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Aural spell

Yishan Lam

Yishan Lam studies English and Theatre Arts at Brandeis University in Boston and is currently enrolled at the British American Drama Academy in London.

spell#7, Desire Paths spell#7, Desire Paths
photo Georges Cardona
Walking is a physicalisation of desire. Like a pedestrian walking through a city, desire searches, tastes, feels and smells. Capricious and peripatetic, it changes direction and always moves.

A unique project by spell#7, an experimental performance and new media company based in Singapore, fuses the themes of desire and walking in an ‘audio-tour’ of Little India, one of Singapore’s ethnic enclaves. In Desire Paths, the sole audience member, armed with a CD player, walks through this rich setting of sensory delights, coaxed by the narrating “ghosts or lovers” who act as guides. They speak to the listener-pedestrian over a pastiche of recorded sounds invoking the atmosphere: temple bells, traffic, buffaloes, interviews with locals and tourists, churchgoers worshipping, the sound of hi-tech speed train doors closing, race course noises, market clamour and coffeeshop banter, as well as the sound of bombs falling. Local spices and vegetables are reconfigured as poetry at one point when recited in inspired succession. The stall-lined corridors, streets, shophouses and back alleys offer a random universe of household provisions, textiles, flower garlands etc. All at once, you smell incense, jasmine, curry powders and street debris.

Insinuating itself into the historical and guided tour, you discover, is a story of desire: between your tour guides Jack, a resident wanderer who “knows a bit about Little India”, and an unnamed female lover. The story grows; traces accumulate and you realise that you are in the very intersection where their love operates. The walker is part of the internal logic of their communication of shadows, traces, secrets, scraps and notes left to each other; the tour, designed by him to “lure her out.” With the sparsely lyrical original music by local musician Evan Tan providing a poignant throughline, you almost see their figures emerging in the traffic, hiding from and seeking each other out.

spell7 write: “Desire path is a term used to describe a route or pathway that has been created by the users, not by the street or town planners. Commonly, it is where grass has been torn away by footsteps to make a shortcut not previously anticipated. Jack shows us one along Race Course Road—a ‘mud track on the green patch where the grass has disappeared’” (publicity notes). The range of meanings in the work expands beyond romantic desire and nostalgia to addressing other desires—for space, for authenticity. Desire paths act as metaphors suggesting to us the possibility of creative autonomy in art and life.

Faithful to the logic of the desire path, a transformation by the walker of the environment, the tour encourages you to interact with your surroundings; to leave a mark on the space. Jack invites you to buy a pandan waffle, have your fortune told by a woman with a psychic parrot, buy an iced Milo at the coffee shop, have a curry at Komala’s, etc. You walk inside the temple, witness supplicants praying for the fulfilment of their desires, stand at a crossroads outside the coffee shop and lose yourself in the traffic of ordinary desires, just as Jack and the un-named woman imagine what people in the street are thinking while unfolding their story to you.

Desire Paths brings you to the ‘downtime’ of the city, to alleyways otherwise forgettable in the urban glass and steel sprawl that is Singapore, where urban practice is highly managed, even the bohemias and, though less so now, the average Singaporean’s everyday life. But the work reflects larger shifts in public consciousness and a change of direction in the local art scene towards participatory, non-final art. If you wanted, after all, you could switch the CD player off and get distracted, wander around and abandon the program for a bit. Feel the pulses and feed your curiosity. Forge your desire path.

You become the tourist of a neighbourhood where, as the narrator describes, an older way of life persists: “They say Little India is one part of Singapore that hasn’t changed so much... Something about the spirit of the place that won’t allow change to get in the way”; “here, they breathe that bit more... guess they like to feel the wind in their hair.”

At the end, you are gently thanked and know that the journey is over, leaving Jack to rest in his hotel room with a gin and tonic, while “she” professes an eternal waiting. Jack bids his farewell: “I’ve enjoyed your company. Come back again sometime and walk with me.” If you find yourself in Singapore, I recommend you do exactly that: for an experience that offers not so much the promises of tourist brochures but allows you to enjoy an alternative account of Singapore; contemplating its lower-tech, slower-paced possibilities via a sensitive and far-ranging piece of work.

spell#7, Desire Paths, an audio tour experience of Little India, text & voices Ben Slater, Kaylene Tan, sound Evan Tan; Tuesdays to Sundays, 10am-4.30pm;

Yishan Lam studies English and Theatre Arts at Brandeis University in Boston and is currently enrolled at the British American Drama Academy in London.

RealTime issue #63 Oct-Nov 2004 pg. 13

© Yishan Lam; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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