Four works I encountered recently provided the opportunity to reflect on the need to confront our past and also the futility of it. I was invited for a preview of Gemuk Girls, a new play by The Necessary Stage about political detention in Singapore. It dealt with the fallout for a Malay family when the father was detained. Years later, when the daughter and granddaughter learned of his death, both tried to confront this forgotten piece of family history with mixed emotions and results. Gemuk Girls is a solid piece of work. But we are still a long way off from exorcising the ghosts of our political past.
Exorcism of a personal sort came in the form of Eng Yee Peng’s Diminishing Memories I and II, now showing at The Arts House. A final year project for her undergrad studies, Diminishing Memories I is Yee Peng’s way of saying goodbye to her childhood at Lim Chu Kang. She failed to do so and embarked on Diminishing Memories II to finally put her ghosts to rest. But I sympathize with her. Saying goodbye is never easy. And can we really say goodbye at all?
I reflected on that myself when I visited the Singapore Biennale 2008 at City Hall. One of the most enjoyable pieces was Wit Pimkanchanapong’s interactive Google Earth Singapore, which allowed visitors to tag the significant places of their lives on a map of Singapore that covered the whole floor of the Chambers room. I started out doing ‘public service’ by identifying the overland MRT stations to help others pinpoint their desired locations. But I soon veered to places I’ve lived in the past, places with good and bad memories that occupied the space between heartbreak and heartache. Things you want to put behind you but can’t because they have shaped who you are today. It was a bittersweet exercise.
Finally, that wonderful thing called Youtube allowed me to rediscover what a great band Japan was and how devastating their song, Ghost continues to be. David Sylvian breaks down our collective selves and defenses when he sings:
Just when I think I'm winning
When I've broken every door
The ghosts of my life
Blow wilder than before
It’s damn difficult to say goodbye to our ghosts. We may be through with the past, but the past ain't through with us.