Then and Now

Social capital, passion for conservation, art to provoke, technology to please and ease … issues that have remained relevant over the years.

images-1Zero Dark Thirty is being screened in theatres. It is a gripping, nail-biting experience; gut wrenching because it is of the now and you know it happened, or most of it did. It stays in the mind.

It reminded me of an exhibition on a similar topic that was held in Singapore in 2010 as part of the Fringe Festival – the installation America the Gift Shop by Phillip Toledano. It envisioned a frivolous ‘War on Terror’ gift shop spawned by the thought: if George Bush’s foreign policy had a gift shop, what would it sell ? In the artist’s words, it was/is “an installation project that reflects the foreign policy of the Bush/Cheney years through the fun-house mirror of American commerce” and what it was, was a tongue-in-cheek, cheney_R3acerbic commentary on the ‘vernacular of retail tourism’ – those keepsakes and remembrances that remind the traveler of the holiday and the experience. The exhibition presented irreverent memorabilia, possible collectibles a tourist might pick up from a trip to the detention facility of Abu Ghraib on one of his mildly curious holiday journeys to different parts of the world (this time, Iraq). The festival’s theme was Art & The Law and with flippant, innocuous objects artlessly arranged, America the Gift Shop packed a subliminal punch, challenging public apathy and the seeming unconcern of global cognizance.

The Fringe flyer posed the question can art comment on law, can it question or offer alternatives, widen definitions or offer interpretations ? The question is as relevant now as it was then, and especially after seeing Ms. Bigelow’s opus. The challenge was does anyone really know – or care – about the (reported and documented) physical, psychological and sexual abuse of prisoners carried out in the name of ideology ? A few years later, one can reply – yes, go see the movie.

images I remember there was nobody in the exhibition hall when I visited, except for an intense young man who pointed out a stack of fliers; and for those who missed the snow globe of Dick Cheney shredding secret documents, the Blackwater helicopter mobile for cribs, Abdul the Amputee, Headless Habib, Ibrahim the Eviscerated – the maimed and mutilated dolls of wool, the Abu Ghraib cookie jar or the chocolate – ChocandAwe (with Mission Accomplished stamped across the bar) … you can see it online. Have a look and possibly, discover your discomfiture.

Another of Toledano’s riveting exhibitions is Days with my Father, piercingly evocative photographs documenting his poignant rediscovery of a father in the dimming, sunset years of his (father’s) life. Not to be missed; it is what many of us are going through with our own parents.

A trip to smog smothered Hong Kong last week brought to mind similar days in Singapore (when the smoke from Sumatran forest fires blanket the island) which in turn called to mind another experience – a screening of the international award-winning documentary The Burning Season by the Harvard Singapore Foundation. It was followed by a 6a00e00994efbd8833011570b50b0f970b-800wishort talk by the young, casually dressed Mr. Sun, CEO of Carbon Conservation who is the subject of the film, and was one of TIME’s Environmental Heroes of the Year (2009). It detailed Mr. Sun’s successful, single minded, relentless focus in addressing climate change through avoided deforestation – basically, paying loggers not to cut down trees – and saving the rainforests (and orangutans) in this part of the world. It was inspiring, enlightening and struck a chord with the audience and a young school boy got up and asked What can we do ? What can I do ? Mr. Sun replied with the easy confidence of one who lives his creed; Good question dude … all you need is passion, a willingness to be involved, a mobile phone and an email address, and you can do anything you want.

Sounds easy enough.

TheburningSeason-wt-640x360Carbon Conservation, which has secured the rights to large tracts of rainforest in Aceh and Kalimantan, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea, offers carbon credits in avoided deforestation. Investments in offsetting carbon footprints in your own region make all kinds of sense if you can see the direct effect of that investment. In this case, by saving the forests of Indonesia (and using carbon finance markets to provide alternate employment opportunities), Singapore can probably lower its Pollution Standard Index (the analysis of daily, ambient air quality) and perhaps end altogether the pollution caused by the smoke from forest fires across the sea … not to mention helping the orangutans; those beautiful, hapless animals. A happy thought.

Anyone who has tried finding and negotiating Club Street lately (where did it go ?) will quickly encounter that worldwide urban malaise – where can I park ? A sign says Public Car Park and there is a toll booth, but drive in and all you see are three enclosed lifts with sliding doors, so you may drive out again, puzzled, as we did. And then you see another car driving in, so you drive right back, behind it, determined to see where he parks. And then you discover that this is a multi-storeyed mechanized car park, this M-Park, four unrecognizable levels that look nothing like the ordinary car parks in Singapore.

100 parking lots, these, on half the land it would normally occupy. Drive your car into an available lift, follow the instructions – align your vehicle perfectly and as required, engage the handbrM-Park at Club Street, Carparkake, ensure the side mirrors are folded in, lock your vehicle and pocket your keys as you exit. Punch in your four-digit number code on a screen and carry on with your business.

The car is scanned to ensure that it has been parked correctly, and is then automatically allotted a parking lot and whisked out of sight … or rather, it disappears behind the closed doors of the lift and in a few minutes the doors open again and the lift is empty, ready for another vehicle.

This wonder is matched only by the ease of collection. Wait in the appropriately titled ‘Waiting Room’, punch in your personal four-digit code on another screen and shortly, a lift opens and – this is the best part – there is your car, facing out (you had driven it in) and all you do is insouciantly get in and drive out.


(By the way, there are staff on call, 24/7, in case you require assistance – if you have forgotten your code, for instance !)

Images borrowed from,,, and

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