Mornings in Other Places

Almost exactly a year ago, in a determined move to pull myself out of a season of drudgery, I gathered two college friends, Ruth and Elaine, and suggested that we post photographs of our mornings around the world for a week on Instagram, tagging them #morningsinotherplaces.

At the time, I was in Singapore working out of a design studio, Ruth was in D.C. working as a journalist, and Elaine was at a non-profit in Connecticut. We were working at our first official jobs, barring internships, out of college. All three of us had moved cities, and were adjusting the rhythms of our new abodes. For Ruth and Elaine, it was about building stability in an unfamiliar place – newness brings with it both novelty and fear. I was returning to a place I was expected to belong to, and discovering that the puzzle pieces, sandpapered by time, didn’t always fit so snugly.

Our lives are like threads that unravel with each breath, and for a week, I had an insight into experiences that the cocoon of university life had barely prepared us for. It was inspired by a project I had come across years ago, called 3191 Miles Apart, in which two friends living on the opposite ends of the American coasts posted diptychs of their mornings for a year, eventually publishing a book about it. My two friends were living on the East Coast, which meant seasonal change. These natural markers of time bring some form of order into our human haphazardness. I was almost envious on my equatorial island, where the sun beats down all days of the year. How nice it is to have the weather as a monitor, keeping steady and stern track of your goals, but also offering the comfort that life, if it’s not ideal at the moment, goes on.

Sheets

Early in the week, Ruth posted a photograph of a window covered by a sheet, with the soft haze of sunlight seeping in. “The transition from summer to fall has been about big dreams and temporary solutions,” she wrote. “Exhibit A: In the process of yanking my hundred pound air conditioning out of my window, I tore down my window shades. These sheets are a temporary solution.”

Fall

Elaine, too, similarly observed the changes that fall brings. “Having grown up in So. California, there are some things about living on a coast with seasons that still stand out to me. At the end of fall, it’s these big brown bags full of leaves lining the neighborhood streets.” Bowl

Sometimes, it was as simple as posting about our breakfasts – symbols of our everyday routines around the world. I posted a photograph of blueberry cereal and milk in a porcelain bowl, bemused at the mismatched cultural pairing of food and kitchenware. “Morning, day three. This could be a metaphor for my culturally confused identity. Or not.”

Pomegranate

A photograph posted by Elaine, of a split pomegranate, its seeds spilling all over a kitchen counter, is accompanied by the caption, “Thursday: Woke up in Jenkintown, PA and cracked open a pomegranate with a welcoming family.”

Clock

It seemed as though we were in a sort of waiting room. I don’t know if the feeling will ever leave, but it was certainly more acute in the immediate months after graduation. Along with a photo of the hands of a clock, Ruth wrote, “I’m trying to get used to the way the year passes when not perforated by semesters.”

Gillman window

“Morning, day four,” I wrote. “The view from my window at work. Two months from now, this view will be entirely different. I feel like I’ve lived several lives since leaving Boston in May.” I had made one of the more dramatic decisions in my life when, two days after graduation, I moved to Bangladesh. At the time of the post, I had gone from sipping chai by the roadside in South Asia to enabling upper-middle class aspirations in a studio in the most expensive city in the world, and the juxtaposition was all too hard-hitting. Philly

Transitions aren’t part of a phase; we just build a sturdier core throughout the years to cope with the movement. Ruth’s last photograph was of the Divine Lorraine Hotel in Philadelphia. The caption read, “Goodbye Philly.” She was about to leave one city for another as I was getting ready to go to bed, bracing myself for the next morning’s light.

That little hashtag pulled together the very best of what social media can do; it represented a genuine closeness that didn’t exist before. For me, it was a reminder of our connectedness, and by that virtue, told me that I was not alone.

Moodboard

Moodboard

(From left to right: a photograph of my childhood home, collages by John Stezaker, Jorge Luis Borges’ self-portraits drawn after he became blind, an atlas of the pools of light seen in the neighbourhood of Boylan Heights from Denis Woods’ Everything Sings, a quote from The Man With The Compound Eyes by Taiwanese author Wu Ming-Yi, a photograph of the field opposite my childhood home, and a strip from graphic novelist Marjane Satrapi’s Chicken with Plums.)

On a side note, my Noise mentorship project, Learning to Leave, was awarded a Noise Singapore prize. The award comes with SGD5000 to work on a new project. I feel very thankful, and also a little terrified. There is so much to learn and so much that I want to do.

Learning to Leave

photo

“Until the age of eight, I lived on a quiet street facing nothing but trees. It was in this house that I made mazes out of cardboard boxes, towns out of pebbles, and where I fell off a see-saw, head first, on carpet grass.

In returning to my childhood home, I found history and its hazy imprint on my life. This work is about a homecoming, reconciliation, and the ceaseless speeding towards adulthood.”

- my 72-word artist statement for the Noise Singapore exhibition, opening Friday, 16 Aug, at SAM’s 8Q. Runs till 7 Sept.

Eyelids

Eyelids

Next time when you grow up,
you can go get surgery
on your eyelids.

Whenever you’re free,
pinch your nose -
it makes your nose bridge
higher.
Neh? Like that.
Look
at me,
I’m showing you
how to do it.

Why you black face?
Qian zou ah?
Anyway you look nicer
when you don’t smile.