Essence Of Remembrance












What have you been working on since the last time we spoke?
I’m still super into East Asian and Chinese culture, so right now, I’m working on an experiential exhibition happening in August this year that revolves around materials that were traded in Singapore in the 1300s such as spices, gums, resins, and incense.

When working on this project, I’ve found that people are often very doubtful about the existence of 14th century Singapore (laughs). For many, our history only starts from the colonial times, which is not the case! As such, I feel the need to create a platform to showcase the rich activities from our past.

What challenges do you face in trying to keep the Chinese culture alive in Singapore?
It’s a common understanding in Singapore that we don’t look up to our own culture. We’re Western-educated, very modernised, and dare I say not proud of Chinese culture—that’s 5,000 years of history!

For instance, young people nowadays will say that Chinese designs are ugly and that they prefer the Western style. But did you know that Ming furniture actually influenced Bauhaus and Scandinavian designs? They’re actually quite atas (laughs).

During my last installation, The Gathering: 千歲宮, I met a lot of older folks who encouraged me that I was going in the right direction in terms of the work that I’ve done to preserve this culture, which was nice.

You also work a lot with incense and scents. Do you have a particular favourite fragrance?
I prefer wood fragrances. Many don’t realise that people in the past would travel to Singapore from all parts of the world just to acquire raw materials such as hard wood. There’s one that can’t be found in Singapore anymore, but I still have a log of it. To get its unique scent, I shave out a small part of the trunk and heat it up—it’s quite interesting.

Agarwood—you may know it as oud in perfumes—is another one I like. It’s sweet and also very spicy; its complexity is next level!

Smell as a form of art is not something people in Singapore are very aware of, so many of them will get tense and scared when asked to experience unfamiliar scents, which makes what I’m trying to achieve all the more exciting, I think.

How can those who want to learn more about Chinese culture get started?
You can check out our research studio, @chito.qiansui, where we present history in a contemporary and modern way to bridge the gap between generations. It’s a platform for youths to be more connected and feel excited about their past.

Lip was previously seen here.

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