself was by discovering, (re-)telling and (re-)constructing her own history, or rather histories. She did so by interviewing her mother and aunties, hence the title is an English translation of their names. Yet, instead of a ‘straightforward’ documentary with an all-telling, truth-seeing ‘voice of god’, this was one in which the narrators and filmmaker alike were unreliable, with their lapses in memory, miscommunication (English was the filmmaker’s preferred lingua franca, while the women spoke in their mother tongue of the Chinese dialect of Hokkien). The stories of the sisters were also different. One was born before the war, one given away for adoption during the war, and the youngest – Kai’s mother – was born after the war. The way the work was presented questioned the grand notions of identity, subjectivity, documentary, truth and so on, with the three films played simultaneously as an installation. The audience had to physically and metaphorically navigate the cacophony of sounds and conflicting narratives. Additionally, as if a literal interpretation of ‘oral history’, only the women’s mouths are filmed. In the screen in which ‘Love’ – Kai’s mother – appears, Kai appears, too. The latter was filmed by her mother, who interrogated her as to why she created such a project at all. The subtitle of this work itself highlights how it is a self-reflexive exercise that problematises these notions. The show was curated by BingHui Huangfu. Other artists in the show include China’s Song Dong (with whom Kai will go on to exhibit with in a few more shows, and who makes amazing works, and whom she later get to know as a grounded and giving artist and person) and Lin Tian Miao.