"Singapore in a nutshell" – where territory is scarce, there’s little political room for opposition and space is being claimed for modernity and development on all sides, social shifts make their presence felt elsewhere, whether at family rituals or in relation to personal spirituality. Tan Pin Pin trains her camera on these small ruptures.
In her films, the Singaporean director questions the national identity of the tiny island state. Individual works such as TO SINGAPORE, WITH LOVE are still not allowed to be shown in the turbo-capitalist city state to this day, as the film is a portrait of Singaporean citizens living in exile. This year’s homage to Tan Pin Pin thus equally reflects on the political framework conditions relating to documentary film production.
Tan Pin Pin persistently carries out remembrance work for a state in which no one is asked for their opinion and individual perspectives risk being smothered. The filmmaker serves to fill this gap, tapping into the archives of state narratives and shining a light on the social repercussions of rapid economic metamorphosis: the pressure to conform, xenophobia and territorial reconstruction.
Narratives on Spiritual Traditions vs. Growth-Imposed State Doctrine
Tan’s films reflect in miniature upon how Singapore’s largely Chinese population have broken with their spiritual traditions. The inner turmoil generated by the need to maintain close ties to the family past on the one hand and the small state’s forward-looking economic development on the other becomes very much apparent in the process. The gravedigger in GRAVEDIGGERS‘ LUCK is thus entrusted with the task of exhuming bodes and storing them elsewhere to lay the foundations for new living space in skyscrapers. Yet nothing brings worse karma than disturbing those resting in peace, which is why the protagonist hopes to balance out his streak of bad luck by throwing himself into playing the lottery. MOVING HOUSE also accompanies the visit to a grave visit at the Qing Ming Festival, which has morphed into an exercise in moving the same grave just one year later. And the installation 80KM/H juxtaposes two tours around the island (2003 & 2004) – with the shocking result that Singapore’s expansion outwards and upwards in just one year has wrought far more than just a modest change to the appearance of the city.
Singapore in a Nutshell
When the glamour of a nation headed for high development status becomes dazzling, Tan Pin Pin’s work is a reminder that there’s little chance for oppositional control in autocratically-governed Singapore and that social control is instead the norm.
And she also carries out cinematic remembrance work outside of themes of national politics, taking an in-depth look at the (etymological) intertwining of remembering and forgetting (THESAURUS) as well as the broader thematic fields of architecture (BUILDING DREAMS) and history (INVISIBLE CITY). But Tan has also turned her attention to music (SINGAPORE GAGA), graffiti art (YANGTZE SCRIBBLER) and various fleeting underground scenes, approaching the often surreal-seeming milieu and talents of individuals in tongue-in-cheek fashion.