The Future Has Aesthetics
Notes from the session
This document has two sets of scribe notes.
First set of notes:
Re public messaging: The idea of publicizing, it is heavily censored – we have to think of different ways of disseminating our shared values. To what extent can we push the system before they take the spaces away from us? To reference – the ban on performance art, just because of something deeply controversial that happened in the past. With raves now, the rave community works alongside with each other. What’s really scary for myself, the reality is that we’re not self censoring but making sure the decisions we take do not take the license harder than it already is to attain,
Because sg is like that, we are forced to find alternative spaces e.g indignation, nation parties, pink dot.
We’re in an interesting space where we have a history. Look at Rose Chan, she started doing cabaret because she was married off young and her mother kept asking her husband for money so she became a cabaret girl, and she was travelling, and she did a show where her bra snapped and her nipples popped out, and then the whole crowd went wild so she went on to pivot to striptease. All of these led to her being banned in KL, then she went to Perth, got arrested. The whole time she’s doing this, in sort of resistance to the colonial decency laws. There’s so much of a gap – there’s so much potential. We do hold back, because we are afraid something might happen. Anyone who has applied for an IMDA license knows it’s mind-games. A lot of it is reliant on the idea there won’t be pushback from queer artists. Which is exactly what we’re talking about. If Rose Chan could, what can we not do? Rose Chan stan account.
(re content creation)
We’re seeing subversions of what we do – listicles, short-form etc. What YT did when it came out – it was a disruptor, a middle finger to the traditional media, and it was a playground for those who wanted to be in the entertainment scene. You did it, in the early days, as a hobby. We showcased our branding, comedy etc. I guess it all boils down to what the next generation wants for themselves. I think the internet scares people sometimes, but I think if you’re smart, there is a way to be political and social online but careful and safe as well. Principle: I know where the line is, I don’t cross it but I step on it.
(re community guidelines)
It’s really blasé – nudity, sexual content. That’s why it’s fun. There’s just not enough smart fun people on it.
There’s a lot more things you have to tai chi now – political guidelines, people’s politics. Assume you’re already hated. Hope for whoever these contents resonate with positively will resonate with it. The more controversial, the more viral, the more access people will have to it. Be garang lor.
The internet was a lifesaver during the pandemic. Singapore is a dead space for creators. The older you grow, the amount of control the people have over us in our lives is crazy, and disappointing and sad. There’s no legal protection. Only now, 377A was repealed but it felt like ten steps back.
The internet is a lot of weirdos. Right now, Tik Tok is the main space to be in. There are just some things you can’t replicate online – people don’t talk, they just wanna be heard. When you have people who want to be heard, who is actually listening? Focusing on real space and meeting, physical plans, with one another. Bussy Temple would probably never be an online space. There is a project called club quarantine where people party on zoom, but the more urgent thing for Singapore is having more physical spaces.
Re social media and the internet: we don’t have to be so strict in the labels of our disciplines.
It’s interesting to talk about crossing disciplines online. You do have to be on social media whether you like it or not. A lot of the sex work and stripper communities have found alternate content they need to create to sell alongside their work. I do wonder if there weren’t community guidelines whether we’d be creating that way.
Question from audience: As creators how do you recharge yourselves?
Other artists who inspire me and give me energy to create what I need to do.
The nice thing is having each other but communicating that something has really destroyed you after a party. Doing that work is so much, so heavy, making sure that we have plans, to make sure we’re not just centering others but also our recovery, and making sure we work those things – What does rest actually look like? E.g no contact, a debrief two weeks later, respecting those kinds of boundaries. That’s really good and important.
I exercise detachment, especially in spending money. I don’t care to be viral, I just care to put out things I want and like, such as disregarding algorithms.
Question: you were mentioning rest and social media
Re theatre: I don’t cater to any markets or anything – it’s almost a spiritual practice, not content. it gives meaning, hopefully to other people. An everyday practice, like breathing for others. Life is so miserable one needs a space to run away to.
Re parties: relies on people coming and paying, but it also serves a purpose. We don’t do it to break a profit – it’s really out of passion and a sense of urgency.
Re content: It feeds us differently, it’s so important. I don’t call my work content as well but bodies of work – purposeful, and intentional. Selfishly for ourselves first. And whoever latches on and resonates with it. We are hungry – this country doesn’t feed us.
Q: Do you have any favourite queer artists and did anyone particularly have any influence on your work?
Having real people sit beside you, people who have shaped you. Here, I see Marla Bendini sitting right across me in the audienceIn our head, there’s very few of us. If you look closer, we’re quite a number of people - enough - to be a big group of people.
He’s not queer but his bodies of work speak to community etc. P Ramlee. I love what he’s done for the community. I love his life – I study his life, his work gives me a framework of issues within certain communities – what can my body of work be about? Kumar. The queen. I saw that and thought I can be this much braver. I hope the future generations, as they become brave, that they continue to remember to become purposeful and intentional, not to be brave for brave’s sake. Never forget the struggle of past generations to see where we’ve gotten to today.
Before the internet, my heroes are writers, I read a lot. All the gay books I read from the library. Madonna saved me. Just her presence, the things she did. Locally, Royston Tan, Alfian Sa’at. It gave the courage to be doing what I’m doing today as well.
Kak Nina Boo – a legendary showgirl, in her 50s, been doing it forever. It’s very comforting to see a woman who has been through it and come through it at the other end still so humble and so strong. Just as a performer, sometimes you feel like there is no performer for you, it’s lifesaving to see someone who is doing it so well, who loves you and takes care of you and anchors you.
Second set of notes:
Why do you each make the art you do? As you all work across disciplines. All of you have different hats.
It’s important to have different practices that serve different needs. Bussy Temple serves the deranged bunch of us within the queer community that needs to release the crazier side and we feel that techno does that. The other side could be being an artist who does more introverted work. Putting on different hats is a way to move forward and survive in SG where its restricted.
Re Youtube - Visibility was important - younger queer kids started writing and it became clear what it would mean for them. And youtube was a free man’s world. Like theatre but affordable and free for everyone. With this realisation - went full throttle with the messages. Sometimes you do the work for your 5-year old self and anyone else who resonates - you should’ve been his friend.
Dont know what I’m doing- got into theatre by accident, still finding out what I wanna do in life.
Re: stripping - being at school and needing money. Other factors: UK/SG scenes, Christian upbringing.
Re: following your pleasures. Is there a need for you to translate the pleasure you have in your art to other people?
Art has always been a connection. No agenda to queer people but I want people to laugh and cry and feel. Re Swimming Pool Library, there’s a disconnect between old and young queer community - created an event that’d bridge that gap.
There's such a nice feeling that comes w seeing other queers dance around you. In Bussy Temple thats something that’s prioritised. We do so many meetings to determine what safety looks like. It’s a buzzword ppl throw around but we prioritise knowing what “safer” means. Having things planned out to make that practical. In order to make spaces safe, you have to safeguard yourself. Preparing for moments where you need to help someone plan how to get home and whether they’ll be ok! You have to think of the repercussions. We wanna make sure people go home with fun but this is important.
Art’s relationship with audience has to do with access. On the internet you’re freely accessible, so it’s necessary to learn to build a thick hide doing work on the internet. It’s such a heavy loaded responsibility to need to create release for everyone on top of yourself! People have such nuanced politics. One is responsible for your own voice and if that resonates that’s good. On youtube you can actually see the full landscape of where people are politically. Many people stick to echo chambers and not bridge middle ground. But that’s where movement and change happens. Fave thing is in comedy shows is when you get hijabis and drag queens attending, the younger self would’ve felt so safe.
On the idea that as artists everybody has responsibility…To yourself, others, the communities you’re speaking for or with. Don’t necessarily agree you are responsible. For everybody - it’s impossible.
That's the nice thing about a collective. You have people to have your back so the responsibility isn’t so weighted on you. This is apparent in the arts space. But in bussytemple one doesn’t hold the fort alone. And that's a really nice feeling in the rave scene.
Creating art as a queer artist is quite difficult in SG. The amount of hoops we have to jump through and mental health issues dealing with IMDA….you either have to be v stupid or very fearless and crazy.
Re: the struggles of making queer art. Why do we still do it? I make queer art for a queer audience, its a definite fuck you for those who don’t want to see it.
You feel it when you do the IMDA application but then it’s joy.
The internet transcends everything, borders,…our art can reach out to ppl in Malaysia who don’t have a mouthpiece. Just came back from a trip there encountering their queer trailblazers. Realising how much of a privilege it is to be a Malay SGean. It’s so beautiful if we mobilise our strength across our borders. Was judging at a ball and the first thing they did at rehearsal was rehearse what to do if there’s a police raid. And we don’t have to do that.
Bussytemple is only 1 years old. That urgency to gather is because we saw that gap within the techno community. Even if spaces mention that they are queer friendly, they may never prioritise queers. There’s something beautiful working with the team of Singaporeans and non-SGeans. Big, iconic queer events in Singapore such as Pink Dot is not a space non-SGs can be part of, so this collective where we have a central goal of having a good party without dividing ourselves based on our nationality makes us feel closer.
How do you think your art helps to create a queer future in terms of imagination?
It's interesting. Where we are now historically in late capitalism, our futures have forcefully been queered? Progress isn’t linear for us. What is a queer future, does it mean there are lesbians in my future. Jose Munoz said queer is a resistance of a mandate that says you have to accept something that's not good enough… Burlesque disrupts ideas of what the future’d look like. What does work have to offer? How to be acceptable in society? With burlesque comes the realisation of never being acceptable. That’s shifted the feeling of what the future can be and there’s a lot of discomfort not being sure what the future can be. But you don’t struggle alone you, do so with community. You find a way to queer your futures together.
When you do visual art you don’t have direct feedback, so not sure if such work has effect on the younger crowd. But theatre does. Young people that keep coming to a certain installation; maybe sparks some imagination in their mind about what safe space you have in the future. Given up on Singapore, during the pandemic felt done with this city.
Content creators get stigma for not being art. Makes sense on some level - half of them is indeed not art. (Bitchy, sorry!) Hope people see is how important access is. Because that casts the net wide. You should create intentional bodies of work! You don’t realise what a powerful medium you’re in. Wish people see the value of internet space as one for artful, meaningful work. Try to be purposeful with it even if your output isn’t frequent. What do you want to last forever?
With bussytemple one doesn’t theorise queer futures but actualise it. It feels active through bodies, conversation, music. We’re seeing what queer futures would look like — the collars of people who gather in our parties, people thinking about how to dress up and show up. Actively being around other queers is how we build our own queer vocabularies It is how we live through our queerness without wording them…
How do you know what to put out into the world?
Want to go for the lowest common denominator. Whatever reaction you’re getting, it means your art is working.
Don’t draw a line between highbrow and lowbrow art. The visual art scene is very elitist and if you don’t speak their lingo you get excluded.
Sometimes you do have to think about the distinction between high/lowbrow art. Example, stripping is categorically lowbrow, burlesque is highbrow - it’s expansive. So wtf do we call this, is it burlesque or stripping? You end up muddying the brow… whether or not that’s significant is up to them. From a producer standpoint you DO have to make that distinction (for ethics) but for the performer there’s more freedom to fuck around. It’s on a case-by-case basis.
Mod: I call it unibrow art — everyone takes something away from it.
Do you feel a need to acknowledge a canon or tradition or art and a need to subvert it?
I like subverting stuff. Who wants to see dead art right? it’s dull. It’s always better to create a new language.
But you also continue tradition, eg AI art with retro cartoons.
Re those cartoons - a whole series of gay marriages in pre-colonial SG. It’s always about subversion and filling the gaps and creating histories that aren’t there. Art has to be naughty and challenging if not why do it?