Wong Kwang Han
[ FILM, THEATRE, CRITIQUE ]
I started Aporia Society in 1996 with Kelvin Tan, Lim Cheng Tju, and several other friends. The group was mainly a platform for us to indulge in art making and writing. I was running the group mainly as a theatre group with an active journal A4RIA which contained writings on society and the arts in Singapore. We put up small theatre performances where the emphasis was on the acting, writing and the intimate nature that live performance can bring to an audience. The articles in A4RIA were extremely critical of the film and theatre scene at that time and did not make me popular. This was the nineties when Singapore was going through a sort of an arts renaissance where local theatre groups were blooming and Singapore film was just starting to mature. Envisioning a sort of an extremely open scene where criticism and art making went hand in hand and encouraged by Kelvin, I engaged in writing and directly 2-3 theatre productions a year, as well as a campaign of sustained criticism against what I felt were problematic issues in the scene. This all came to a halt in 2003 when funding dried up, the Straits Times Life! theatre section put me an unstated blacklist whereby non of my productions could be reviewed. The funding structure had changed as well due to the opening up of the Esplanade and it was the unstated policy of NAC to allow the smaller non "flagship" theatre groups to die off, and die off they did. I did my last theatre production for Aporia in 2003, "The City of Man", and subsequently turned my attention to film. With the hope of obtaining major funding to produce theatre dead, I started to teach theatre in secondary schools which took some time to adapt to.
This site details my work in the Aporia years and the short and feature films I made since then, as well as some of my work in the schools. A friend of my recently said to me that true art cannot exist in Singapore. I know why he made that statement, however I think that with a dose of undying idealism, resourcefulness and good people, it is possible to make true art in Singpaore. Which bags the question of what is or what is not art. I can't say for sure, and neither am I some final arbitrator on this issue. However the fact of the matter is that much of what we see on our screens, in our theatres, and over the radio waves or over Youtube are most of the time sponsored by either the government or have some commercial concern at the forefront of its consideration when created. Art for art's sake is seldom possible here. It usually must serve some agenda, or satisfy certain criteria, corporate or otherwise.
Due to the nature of Singapore with its limited population, fragmented social and ethnic groups, and general social atmosphere, unlike other countries it is usually very difficult to produce plays, films or writings independently without relying on funding from the government bodies. This is because there is just no audience for Singapore work. Hence the art makers here are in the strange position of making art for certain funding reasons and not necessarily for an audience. On the other end of the spectrum exists the Youtubers who exist for the sole purpose of making you click on that one extra video. They rely entirely on a extremely fickle audience. For those that cannot get the funding, the artists, film makers, or theatre workers gradually fade away. The reason is simple, it is that difficult here.
Yet it is possible. When I first set up Aporia Society, I wanted to set up a group that made art for art's sake, theatre for theatre, which itself can become a wellspring for creativity, expression, criticism and community. I never knew it would be that hard, but so many years later, here I am still. The work here may not be in everyone's taste, but I want people to know that with a community or a group of people who believes, it is possible to make what you want, for the people who want to watch it, and even if they haven't been born yet, it is still worth doing.