NTU Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore

AiRCAST #5: Han Xuemei

April 28, 2022 NTU Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore Season 1 Episode 5
NTU Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore
AiRCAST #5: Han Xuemei
Show Notes Transcript

For our fifth episode of AiRCAST, we entrusted curator and scholar Hsu Fang-Tze to converse with our Artist-in-Residence Han Xuemei. In their insightful exchange, Xuemei discusses how her urgency for engagement steers her fluid theatre practice towards experimenting with different modes of audience participation. As she shares about her current efforts to carve out “intervals of quiet” and “plots of rest” in the hectic context of Singapore, you will also discover that the research on the topic of “rest as resistance” she conducted throughout her residency at NTU CCA Singapore grows out from another residency she did in Taipei a few years ago.

Committed to socially engaged practices, multi-disciplinary theatre practitioner Han Xuemei (b. 1987, Singapore) employs art as a tool for bringing communities together and engaging the audience in visceral and personal ways. In her practice, she creates spaces and experiences that incite participants to think outside the box of existing paradigms and articulate forms of hope and resistance. Since 2012, she is Resident Artist at the Singapore-based theatre company Drama Box. In 2021 she received Young Artist Award, Singapore’s highest award for young arts practitioners.

Hsu Fang-Tze is a lecturer at the Communications and New Media Department, National University of Singapore where she is also a coordinator of the M.A. in Arts and Cultural Entrepreneurship. Her research interests include the formation of audiovisual modernity in Asia, Cold War aesthetics, philosophies of sonic technology, and the embodiment of artistic praxis in everyday life. Apart from her academic work, she is also active as a curator and has curated exhibitions such as Art Histories of a Forever War: Modernism between Space and Home at the Taipei Fine Art Museum, Taiwan (2021-2022) and Wishful Images at National University of Singapore Museum (2020). 

Contributors: Han Xuemei, Hsu Fang-Tze
Editor: Anna Lovecchio
Programme Manager: Kristine Tan 
Sound Engineer: Ashwin Menon (The Music Parlour) 
Intro & Outro Music: Tini Aliman 
Cover Image & Design: Arabelle Zhuang, Kristine Tan

12’38”: Audio excerpt from MISSING: The City of Lost Things, 2018. Courtesy Drama Box.
15’07”: Audio excerpt from MISSING: The City of Lost Things, 2018. Courtesy Drama Box.
19’15”: Audio excerpt from FLOWERS, 2019. Courtesy Drama Box.
21’00”: Audio excerpt from FLOWERS, 2019. Courtesy Drama Box. 
26’24”: Audio excerpt from Taipei Main Station & Research Field Recording workshop part of
Asia Discovers Asia Meeting for Contemporary Performance Artist Lab, 2019. Courtesy the artist. 
35’30’’: Audio excerpt from Han Xuemei, field recordings at Tanah Merah, January 2022. Courtesy the artist.

Anna Lovecchio: Welcome to AiRCAST. AiRCAST takes us inside the Residencies Studios of NTU Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore, located right at the edge of a lush tropical forest in Gillman Barracks. On this podcast, we broadcast the inner lives of our Artists-in-Residence entering their studios during their residency and inviting them to share about ideas, materials, processes, influences and research methodologies behind their practice. I’m Anna Lovecchio. I’m a curator and Assistant Director for programmes at NTU CCA Singapore and I am your host for today.

For this episode, we entrusted curator and scholar Hsu Fang-Tze to probe the creative mindset of our Artist-in-Residence Han Xuemei. In this insightful exchange, Xuemei opens up about her fluid theatre practice that explores modes of engagement through audience participation. As she shares about her current efforts to carve out “intervals of quiet” and “plots of silence” in the hectic context of Singapore, you will also hear how the research on the topic of “rest as resistance” she conducted throughout the residency at NTU CCA Singapore is connected to another residency she did a few years ago in Taipei showing how residencies can be powerful triggers of the artistic imagination.

Committed to socially engaged practices, multi-disciplinary theatre practitioner Han Xuemei (b. 1987, Singapore) employs art as a tool for bringing communities together and engaging the audience in visceral and personal ways. Through her practice, she creates spaces and experiences that incite participants to think outside the box of existing paradigms and articulate new forms of hope and resistance. Since 2012, she is Resident Artist at the Singapore-based theatre company Drama Box. In 2021, she received the Young Artist Award, Singapore’s highest award for young arts practitioners.

Hsu Fang-Tze is a lecturer at the Communications and New Media Department at the National University of Singapore where she is also a coordinator of the Master in Arts and Cultural Entrepreneurship. Her research interests include the formation of audiovisual modernity in Asia, Cold War aesthetics, philosophies of sonic technology, and the embodiment of artistic praxis in everyday life. Apart from the academic work, she is also active as a curator and has curated exhibitions such as Art Histories of a Forever War: Modernism between Space and Home at the Taipei Fine Art Museum, Taiwan (2021-2022) and Wishful Images: When Microhistories Take Form at NUS Museum here in Singapore (2020).

The floor is theirs.

Fang-Tze Hsu: Good morning, and good afternoon Xuemei. How are you today?

Han Xuemei: I'm good, I'm good.

Fang-Tze Hsu: Have you rested well?

Han Xuemei: As well as I can. As well as my schedule allows. As well as my brain allows…

Fang-Tze Hsu: Right, we will have an in-depth conversation on rest in the later part of our conversation. However, I want to start with some kind of career review, since this is a very serious podcast we're doing, right?  Looking at the formative period of your artistic journey and career, it is hard not to pay attention to your transition from film to theatre. Here, I am referring to your undergraduate study at Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information (NTU)—they should pay me for advertisement!—and your work at Mediacorp as a producer. Subsequently, you joined Drama Box as their Resident Artist in 2012, and you have been affiliated with Drama Box since then. What brought you into the creative universe of theatre, and what does this migration from filmmaking to theatre mean to you?

Han Xuemei: Actually, the interesting thing for me is that my affinity with theatre started before my affinity with film. Because when I was in secondary school, I was in the drama CCA [co-curricular activities]. In a way, drama is the first love, and then film came in. But then what it did for me was that it kind of opened up this idea of mediums for me, in a way, if I think about it. At least back in my time, which is not too long ago, there was still this idea that whatever you studied in university was going to be whatever you do for the rest of your life. There was still that feeling back then, the perception of education being something that is meant for career, work, job. I continued my theatre journey even when I was studying in school, I was part of the youth wing of Drama Box. That informal/formal kind of theatre training exposure was very important for me because it allowed me to see that whatever I studied did not have to be everything… Even after I finished my studies, it was a continuous journey for me, an ongoing journey of trying to figure out how to integrate whatever I studied with whatever I am doing, or exploring, and learning in theatre. So I think one of the most important things that this journey did for me was to somehow build this “carelessness” with the idea of forms and mediums.  I'm not too fixed on theatre being theatre-theatre in a certain way. It has never been like that for me, right? It has always been me going into, or studying about this, but then doing something else and then taking something from that thing that I am doing, or learning something from that thing I am doing, and applying it somewhere else. I've always been this migrant. If we use the word migration, then I've always been migrating here and there, and never staying too long in one [place]. During this journey, I also questioned: is this something that is good? Never staying long enough in something, never specialising in something? But I think along the way, I felt like somehow this has also shaped me in a slightly different way, I guess.

Fang-Tze Hsu: How do you find a medium? When you have an idea, a concept, or expression that you want to get out there, or turn into a form, what is the thought process involved in the journey of having this particular project take the form of moving images and that project in the  language of theatre?

Han Xuemei: Initially, my adaptation of whatever I studied in film was very literal. It was also a time when, in theatre, there was a lot of exploration and playing with projection, with what they call multimedia, which doesn't make sense because theatre is multimedia. So I'll refer to it as projection, or visual media, maybe. There was a time when my translation of whatever I studied was quite a literal one, like the use of projection, or the use of visual images in theatre performances. But then, subsequently, I really became interested in thinking about the audience's experience and I think that kind of opened up more possibilities, right? When I think of an idea, or when I start conceptualising a work, the two main things that I am always thinking about are: why do we need to tell this story or do this work?  and what is the audience's relationship to it? How can they experience this? I wouldn't say that I don't do theatre plays anymore. I still do, and I still want to do it, to explore how the audience's experience vary...

Fang-Tze Hsu: This also allows me to zoom in a little bit on your theatre practices. Among numerous of your works, you've been involved in several projects and initiatives. There seems to be a tendency to move into a particular direction that we can probably associate with what Hans-Thies Lehmann refers to as “postdramatic theatre”. By postdramatic theatre, he is referring to this opposition between the dramatic and the postdramatic theatre by foregrounding, here I'm quoting Lehmann, "appearance instead of plot action, performances instead of presentation." For me,  that particular opposition between the dramatic and postdramatic has become quite relevant when we come to appreciate two of your recent works. I'm thinking specifically about MISSING: The City of Lost Things, produced and presented in 2018, and FLOWERS, presented in 2019. Would you mind sharing with us what those two works are about, and why you’d need to adopt such an approach to go beyond the conventional notion of the stage?

Han Xuemei: I'll start with MISSING. I think there are two important starting points. One was my interest, or curiosity, about the idea of connection and disconnection for people who are living in urban environments. And the other was an experience that I had [when] I attended a workshop in Hong Kong, and that workshop was by two artists who were based in Brussels back then. They—Ant Hampton, as well as Christoph Meierhans—were both not from Brussels but they did a workshop called An Automatic Workshop [The Thing: An Automatic Workshop in Everyday Disruption]. The idea behind the workshop was to figure out how to do a workshop where the facilitators do not need to be present. Through that experience, I was introduced to the world of Fluxus, of prompts and scores which were not familiar to me in my earlier years of theatre exposure. In theatre, you know, I was exposed to theatre directors, theatre forms, actor training, and all these things but not to movements that are more associated with visual arts or performance art. I think that was the first time where I started knowing more about Fluxus, the possibilities of audience participation, and where it could go. So when I came back from the workshop, I started to think: how can I explore my curiosities about connection using this new thing that I've learned and discovered? For me, it made a lot of sense because I often questioned why I would want to do a play, and have people sit down and watch a play about connection? How do I deepen their connection to this play, or performance, about connection? So, finding the Fluxus vocabulary of audience participation became a very important key for me to open another door. I started thinking about that and that started the whole conceptualisation of MISSING: The City of Lost Things, where I was very clear that this experience had to be driven by the audience's own impetus to reconnect with a lost connection that they have in their lives.

[Audio excerpt from MISSING: The City of Lost Things, 2018. Courtesy Drama Box.]

In a way, at that time, I was also very conscious that it's a huge risk, in the sense that there is no performance or theatre, if the audience does not choose to invest in it. Basically, what happens [in MISSING: The City of Lost Things] is that we have 16 people attend a session, and each of them are required to bring along an object as the starting point of their journey. This object is representative or symbolises a lost connection they want to reconnect with, and that starts off the entire journey. They come to the performance venue and there is some kind of installation. There are no actors, no facilitators, but there is a voice that accompanies them throughout the journey. At some point they are asked to choose and visit a particular place where they would like to go to, to find this reconnection. So in a way, at some point, we have 16 people dispersed to different parts of Singapore. And I don't even know where they go. So it becomes something like the audience embarking on their own individual journeys, yet accompanied by the audio guide that we gave them, this little travel kit that we gave them. The travel kit is also inspired from the idea of Fluxkits, which were a very prominent medium for the Fluxus movement. Yeah, I think that was how the work came about. And through that, I also made some discoveries from the audience's response [to the work] as well. For example, someone mentioned about how they felt that this is like a theatre of the mind, and I thought that that's a very interesting way to think about it: can this idea of performance be something that is both public, but at the same time, also very internalised? Something that exists in that person's own mind?

[Audio excerpt from MISSING: The City of Lost Things, 2018. Courtesy Drama Box.]

That experience actually opened up a lot of discoveries and thoughts for me about theatre… what theatre means, what it can be, and how it can appear, or what form it can take.

Fang-Tze Hsu: How about FLOWERS?

Han Xuemei: FLOWERS was a project I wanted to do to look at the idea of violence. Specifically, violence against women. I knew that I wanted to tackle patriarchy and I didn't really want to do something that was about genders-versus-each-other kind of thing. I didn't want that dichotomy, or that polarizing way of looking at the issue. I wanted to look at something more systemic. After many rounds of struggling with myself, and trying to figure out what exactly the work was about, I zoomed in on this idea of doing a work that actually asked the question of what exactly the cost of patriarchy is on all of us. It was a very different process that was informed by the performance venue more than it was informed by the story. So it was the venue first, and then the story came. In a way, it started off with us knowing the issue we were exploring, and because of time, we had to decide on the performance venue first. Intuitively we just went with it. There are these empty two-storey houses in Holland Village for rent, okay?  This is going to be the venue! Somehow, we go in, we feel it, and it’s okay. Now, what is the story? How can we tell [a story here] that would explore the issue. Naturally, houses and domestic violence have a very immediate connection. We all felt that that could be a way to explore the nuances of violence because, within the domestic context, the likelihood of attributing blame is not so straightforward, right? There's a lot of feelings intertwined in it, and you can't really say the perpetrator is an evil monster. It's not so black-and-white. That fitted nicely with whatever we wanted to explore. Then came the next question… because I was in the momentum of wanting to look at participation and audiences.  Participation, for me, it's very important, it's different from interaction. It’s not about you setting an activity and then the audience performing the activity. There is something that is driven by the audience's own experiences. But then came the dilemma of trying to find a way that would not exploit the audience's stories or experiences… and I didn't manage to do it. So I decided, okay, let's not look at participation, let's just focus on how they can experience the story in a different way. The format of the piece was such that the audience came, and they were given a cassette tape recorder. Then they listened to a voice, a first-person narrative telling [them] about her memories in this house.

At the same time, what they are seeing is the present-day house where the only character remaining is the father figure, which somewhat implied as you listen to [the recording]. Then you slowly make sense of whatever you are seeing and going through. That's how the narrative came together. It's a very simple story of a family broken apart because of certain things that happened in the past. But the remnants of whatever happened is still very much present.

[Audio excerpt from FLOWERS, 2019. Courtesy Drama Box.]

That’s a very simple experience. But what came out from that experience for me was that I found another way to incorporate my film influences into theatre. In a way, I realised that through the audience's perspective, when you are hearing the story, the voice, and yet there are things happening in front [of you] and you are allowed to freely roam and move around the house, in a way, your eyes become the camera, you are framing what you see. What you see includes the other [members of the] audience as well. So there are moments where she is talking about her brother, and [someone in] the audience walks past… and I think there's something very accidental in that experience. For me, it became interesting [to consider] audiences being ‘moving cameras’ in that way. So, yeah, that's FLOWERS.

[Audio excerpt from FLOWERS , 2019. Courtesy Drama Box.]

Fang-Tze Hsu: That's a beautiful way of putting it. I mean, in a sense, there's a conceptual shift that has happened in the medium itself putting the audiences, and the notion of the passive recipients of the content, into the [role of] actors of their own experiences right on the spot. There's also another dimension of your work that I find quite interesting. There seems to be a very strong inspiration in the dialectical tension between what has been proposed and experienced in MISSING where you have a sense of privateness in the public space, through audiences contributing, [being] involved in, and becoming part of the project by bringing their own experiences and their own stories which then become the collective stories that you're presenting there. In the meantime, when we think about FLOWERS, the subject of domesticity is the main focus of the work. But again, that domesticity also finds a collective embodiment, hence it goes beyond the singular of the domesticity. I wonder, have you been aware of this tendency of thinking of this extreme, and interesting I think, dialectical tension? I think this also comes out quite pronouncedly in your residency project at NTU CCA Singapore…

Han Xuemei: Maybe I start with responding to the question on the dialectical tension, or whether I consciously think about, or selectively choose, private actions to be performed in public. Interestingly, that is something that I noticed on hindsight. But it doesn't really inform me, cognitively. It was not sitting in my mind when I started off. I feel like there is a subconscious relation to the desire to think about how to make everyday actions powerful, or  able to contribute to change, you know? Actually, I think the idea of everydayness came about when I was able to find the word ‘everyday’ to articulate what I was interested in when I was researching for FLOWERS.  I read an article where someone talked about the everyday culture of protest. For me, that kind of opened up... I mean, I really agreed with this idea of change. How do we create opportunities where we can actually bring in the everyday? So this idea of everyday started to sit in [my mind], and it's been [there] ever since.

Coming back to the research that I'm interested to look at [right now]: how do we perform rest as a form of resistance? The origins of this idea came from another residency that I did in Taipei back in 2019. At that time, the residency focus was really more on working with communities. There was a community that we researched on, and it was the migrant workers who gathered weekly at a public space in Taipei. It's actually the central plaza in Taipei Main Station. So it's an open space, with high ceilings. Every Sunday, they come together, Indonesian migrant workers mostly. They come together, and they are free to do anything. They sit around, eat, chat, catch up, play music, and all these things, right? Through the research, we discovered that there was only one thing that was prohibited in that space, which is lying down. The action of lying down, specifically. Not sleeping. You can sit and sleep. But once you lie down, then, apparently, we were told that that was prohibited. So, in that residency, we embarked on this research. A research topic that we started exploring was napping, and [we] also created a series of activities that revolved around learning, and then napping. For example, we had a session where one of the Indonesian artists taught us Bahasa Indonesia.

[Audio excerpt from workshop at Taipei Main Station, part of Asia Discovers Asia Meeting for Contemporary Performance, 2019. Courtesy the artist.]

After we learned certain words, we were given the task to ask the Indonesian migrant workers, or the Indonesian-speaking migrant workers, questions for our homework. After that, we napped. So what happened was that we were napping happily, I really fell asleep, and then suddenly, I felt someone kick me. Not kick me, but more like somebody tapping on my shoes. Not the friendly kind, but the kind where you will wake up and you'll be disorientated… Anyway, someone woke us up, and it was the security/police. That research made me wonder about why this rule was in place. Why? Why can't we have a place where we lie down or rest? After the residency, I started to look at this idea of resting, what has it got to do with unrest? If I were to play with the word. At the same time, there was also another interesting layer for me: because we were not doing any performances, we were considered everyday users of the space. Hence, this action was prohibited. But I did think a lot about what would happen if we were able to obtain permission to stage a performance and the performance required everyone to lie down… By logic, if we had obtained permission, then that would have been allowed, right? So I think, for me, this idea of legitimacy, and the permission to do something became something that I was interested to explore, you know? How can we strategically use performance as a way to open up our imagination of how spaces can be used? I think there were a few ideas that came out of the [Taipei] residency, which I then carried forward to whatever I'm researching on using the NTU CCA [Singapore] residency platform. In a way, really looking at how we use rest, and the various aspects of it, with rest being something like an interval of stillness, an interval, a moment of pause. How do we use that to resist against the capitalist-induced culture that we are currently living in within this urban environment? So that became my main strand of investigation during this residency. Okay, that was very long. Good luck, everybody!

Fang-Tze Hsu: I think there's something quite interesting in thinking about the cadence of our everyday life, or thinking along the lines of urban spaces, such as Singapore, as almost the entire island is an urban space. It reminds me of a set of photographs [I saw] when I visited you during the NTU CCA Singapore’s Residencies Open Studios. There was a set of photographs where you set up tents inside a shopping mall, or you set up tents in an area under the National Park Boards. I'm quite curious, are these public interventions? What are these public interventions exactly about as part of your action-driven research processes? And what are some of the memorable memories you can share with us here?

Han Xuemei: Maybe to give context on what this research entails… when I started on my research on this topic of rest as a form of resistance, I came across this book, recommended by my mentor, called One Square Inch of Silence [by Gordon Hempton]. I came across this book, and I wanted to go deeper into it, because I was interested in exploring the sonic aspects of rest. So this deviates a little bit from my experience in Taipei. I'm interested to think about rest beyond the physical action of lying down, to understand rest from the perspective of sound. In music, we talk about rest being an interval of silence, and that's why the first part of this research is called An Interval of Silence. When I started looking at the book, One Square Inch of Silence, it actually talks about this acoustic geologist’s journey to preserve silence in the United States, in national parks, going to the wilderness to really discover places where silence allows him to hear everything. Hearing everything, meaning that, you hear everything in nature, separated from the urban noise that we are creating. So I think this book then sparked the inspiration for the second part of the title, which is A Plot of Quiet. This research then became about two things. One is about time, the interval, how long is this interval and what does this interval look like, or feel like? And the other dimension is about space. How do we find plots of quiet, or plots of rest in Singapore? That's the idea. The actual research then became a walk from one end of Singapore to the other end. The walk is not yet finished. It's a very treacherous endeavour because of all the highways. In any case, the idea of the walk is to physically search for these intervals and plots [of silence] in Singapore itself. So we started the walk. I went with a spatial designer friend to borrow her spatial sensitivities. We started from Changi, as far east as we could go, attempting to go over to Tuas. Along the way, that's where the tents came in. It was a very simple idea. We took three forms of rest: the tent, where there is an enclosed space; the hammock, a playful, less intrusive mode of rest; and then the chair. The chair is a less obvious kind of intrusion into the space. We took these three things, and along the way, we would then identify where they could be used. That was part of how we were researching about where the intervals, these plots of rest are in that walk. I think that one of the most interesting things that happened is that nothing happened! It's somehow interesting that we did that. And then we had the open studio, right? During the open studio, there were multiple responses from the public whenever we said that we actually did this thing. The first response people naturally had was, “Oh, is it allowed? You can do that?” So the most interesting thing that happened is really that nothing happened. No police came… Maybe now they will! But no police came. Nobody stopped us. Nothing happened. That was one very important discovery for me, not just as an artist, I think, but as someone living in Singapore all my life.  That discovery is actually very powerful, in a way, that you can do something and nothing happens…

Fang-Tze Hsu: Maybe not the case anymore after this podcast!

Han Xuemei: We will see, it depends on whether you edit this in! Coming back to that experience, of course there were also other things that came in, the discovery of how our environment is actually already being consistently, or constantly, intruded by urban structures. For example, we were walking and thinking that we could cut across, but we couldn't because of the highway, and somehow, I don't know how, but we spent five hours trapped inside Changi itself.

[Audio excerpt from Han Xuemei’s field recordings at Tanah Merah, 2022. Courtesy the artist.]

Fang-Tze Hsu: Wow.

Han Xuemei: There's a huge plot of reclaimed area in Changi now. So I think the physical experience of actually encountering the kind of urban intrusions was actually also a very important discovery for me. I think it kind of made me think again about what this whole research is about, and what this resistance is against…

Fang-Tze Hsu: We will see, we will see. I think it's something quite exciting to do. Maybe they will trigger and encourage people to have a collective mobilisation of putting hammocks around the city, on the trees, at the corners of this wonderful, beautiful garden environment, right? I would like to bring in this analogy with the wonderful acoustic ecologist Gordon Hempton's work. That's where the reference of his book comes in, as your title The Interval of Silence, A Plot of Quiet, is in fact coming from his book, One Square Inch of Silence. I mean, in a sense, there are parallels between both. So there is you, attempting to situate the so-called economy of rest in this urban jungle versus the nature forests where Hempton is trying to conserve/preserve a sense of silence. I'm quoting his words, “a sense of silence that touches our soul” [speaks] very much to the kind of field recording that he has done. Suppose we may consider Hempton's field recording of the silence as a poetic resistance in this era of capitalism, right? Everything has become part of the network, or defined by power, profit, and reproduction of the life. But in your case, what does it mean for you to explore the notion of resistance in the embodiment of the rest?  Because there's a very interesting, and again dialectical, moment between the rest versus resistance right there…

Han Xuemei: Firstly, the association of rest as something that is very harmless, non-threatening, and non-violent… I think it has its relation to the history of nonviolent protests. As part of the research, I was also looking at the different ways nonviolent protests have emerged, and I was trying to do an A to Z catalogue, where people use various objects and peaceful ways of resisting against various issues. I think rest actually sits within this bigger historical context, right? At the same time, I have been trying to figure that out because of my interactions with people, especially the people who came for the open studio to look [and saw] the research in progress. There was a question that asked them to suggest what is rest to them, how do they rest? Generally, there's this sense of rest being something that is comfortable, of finding a way where you can feel at ease. Throughout the process, it has been an ongoing struggle inside me where I keep thinking about how this thing that's supposed to make someone comfortable, sits in relation to the fact that it's meant to be a resistance in the context of this research, right? Whether or not we perform, if I'm inviting everyone to come and perform this act of rest as a form of resistance, if it is too comfortable and too everyday, does it really become a resistance? Or is it just part of life? But, if it's too staged, then what's the point? Why are we trying to manufacture this artificial mode of rest?

For me, the struggle has been trying to find a way to take this everyday action that is so different and subjective to different people, because different people define rest in different ways, right? For some people to rest, they need to sleep. For some people to rest, they need to exercise. So how do we find, or how do we use, this variety and turn it into something that still has the quality of it being a resistance, or being against this bigger culture that we are talking about? By this bigger culture, I'm referring to the whole capitalist-induced culture of consumption, of going at a pace where we're constantly producing. You can find this energy very prominently in shopping centres. There is this huge wave of restlessness in shopping centres. So, the thing is, how do we do something that is actually in resistance to this culture and this energy of restlessness while, at the same time, we have this whole economy of rest in the sense of wellness services? There's this gravity-defying salt bath that you can pay to [soak in], and people have talked about how it's very different, how it really relaxes the body and you really feel like you're resting, you know? blah, blah, blah... So there is this rest that is not unique to this project. In fact, it is already something that people are talking a lot about, how do we self-care or [keep our] wellbeing? But I kept coming back to the question of, “is that the kind of rest this research is talking about?” Intuitively, my heart says no. And so the struggle has been [to understand], “How else then? How else?" Yeah, this research is up to this point. It's really all these ideas floating around, waiting for the right medium to come to anchor it. Does it make sense?

Fang-Tze Hsu: It does resonate quite a lot. I remember when I first encountered this book, One Square Inch of Silence. I also recognised the field recording component of it, and when I managed to find a YouTube video of the field recording, I immediately associated it with meditation, the body memory exercises I do. As you say, I think this is just unfortunate. It's just so unfortunate somehow that there's a certain economy of rest. And by economy, I think we are not talking about the financial dimension of the operation, but more or less about the distribution, the politics of distribution, organisation, around our society. And what this economy stands for in relation to the notion of rest.

Yeah, so I think we're wrapping up this session. Thank you so much for this exchange, and conversation.

Han Xuemei: Thank you. I think this podcast has helped me unlock some of the questions [I had], and gave me some new directions to think about. Yeah, because I've been stuck for a while. So if you have any thoughts about rest, feel free to contact me.

Fang-Tze Hsu: So I wish you have a great rest today, and I wish you can rest in ease.

Han Xuemei: Thank you. Thank you.

Anna Lovecchio: You listened to AiRCAST, a podcast of NTU Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore, a national research centre for contemporary art of Nanyang Technological University. To find out more about our programmes, visit our website at www.ntu.ccasingapore.org, you can sign up to our newsletter, or follow us on your favourite social media platforms. And of course, if you’d like to hear the voices and thoughts of our other Artists-in-Residence, do subscribe to this podcast.

AiRCAST is produced by NTU CCA Singapore with the support of National Arts Council Singapore. This episode featured artist Han Xuemei in conversation with Hsu Fang-Tze. I am Anna Lovecchio, the editor of this podcast series. The Programme Manager is Kristine Tan, the Audio Engineer, Ashwin Menon from The Music Parlour. 

The intro and the outro were composed by our previous Artist-in-Residence Tini Aliman with field recordings taken at different times of the day in the beautiful forest around us.

This episode was recorded on the 2nd of March 2022. Thank you for listening.