What could our future look like? The absurdity and extra-ordinariness of how things are makes this a preposterous question to raise, let alone respond to. Nonetheless Thus, it is imperative that we insist, persist, and resist, by making, re-making and re-writing the dominant narrative, to re-imagine our own stories, histories and futures, beyond pain and trauma. ‘Have a Speed-Date With Kai – Let’s Re-Imagine Our (Collective) Future Together’ was my contribution to a group exhibition Ordinary Things (02-25 November 2023), Winchester Gallery, UK. The show was curated by Professor of Visual Politics Louise Siddons. There were 26 participants, including Kwame Philips, Alexandra (Sasha) Anikina and Seth Giddings. My installation invited people to share their wishes for the year 2050. Should people feel stuck, they could have a speed-date with me to re-imagine our (collective) future, and/or strategise artful ways to fight colonialism. I had a speed-date with Louise in the form of a podcast, recorded in September 2023.

Below: The gallery shows photographs of the exhibition taken by myself and Amy Hamilton in November 2023. I made the film as a visual accompaniment to the podcast, which comprises those photographs.

  • OVERVIEW: Ordinary Things was curated by Louise Siddons, Professor of Visual Politics and Head of the Department of Art and Media Technology.
    • More than a century ago, Marcel Duchamp celebrated ordinary objects by putting them on pedestals in galleries. His playful engagement with the ‘museum effect’ — the extraordinary attention we’re expected to pay any object placed in an art gallery — suggested that art is an act of heightened awareness.
    • In Ordinary Things, twenty-six artists at WSA transform everyday objects into complex meditations on what it means to be in the world.
    • Participating artists: Danny Aldred, Alexandra (Sasha) Anikina, Daniel Ashton, Andrew Brook, J. R. Carpenter, Stephen Cornford, Ian Dawson, Megen de Bruin-Molé, Francis Gene-Rowe, Dave Gibbons, Seth Giddings, John Gillett, Jacob Hall, Daniel Hobson, Gordon Hon, Christina Mamakos, Clio Padovani, Kwame Phillips, Adam Procter, Andrew Reaney, Sara Roberts, Steven Sanderson, Amy Scott-Pillow, Julian Stadon, Nick Stewart, Kai Syng Tan
  • EXHIBITION: The exhibition took place in 02-25 November 2023, Winchester Gallery, UK.
  • PODCAST: What does the word ‘ordinary’ mean to you? In this short-form podcast, Louise Siddons, Professor of Visual Politics at Winchester School of Art (part of the University of Southampton), invites artists to reflect on the role of the ordinary in art and life. Conceived in conjunction with the exhibition of the same name, held at The Winchester Gallery (02-25 November 2023), the podcast intentionally uses ordinary tools to record interviewees in ordinary places, which means the audio quality can vary and ambient noises sometimes intrude. The music for Ordinary Things was composed and performed by Giles Siddons. Artwork for the exhibition was designed by Studio 3015 at Winchester School of Art but modified for the podcast. All episodes are recorded, edited, and produced by Louise Siddons.

November 2023: No amount of disgust/despair you feel about the ongoing and historical genocide in Palestine and gaslighting and cowardice by global powers compares to the death/destruction/deprivation /degradation/decimation/dehumanisation of the people of Palestine (see accessible factsheets here). Enlightened beings — including black elders like Malcolm X, Toni Morrison, Audre Lorde, Nelson Mandela and more (see reading list here) — have long clarified the need to stand with the oppressed. You can and must still find artful ways to fight colonialism. Write to your MP (Steve Brine, I am still waiting to hear from you or any other Tories), re-distribute funding, cry and share messages of love, solidarity and strength with others, join a march, actually decolonise your curriculum (those who had stepped out to declare loudly during 2020 Black Lives Matter, what have you actually done? What are you doing now?) . My participation in Ordinary Things constitute one of my responses.

There were three components to my participation: 1) participatory installation 2) performance and 3) podcast (plus film):

  1. INSTALLATION: Where visitors share their wishes for 2050. Instructions:
  • Imagine a reality different to today.
  • Write your wish down on a red tag.
  • Tie it around the railings.
  • Post a photo to @the.winchester.gallery
  • Share steps you will take to make your extra-ordinary dreams come true.
  • Do not steal my marker pens.

Participants in Winchester can also read wishes by people of Leicester (What would a neurodiversity-led future look like? Attenborough Arts Centre, 2021). After Wish Tree (Yoko Ono, since 1996). I have been making work about ‘2050’ since at least 2016, during another political — and personal — crisis. This was when the UK referendum to leave Europe sent a seismic shock to my system as a voluntary immigrant.


If people were stuck, they could have a speed-date with Kai. Here, participants sit with the artist to re-imagine our (collective) future, and/or strategise artful ways to fight colonialism. Our dates were speedy. Around 20 people dated me between 02-25 November 2023. The dates took place:

  • 2nd November Thursday: Private View evening
  • 3rd November Friday: 12:00-13:00
  • 9th November Thursday 15:00-16:00
  • 13th November Monday 12:00-13:00 
  • 22nd November Wednesday 15:00 – 16:00

This work continues from my Speed-Date with artist Bob and Roberta Smith (How to Thrive in 2050, 2021), neuro-queering proponent Nick Walker (2023) and more. This work casts a sideway glance at Marina Abramovic’s iconic and very serious The Artist Is Present, as well as, more generally, her particular brand of durational performance, then showing the Royal Academy (and during the duration of our exhibition too). (Kai is more of a Teh-Ching Hsieh kind of person, whom she has also researched on and interviewed for her PhD thesis and 1000-day durational performance Kaidie’s Search for the Meaning of Life 12.12.2009-09.09.2012.

Speed-dates are perfect for the time-poor and the novelty-chasing/risk-desiring person, like one Kai Syng Tan. Kai became a die-hard, hard-core optimist and serial (speed-)dater because she is allergic to boredom. Kai is not just pro-active but hyper-active in seeking to brain-storm and create fire-works with others about better ways forward, because she refuses to take things lying down.  This installation and (anti-)durational performance is a new iteration of a body of creative research that Kai has been working on since 2016, outputs of which include a speed-date with visionary artist Bob and Roberta Smith (in How to Thrive in 2050!, BBC Culture in Quarantine 2021) (below, left), and an exhibition-cum-performance on a ‘Neuro-futuristic 2050’ at Attenborough Arts Centre (below, right). Our deadline is 2050, which is less than one generation away. We’re running out of time, so, hurry.


‘You want to think of a different reality, a different “ordinariness”, where things don’t hurt […] another possibility or future that’s different to now, where something “extra-ordinary” becomes “ordinary”’.

This is a quote from my podcast episode in my conversation with Louise. Louise’d asked me ‘If you could make one thing ordinary that isn’t, what would it be?’. That was September. I talked about the innovation of the marginalised. I discussed how they artfully hack normative orders not built for them, dismantle and re-write the master’s narratives, and plot visions of the future, all of which befit how I define ‘leadership’.

And what leadership isn’t: Hurting, harming. Harming the most vulnerable, in ICUs and refugee camps. Harming the arts and culture, artists, intellectuals, doctors. Cowardice. Defending and oxygenating rhetoric and machinery that harm, maim and murder. None of these is leadership. None of these is ordinary. The participants of the installation would agree. That was why their wishes include ‘kindness’, ‘love and peace’, ‘happiness’, ‘equity’. And ‘more cat memes’. What about you? If you could make one thing ordinary that isn’t for 2024, what would it be?

Credits: Thanks to those who speed-dated Kai. Note: The podcast has been edited slightly. Music: Giles Siddons.

  • (Re-)Iteration: as a new iteration of a format and theme that of speed dating and futurity (shorthand: one generation away, at ’2050’). Kai has been re-imagining better futures, speed-dating (such as at South London Gallery), dating (such as through a dating app Kai has designed named ‘Hinder’, to rival the trashy app Tinder) since 2016.
  • Seriality: Being a serial dater, and being a serial, hard-core, die-hard optimist and dreamer of a better future, in which that which is deemed extra-ordinary/surplus/niche/ risky/ etc (such as equity, inclusion, difference and productive antagonisms) vis-a-vis the norm/normative becomes ordinary, mundane and, g** forbid, even ‘normal’.
  • Memory (and time): The work cycles between now (where/when we are), past (my own reference to my recent artwork; people’s nostalgia and memories when mapping the future) and future, and as part of larger traditions and trajectories that creatively explore memory and time, such as the notion of ‘crip time’ in disability studies (Kafer 2013), which concerns disabled body-minds’ subjective approach to time, as well as ‘chronopolitical time’ in Afrofuturism, which re-orients history and re-constructs ‘counter- or alternative futures’ that prioritise ‘Afrodiasporic subjectivity’ (Eshun 2003).

00:00:07:14 – 00:00:09:09
It’s the Ordinary Things podcast

00:00:09:09 – 00:00:12:15
in which I ask artists
what ‘ordinary’ means to them.

00:00:12:15 – 00:00:16:00
I’m Louise Siddons, Professor of
Visual Politics at Winchester School of Art,

00:00:16:00 – 00:00:18:18
which is part of the
University of Southampton.

00:00:18:18 – 00:00:21:00
For this episode, I interviewed
Kai Syng Tan,

00:00:21:00 – 00:00:25:00
Associate Professor of Arts and Cultural Leadership
in my office.

00:00:25:00 – 00:00:29:11
As with every episode of this podcast,
I recorded our conversation on my phone,

00:00:29:11 – 00:00:31:24
so you may hear some
ambient noise as we talk.

00:00:31:24 – 00:00:36:13
My first question is always:
‘What does the word ordinary mean to you’?

00:00:36:13 – 00:00:38:05
KAI: It makes me think of the normative.

00:00:38:05 – 00:00:40:02
It makes me think of the norm.

00:00:40:02 – 00:00:42:21
and that for me is always very challenging

00:00:42:21 – 00:00:46:06
because who decides what ‘the norm’ is?

00:00:46:06 – 00:00:50:00
People are always thinking of me
and myself as being ‘niche’,

00:00:50:00 – 00:00:52:11
and the type of work
that I do is being ‘risky’,

00:00:52:11 – 00:00:56:00
but that’s because they don’t
have the parameters to understand

00:00:56:00 – 00:00:56:17
or deal with the type of work that I make

00:00:56:17 – 00:00:58:10
or deal with the type of work that I make

00:00:58:10 – 00:01:01:10
or the being that I am.

00:01:01:10 – 00:01:04:19
That’s not to make myself
sound really weird or I mean, I’m

00:01:04:19 – 00:01:08:14
very much part of the world,
but I’m very interested in

00:01:08:14 – 00:01:13:02
un-picking those approaches
to the so-called ‘ordinary’.

00:01:13:02 – 00:01:14:24
A lot of my work now is about saying,

00:01:14:24 – 00:01:17:24
these people who are marginalised,
they know how to hack things.

00:01:17:24 – 00:01:20:18
They are actually super innovative
about things.

00:01:20:18 – 00:01:24:10
They’re actually very ‘leaderful’
because they are existing in a world

00:01:24:10 – 00:01:26:04
that’s not set up for them.

00:01:26:04 – 00:01:30:02
So the ‘ordinary’ is an interesting word,
but of course

00:01:30:02 – 00:01:31:23
it’s not just a binary thing.

00:01:31:23 – 00:01:35:12
So it isn’t just ‘normative’ or ‘not normative’,
or ‘ordinary’

00:01:35:12 – 00:01:36:12
or ‘extra-ordinary’.

00:01:36:12 – 00:01:41:23
The boundaries
are never, ever clear as such.

00:01:41:23 – 00:01:44:11
LOUISE: What’s ordinary about your work?

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KAI: My work is ordinary in that I do…

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even though I protest…
I do fit a lot of labels, existing labels.

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I do take on a lot of those labels,
even though I like to

00:01:57:08 – 00:01:59:09
talk about questioning them.

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So in that sense,
I think I’m very, very ordinary.

00:02:02:05 – 00:02:06:11
also to an extent, I’m
playing the game in terms of my artwork.

00:02:06:11 – 00:02:09:11
I have been part of the
‘high art’ circuit.

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I’d found it off-putting.

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so after a certain point, I decided
to reject that world and to look for

00:02:15:11 – 00:02:16:14
soulmates elsewhere
and I describe this as being ‘tentacular’,

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soulmates elsewhere
and I describe this as being ‘tentacular’,

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going outside of my own comfort zone
and mingling with other species.

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going outside of my own comfort zone
and mingling with other species.

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Another way to think about
this is

00:02:25:00 – 00:02:28:22
not being harassed
and not being looked at.

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I think of that in a positive way
in that you are kind of ignored

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in a good way,
because being visibly minoritised

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you do get hyper-visible.
(That’s why) I love

00:02:38:04 – 00:02:39:07
being in big cities and
(…) you are ordinary.

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being in big cities and
(…) you are ordinary.

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You don’t stand out.
There are so many other people who are as ‘weird’

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or who look different,
who don’t conform, or

00:02:46:20 – 00:02:51:08
there isn’t a kind of a
clear ‘standard’ in that sense.

00:02:51:08 – 00:02:54:08
So in a way,
being ordinary is quite comforting.

00:02:54:08 – 00:03:00:00
So, yeah, I do have a love-hate relationship
(with the ‘ordinary’), I guess!

00:03:00:02 – 00:03:00:14
I don’t know

00:03:00:14 – 00:03:03:21
what the etymology of ‘ordinary’ is.

00:03:03:21 – 00:03:04:07
Do you know?

00:03:04:07 – 00:03:05:00
Louise: I don’t know.

00:03:05:00 – 00:03:09:03
I mean, it must come from order and like,
I think of ordinal numbers.

00:03:09:03 – 00:03:11:23
KAI: Right. That makes sense.
LOUISE and KAI: Yeah. Yeah.

00:03:11:23 – 00:03:16:09
So it’s like something
that has a kind of a structure

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and something that others agree upon.

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And you think of language, you think of
culture, gender, all those things.

00:03:24:12 – 00:03:25:12
LOUISE: Yeah, exactly,

00:03:25:12 – 00:03:29:08
which also calls attention
to its necessity, like ordinary language

00:03:29:08 – 00:03:31:13
and how we agree on meaning.

00:03:31:13 – 00:03:33:24
KAI: Yeah, you do want that common ground.

00:03:33:24 – 00:03:36:24
And that’s why
people talk about the commons

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and the ‘undercommons’
and you know, where you have

00:03:39:14 – 00:03:42:21
solidarity (with the marginalised).

00:03:42:23 – 00:03:45:22
LOUISE: When did art become an
ordinary part of your life?

00:03:45:22 – 00:03:48:14
KAI: Art has always been
in my life, I guess

00:03:48:14 – 00:03:51:14
because I grew up really poor.
We had nothing.

00:03:51:14 – 00:03:54:04
So I always have had art.

00:03:54:04 – 00:03:58:06
Back in the day was drawing
and those were the pre-internet days.

00:03:58:06 – 00:04:01:23
So drawing became my
window to the world.

00:04:01:23 – 00:04:04:08
I come from a very small country.

00:04:04:08 – 00:04:07:21
It’s very claustrophobic
physically and politically.

00:04:07:21 – 00:04:09:23
I’ve had my work censored.

00:04:09:23 – 00:04:12:22
So I’ve always turned to drawing

00:04:12:22 – 00:04:16:07
and creating my own worlds,

00:04:16:07 – 00:04:19:22
which makes me think of what
(speculative fiction author) Octavia Butler says.

00:04:19:22 – 00:04:20:17
She started to write
herself into the world.

00:04:20:17 – 00:04:22:08
She started to write
herself into the world.

00:04:22:08 – 00:04:25:20
I love that
because that’s what I did

00:04:25:20 – 00:04:29:01
and that’s what alot of artists do,
to make a space for yourself.

00:04:29:01 – 00:04:30:06
and also that replaces

00:04:30:06 – 00:04:37:12
how you’re ordinarily written about
or how you’re ordinarily represented.

00:04:37:14 – 00:04:38:18
LOUISE: If you could make one

00:04:38:18 – 00:04:42:19
thing ordinary that isn’t,
what would it be?

00:04:42:19 – 00:04:46:24
KAI: I think in this case, I’d like to address
your question by thinking of the future,

00:04:46:24 – 00:04:50:07
because I think when people who are

00:04:50:07 – 00:04:53:07
in marginalised situations

00:04:53:07 – 00:04:55:19
think about now, it’s too depressing.

00:04:55:19 – 00:05:00:14
and you want to think of a different
reality, a different ‘ordinariness’,

00:05:00:14 – 00:05:05:22
where things don’t hurt
or things are actually working for you

00:05:05:22 – 00:05:11:06
and when things can be ‘ordinary’
in a positive way.

00:05:11:06 – 00:05:12:19
I think it’s helpful to think of another possibility
of a future that’s different to now,

00:05:12:19 – 00:05:16:20
I think it’s helpful to think of another possibility
of a future that’s different to now,

00:05:16:20 – 00:05:18:03
but something ‘extra-ordinary’
becomes ‘ordinary’.

00:05:18:03 – 00:05:19:08
but something ‘extra-ordinary’
becomes ‘ordinary’.

00:05:19:08 – 00:05:22:02
That is comforting.

00:05:23:03 – 00:05:24:09
I’m Louise Siddons

00:05:24:09 – 00:05:27:00
and you’ve been listening
to The Ordinary Things podcast

00:05:27:02 – 00:05:29:10
created in collaboration
with the Winchester Gallery

00:05:29:10 – 00:05:33:02
School of Art,
part of the University of Southampton.

00:05:33:02 – 00:05:36:03
Find out more about me,
my guests and Ordinary Things in the show notes,

00:05:36:03 – 00:05:39:12
and check out the
other episodes in the series.