I promise that sometime very soon, this blog will return to museums and heritage, but right now, I am still in the self-developing space. I think this week’s blog post should lead to some great developments in this site, primarily through changing the way I am designing the layout of my writing.
A big call out goes through to LinkedIn Learning, where I found this fabulous 40-minute session with Starshine Roshell. Thankfully, my Uni covers the cost of access, but I do believe there usually is some kind of charges for watching these tutorials. Once you click on the ‘Read More’ button, you will be transported towards a new style of post!
When presented with an opportunity to try something different, I will almost unfailingly throw myself into it with enthusiasm exploding within. I love new challenges, and I enjoy not knowing everything. One of the joys that come with University studies is that I find weird and wonderful back alleys of knowledge that capture my imagination. So it was with great pleasure that I discovered sonification through my most recent unit. Ever wanted to hear what music would be created from a spreadsheet tracking obscure archaeological finds? Heck yes please, tell me more!
This is another week of working on my technology skills. One of my primary interests is in continuing to build my writing skills in conjunction with presenting online. In the GLAM sector, everything is tied to communication in some way. Without words, how can you convey to anyone why your topic/item/program is essential. I thought during this university unit, I would try and focus every second post on those written skills in the digital sector. This week, I found myself thinking about blogging (and this blog) while reading through an article on Blog Tyrant.
Continuing on from my research into social media, I'm falling down a seemingly endless rabbit hole of how to harness and use technology more effectively. With my university unit prodding me into discovering what I don't know yet, I started searching around inside Mozilla's Web Literacy page. Scrolling through the courses, I found something that appealed to me: website accessibility. Sadly, the class that was loaded up no longer works entirely, but I decided to let it guide me into some new and exciting topics.
The Australian Museums and Galleries Association has a fabulous Webinar series planned this year, full of interesting and useful topics to consume. There is a pretty wide range of museum skill set being activated (many of which I will be booking in for) and they are easy to access during this time of social isolation.
I was delighted to see that there was a session dedicated to Social Media in Museums, a topic that happily linked in with the university unit I am currently completing – Digital Pasts, Digital Futures. I signed myself up and have taken a few notes that I wanted to share.
Part of my adventures with the University of Canberra has included visiting two places dedicated to telling the narrative of the Peranakan ethnic group. It was an interesting comparison between the two methods of displaying the culture and history of the group.
Peranakan in Malay means ‘local born’, but in Singapore the word is used to describe the family and descendants of Chinese immigrants who married local Malay women. It’s an incredible cultural heritage, where the culture of both the Chinese and Malay blending together fairly harmoniously. To add to that blend, the Peranakan combined other facets of cultures that they appreciated into the mix. This resulted in a specific (almost eclectic) style and a different way of thinking compared to other ethnic groups.
The two locations that we visited to explore this culture was The Intan and Baba House. Both are houses, and both present the history of Peranakans in slightly different ways (although the core narrative is very similar). I’m glad that we visited both, because I feel like the two fleshed out the history quite well.
The Intan is owned and operated by a Peranakan descendant, Alvin Yapp. Alvin started collecting Peranakan artefacts and antiques from a young age, wanting to connect to and learn about his culture. The house belongs to him and the collection is entirely brought to life via the stories he tells. Downstairs, we were given tea and cakes that were made for us by his mother. Alvin is a very talented interpreter, and after giving us a briefing on how his collection and research started, he allowed us to pick his brains. What is Peranakan? Are people still Peranakan? What role does religion play in the culture? What is this thingy over here? It was great having a guide which allowed for just being curious. Upstairs is where all the very shiny and interesting things live, and I was bedazzled by the sheer number of Peranakan beaded shoes (a skill that now quite rare). The house is not exactly a museum, and it’s not exactly a heritage house, it somehow manages to straddle the two aspects well. It certainly is an impressive collection, and it is was wonderful to be given access to it so warmly.
Baba House is different entirely. Owned and operated by NUS university, it is very much both a heritage house and a museum combined (and also kind of separated out). Level 1 and 2 of the house are frozen in time in the year 1926, considered academically to the be the peak of Peranakan culture. The 3rd floor is a very impressive museum, in a surprisingly small space. The house is being restored/conserved by university students and academics, and I was surprised to hear that at least 40% of the furniture was from the original family that owned the house (which I thought was pretty impressive considering the house was empty when they took over the site). I picked the curators brain for a while on how choices were made about what was being added to the space, and I will be happily applying some of those thought processes when I get home again. I really loved the museum up the top of the house as well, talk about fitting something really diverse into a small space!
Peranakan culture is incredibly interesting, I’m so glad that we have spent this time learning about it. I had no idea that it existed before this trip was scheduled and I feel like it is a really fascinating example of multiculturalism. I really hope next time I am in Singapore the Peranakan Museum will be open again, so that I can have another view point added to my experiences.
Please note: For both locations, photography was severely limited, so I’m very sorry about the lack of substance in these images. I will say, in my very laid back vernacular though - the embroidery/beadwork at the Intan, and the language diagram in Baba House, are very awesome. Also, if you click on the photos, the full size will come up, which means Alvins head will come back into existence.
(Before I get fully started, please be aware that the photos below do have graphic representations of violence)
Yesterday, I travelled through the 10 courts of hell and survived to tell the tale. Welcome to Haw Par Villa, probably one of my absolute highlights from my trip so far! The cultural park is one of the most fascinating places I have ever had the pleasure of visiting.
Situated in Pasir Panjang, the parks origin story starts with Tiger Balm. What is Tiger Balm? Tiger Balm is an ointment you can buy in most countries that is rubbed onto sore joints and muscles to relieve pain. Two brothers, Aw Boon Haw and Aw Boon Par, inherited and grew their fathers apothecary shop, which led to the eventual success of Tiger Balm. The park was a built in 1937 as a gift from Boon Haw to Boon Par, and was originally called Tiger Balm Gardens. The brothers had a deep appreciation of Chinese mythology and lore, and created the gardens around a lavish villa they would live in. Boon Haw’s personal motto was “That which is derived from society, should be returned to society”, the park became part of that vision.
So what are you seeing in the photos below? It’s a combination of things: Chinese mythology, folk law, Confucian philosophy and a surprising number of turtles. The park contains over 1,000 statues, many of which are organised into dioramas that explore a certain park of the topic. Quite a few of the dioramas explain the scene (the panels for the Journey to the West were my favourites), but some are just left to the imagination to those who are unaware of the origin stories. The section covering the Ten Courts of Hell had very good signage, and I am disappointed that I am probably going to at least a couple of levels unless I up my game slightly. Apparently the park was used in the past by parents to educate children on why good behaviour is important.
What a wonderful cultural landscape! So many parks are pleasant to view, with a lovely wander through some flowering plants and probably a gazebo somewhere. A place to relax. Not this park, this park will invade your brain with stories, histories and a curiosity to work out exactly why those duck people sculptures are looking so angry. It’s colourful and loud and completely in your face. It shoves Chinese culture right into your personal space and leaves you with the impression that there is so much more to explore. This place is absolutely something to celebrate - if not from a place of faith, then from awe at incredible story building. Even from a place outside of faith, I can see how it can also be seen as a place of reflection. In particular, the area where you can try laying down in a coffin, certain makes you consider your own mortality. It has a rich history of how it was constructed and developed over the years, which is also well worth diving into.
It’s interesting that cultural or theme parks have not made it into many heritage lists so far. I think that people see them as being frivolous or designed to only make money, but these places do reflect culture and society. Places like Disney World, are deeply ingrained into our perception of what it is to be in a state of wonder or disconnected from reality and placed into stories. Are we just too serious and grown up to consider these places special?
Or maybe it’s simply that these parks may not want that heritage status anyway. After all, a heritage listing can seriously restrict a places ability to adapt and change, which is exactly what stories do. Imagine the way that the story of the Journey to the West has changed. From the original writings, to the Monkey Magic of my childhood to the newly created New Zealand version from last year. Stories should be adaptable to include new generations of participants.
It’s sad to see so many of the sculptural pieces of Haw Par Villa suffering from the ravage of weather and years. If I were much braver, and able to work in Singapore, I would absolutely choose this as a location of infinite opportunity for development. If you are visiting Singapore, you should pop it onto your list of places to visit. Key tips - make sure you have a couple of spare dollar coins in your pocket to feed the many turtles and the EFTPOS facilities weren’t great when I was there (but the staff were lovely). They also run tours which I would have loved to experience
I had a *lot* of fun yesterday, doing a practice section of cultural mapping in Waterloo Street. It was colourful, and fascinating, and basically compiled a bunch of the things that I like about working in museums into one handy location. It’s the hunt for data and information, that puts together a picture. I’m gushing, but it’s wonderful.
Waterloo Street stretches from Rocher road to Bras Basah Road in downtown Singapore. Our cultural mapping session included the space between Albert Street and Bencoolen Link. The space includes two amazing temples, Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple and Sri Krishna Temple. The street in front of the temples is crowded with incense and flower sellers, fortune readers and massage tents. The next section up takes a hard right and is almost all retail or clothes and Knick-knacks.
I decided to follow the sounds of the street. A fair amount of cultural mapping is focused on intangible heritage, and as a personal note I tend to identify places with the way the sound first when remembering. Plus, if you took the sounds away from this street, it would lose a significant amount of it’s cultural feel.
As you enter the street from the Sri Krishna Temple, there is the sound of the bells being rung on the front door. This bell is an important part of the process of entering the temple space, as they believe that it will make them more receptive to the experience inside. The bell is also associated being polite, and asking permission of the gods to enter the temple.
Just outside this temple, and I admit that this is going to sound odd, but you will likely hear a bit of flesh slapping. This is the sound of the massage practitioners working on clients. The massage places are all professing to have special healing properties and have signs up explaining ‘energy’ flows in peoples bodies. You will also start to have people approach you, looking to sell either flowers of incense that can be used in the temples. They don’t ask incessantly, just politely once. I came across a man without a nose, and wearing a placard that said “Diesel causes cancer”, speaking loudly to anyone who would listen in Mandarin.
Outside the Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple, you will hear what is best described as the sound of shaking. The temple is devoted to Avalokitesvara, the Goddess of Mercy. Devotees believe that using fortune sticks (or divination) sticks will help to guide them. The process includes shaking a cylinder of these items, which when combined by the many others in the space performing the same ritual, creates a sound that can be easily heard on the street.
Moving down the street towards Bencoolen Link, shops have turned their music up to encourage visitation. Unlike China town, the music here is not sugary American pop, it’s chanting or religious in nature. All of it is in a language I can’t understand, but it is still quite effecting. The retail is mostly offerings, herbs, food and religious paraphernalia.
As you cross the Bencoolen Link, heading towards Albert Street, you reach more retail. Over here you will find people on megaphones selling clothes, knife sharpeners, and all manner of Knick-knacks. You will also be able to hear people bantering and bartering with stall keepers.
The street is incredible. It’s so full of sounds that you normally wouldn’t hear together in Australia. I have to go back before the end of my trip to actually try the divination stick ritual. I had a lot of fun here, and i can’t wait for the next session with Ngee Ann Polytechinic students.
Yesterday’s visit to the Singapore Botanical Gardens was quite enjoyable. The gardens are beautiful, tied up with some interesting history and a nice break from the city. It was particularly interesting comparing it to the walking trek of the Southern Ridges that I completed on the weekend, and the Gardens by the Bay the week before that.
The Botanic Gardens is the oldest of the three garden walks that I have been on, with the garden having been established in 1859. The gardens played an important role in tweaking the process of extracting rubber for the British, which makes some of it’s history a little complex. It also served as a garden for members of the Singaporean Agri-horticulturist society that designed and maintained the garden. For a while, in the late 1800’s, the gardens included a zoo, which was closed by 1903. In the 1920’s, it became a site of experimentation for orchid growing and hybridisation. This orchid experimentation grew into Singapore becoming one of the worlds foremost exporter of the flowering plant. By the 1990’s, the park was going through a revitalisation process to feed into the cities Green City plan. In 2015 it became Singapore’s first World Heritage Site, on account of fulfilling Criterion 2 and 4 of the selection criteria.
Walking through the gardens today is quite interesting, with it seemingly embracing the colonial feeling of it’s past. There are Victorian style lamp posts, buildings that are from the colonial era and at one point we walked past a bandstand painted white. The garden beds and placement of plants feels quite European in style. It is undeniably beautiful and full of old world charm. I think the most fascinating part for me was the concept of Orchid Diplomacy - where official meetings for international leaders results in a new hybrid orchid being named for the person visiting.
Having visited the other two locations, it kind of made me wonder whether they are balancing points. Gardens by the Bay is spectacular in design. It’s hard to describe what it is the most beautiful natural and constructed green spaces confined within domes that are somewhere above. It’s nothing like walking into a quaint greenhouse. On the outside of the buildings, the Supertree Grove is nestled into the green space, challenging our perception of what is natural. I have no doubt, that only in Singapore, could I see anything like this. The Southern Reaches walk was also pretty incredible. Where the Gardens by the Bay and Botanical Gardens are constructed and designed natural spaces, the Southern Reaches invites people to walk in the tree tops of the rainforest below you. There is a sense of the wild beneath foot as you walk along the metal structure. There are constant warnings of wild monkeys and I saw a squirrel darting down a tree. In the moments of quiet, you could almost be a bird (or squirrel), watching over the forest below.
In essence, I felt like visiting the three completed a whole experience for me. Three sides of Singapore: Colonial beginnings and growth, Singaporean design and innovation, and the land that is woven in around that.
I think that makes me wonder about the World Heritage listing for the Botanic Gardens. It received it’s entry via selection criteria 2 and 4, which is interesting. World Heritage listings are often quite worthy of their status, however the process is wrapped up in a certain level of politics. I think that the garden does connect into a much large national narrative, and it is supremely interesting in it’s use for diplomacy. The garden is already somewhat secluded, which will help with maintaining lay it’s status, and it is popular for tourism. I’m not convinced that by itself, those two criteria works well for it. I feel like maybe the Gardens by the Bay could have been a better option for world heritage status, but it is quite new. I would be quite happy to be convinced otherwise.
I am so pleased that I was able to visit all three, and I’m feeling extraordinarily lucky to be on this trip with University of Canberra.
Side note: Squirrels seen during this trip now equals 2!
Friends, I love embroidery. I’m sure you have already picked that up. Yesterday, I went to an exhibition at the Asian Civilisation Exhibition on the work by Guo Pei that just sunk into my soul. That moment, where people talk about being emotionally moved by a piece of art, or music? That was me, in awe. The embroidery and beading work is beyond anything I have ever seen in person before. Beyond literally getting lost in the design of the works, the exhibition design is divine. And it has a fabulous education section. I was in heaven.
Guo Pei is China’s leading couturiere, creating not only incredible clothing for famous people, but also artistic pieces that are mind blowing. Having started sewing at the age of 2 (!), her career started in Tianma and then moved on to create Rose Studio in 1997. Gus’s dresses are designed to tell a story, through the medium of fabric and textiles. The entire outfit stitches together to tell a narrative. Her most famous work is most likely what the media started calling the ‘Omelette Dress’ (I believe it’s actual name is the Empress Dress), which was worn by Rihanna during the Met Gala in 2015.
The exhibition is beautifully designed, with lighting that highlights the dresses perfectly. The first section, has a minimalistic wardrobe feeling to it. The dresses are displayed next to either clothing or items from collections that form part of the inspiration behind the design. In the second section along, the dress on the mannequins have well placed mirrors around them, giving the impression that the wearable items are being admired by the wearer. When you move into the last section, which are highly sculptural artistic designs (only really worn for the runway) the mirrors disappear for the dresses to stand by themselves in the space. The interpretation is spot on. Short and easy to read panels, and the exhibition guide (in multiple languages) doesn’t just repeat exactly what is on the walls. There is soft music to set the feeling of the space, and benches to gaze upon the works.
I loved the education section of the exhibition as well, which is designed for both children and adults. The learning space is located well and truly on the other side of the exhibition, where the prized Empress Dress commands the space. There are a couple of really great reasons for the location: the noise of creating and having fun doesn’t leak into the other galleries, it’s outside of the paid section so it can tempt people in, and it a lovely well lit area. There is a reading area with books about art and design in fashion, a creation space for making clothes on mannequins and a great embroidery area that doesn’t include the risk of visitors stabbing themselves with sharp needles. It’s really just fabulous and inviting for anyone to touch, play and learn.
Go see this exhibition, it you can. It’s wonderful and inspiring, both as an embroidery geek and as a museum design/interpretation enthusiast. I am so glad I had the chance to see this. I left with a much great appreciation of Chinese art and fashion.
Museum working, game playing and dog loving geek. Tune in for musings about the GLAM sector, and generally geekiness.