Friday, October 19, 2007

Lecture was on tribal art today. The question was, what is tribal art? What is art? There were answers on how it relates to culture and self-expression, yada yada, which were all correct. But I think art is so much more than that. I guess art is whatever you want it to be. It changes constantly. It is more malleable than the very nature of water itself. It defies explanations and descriptions, silly boxes and compartmentalizations. It can be anything, everything, and nothing. Art, is true and pure liberation. :)

That aside, the lecturer was talking about how tribal art was made expensive because of the belief of authenticity it contains. The more rare and 'real' something is, the more it's value goes up. Okay. Fine. But I don't think people buy art because they find it authentic alone. I think it's the basic human need to preserve the past, that there's a part of us that is sentimental, that is desperate even, to keep something alive. And not just anything, but to keep something perceptively exotic and beautiful, alive, and to own it. So even if you told me that a certain antique artifact was genuine, even if you were lying, it wouldn't matter. I want to be lied to. My ears want to hear what they want to hear. The object is as 'real' as I want it to be. I'm taking that object home, no matter how much it costs or what it really represents, as long as it corresponds and satisfies my innate desires- my pride, perhaps, of possession, to have something that nobody else can have, or to manipulate art as a form of an elite status symbol.

I was also quite annoyed by the 'real' Singapore experience he mentioned in passing. He said tourists don't get to experience the 'real' Singapore, the spitting by old uncles on cement floors early in the morning, the urinating in lifts by mischievous boys, the grim hawker centers where people use packets of tissue papers to 'chop' or reserve tables. I agree. But I didn't like the way he said it, as if the 'real' Singapore experience was something riddled with negative aspects, things that cannot be talked about or paraded around. Shouldn't the experience encompass everything, both the good as well as the bad? And honestly, why can't the tourists themselves actively seek the 'real' Singapore experience? He talked as if Singapore's tourism board was out to cheat the world. Okay. Maybe they are, since it's obviously their job to market the country. But surely not all tourists believe everything the tourism board writes on glossy pamphlets. I mean, I'm gonna give them some credit here and assume they have minds of their own to question informations that they receive. And another question I had was, do tourists even want the 'real' Singaporean experience? What does he mean anyway, when he says, 'real'? Because I think most tourists just want to see pretty stuff, take happy pictures, enjoy the shopping, the weather, have fun and blow their cash.

There's just this mentality some tourists or every escapist holds, that the grass is always greener on the other side. I didn't travel all the way to some foreign land just to know the dirt, the pain, the seemingly mundane, how the average life of another is in another country. I have that in my own country. So I only want the highlights. I want heightened and sensationalized experiences, rich and intense, vibrantly coloured, and I want them now.

But I really like how the mere use of context changes everything. A trivial commonplace object, like a wooden statue, which may simply serve a religious function, once taken out of place, out of context, and put into that of another region's or society's, can suddenly become excitingly strange and incredibly precious. A bag made of animal skin to hold water can become sacred. A monetary number can be impinged on it. Economic forces can act upon on it. People throw themselves away to have it, spin tales on it and no one is as innocent as they seem, be it the producer of the bag or the buyer of the bag. Poor bag. Now that, is fascinating.

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