Home > Ecclesiastes, Olympus PEN EP3 + Panasonic Lumix 20mm f1.7 > Villa Alicia and the Nothingness of Man

Villa Alicia and the Nothingness of Man

Sun sets over Villa Alicia, 43 Binjai Park
The Villa Alicia press release read:

There is an old, old house in Binjai Park. One that has housed many memories for Dr Nalla Tan, 88, a prominent physician and feminist, and her family since the 1970s.
In August 2011, it will be demolished. But for its swan song, it will play host to a sound and photography installation, Villa Alicia. Curated and created by artists Alecia Neo and Clarence Chung, both 25, visitors are invited to wander through the rustic home and visit the memories within.
The bungalow is split into two parts. One half of the house was where the son, wine bar owner Tan Ying Hsien, 49 , lived and the other belonged to Dr Nalla Tan, who suffers from Alzheimer’s Disease.
In Villa Alicia, Neo restaged old photographs from the Tan’s family photo album. A child’s first birthday. A wedding. A wake. About forgotten memories and the act of remembering, Villa Alicia looks into how memories and histories are shaped by time, mind and disease. Is it the people around us, who help us remember? Is it the place where we are? Or is it the possessions we surrounded ourselves with?
Neo, 25, says: “I see the value in capturing the fragility of memories, people and spaces, through a rare opportunity in having access to the home of a prominent person; the contrast of generations, the new and the old, and the loss faced as memory fails you.”
For Ying Hsien, the decision to sell and move out of the house was a heart-rending one. “I’ve lived there for the better part of a lifetime and most of my memories are inextricably tied to the house. Whilst I carry away these memories, their physical link will be severed when the house disappears.”
The house is slated to be demolished a few days after the exhibition closes. Come by, visit and help us bid a fond farewell to the old home.

P8070401 Villa Alicia, 43 Binjai Park
Villa Alicia, 43 Binjai Park Villa Alicia, 43 Binjai Park
Villa Alicia, 43 Binjai Park Villa Alicia, 43 Binjai Park
The obvious almost untouched beauty of 1970s architecture was not quite the show,

Bedroom, Villa Alicia, 43 Binjai Park Bedroom, Villa Alicia, 43 Binjai Park
Outside Bathroom, Villa Alicia, 43 Binjai Park Bedroom, Villa Alicia, 43 Binjai Park
Villa Alicia, 43 Binjai Park Villa Alicia, 43 Binjai Park
neither was the lived-in comfort of Ying Hsien’s wing of the house.

Villa Alicia, 43 Binjai Park Dining Table, Villa Alicia, 43 Binjai Park
Yet the stated purpose of the artists was communicated not so much by Alecia Neo‘s restaged photographs nor Clarence Chung’s sound installations,
Villa Alicia, 43 Binjai Park Villa Alicia, 43 Binjai Park
Kitchen, Villa Alicia, 43 Binjai Park Villa Alicia, 43 Binjai Park
Villa Alicia, 43 Binjai Park Villa Alicia, 43 Binjai Park
but in the main house,

Villa Alicia, 43 Binjai Park Villa Alicia, 43 Binjai Park
Villa Alicia, 43 Binjai Park Villa Alicia, 43 Binjai Park
Villa Alicia, 43 Binjai Park Villa Alicia, 43 Binjai Park
by the poignancy of Dr. Nalla Tan‘s handwriting on the white walls, scribbled and emphatically retraced during the early onset of Alzheimer’s in a bid to entrench, to remember, before even that ability was gone. The scribbles don’t always match though, because, despite “DO NOT REMOVE” in capital letters, the hangings had indeed been re-arranged.

Villa Alicia, 43 Binjai Park Villa Alicia, 43 Binjai Park
Where, in her younger days, she was a well-known physician, counsellor and educator in sexual matters in Singapore; the first woman in Southeast Asia to be awarded the Fellow of the Faculty of Community Medicine from the Faculty of Medicine of the Colleges of Physicians of the United Kingdom; principal of Eusoff College; intelligent and beautiful and held parties and painted with oils and wrote short stories and published books of poetry; more than what most females would or could do even in the current climate,

Villa Alicia, 43 Binjai Park Villa Alicia, 43 Binjai Park
Villa Alicia, 43 Binjai Park Villa Alicia, 43 Binjai Park
now, she was struggling just to remember the past. Like the bungalow of the strength of her years, her past would soon be demolished.

Villa Alicia, 43 Binjai Park Villa Alicia, 43 Binjai Park
Villa Alicia, 43 Binjai Park Villa Alicia, 43 Binjai Park
If the installation is merely meant to “raise questions” about forgotten memories and the act of remembering (“Is it the people around us, who help us remember? Is it the place where we are? Or is it the possessions we surrounded ourselves with?”) and stating the reality of the fragility of memory, and if we are meant to come to our own conclusions, then I’d push it further to ask how memories form our identity (both our own memories of ourselves and others’ memories of us) and how this is linked to our significance.

Humankind in all cultures and centuries place importance on being remembered – perhaps this is because we think that our value comes from living on in the minds of others. And perhaps that is why we build huge edifices in our names that are meant to survive the passage of time, why we are concerned that our family names and genes are passed on, why we want tombstones and memorials, why we do legendary things, why we are concerned that people remember our birthdays: “DO NOT REMOVE”.

Villa Alicia, 43 Binjai ParkYet the Book of Ecclesiastes is realistic about our significance:

Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher,
vanity of vanities! All is vanity.
What does man gain by all the toil
at which he toils under the sun?
generation goes, and a generation comes,
but the earth remains forever.
The sun rises, and the sun goes down,
and hastens to the place where it rises.The wind blows to the south
and goes around to the north;
around and around goes the wind,
and on its circuits the wind returns.
All streams run to the sea,
but the sea is not full;
to the place where the streams flow,
there they flow again.
All things are full of weariness;
a man cannot utter it;
the eye is not satisfied with seeing,
nor the ear filled with hearing.
What has been is what will be,
and what has been done is what will be done,
and there is nothing new under the sun.
Is there a thing of which it is said,
“See, this is new”?
It has been already
in the ages before us.
There is no remembrance of former things,
nor will there be any remembrance
of later things yet to be
among those who come after.

Yet the wise Preacher concludes at the end of the book (Ecclesiastes 12) that this does not mean that our lives don’t matter. Our existence is, as we all suspect, meaningful – because our Creator who created us will also judge every little deed of ours at the end.

Therefore, while we still have the presence of mind, while we are still able, let us fear God and keep his commandments:

Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, “I have no pleasure in them”; before the sun and the light and the moon and the stars are darkened and the clouds return after the rain, in the day when the keepers of the house tremble, and the strong men are bent, and the grinders cease because they are few, and those who look through the windows are dimmed, and the doors on the street are shut—when the sound of the grinding is low, and one rises up at the sound of a bird, and all the daughters of song are brought low — they are afraid also of what is high, and terrors are in the way; the almond tree blossoms, the grasshopper drags itself along, and desire fails, because man is going to his eternal home, and the mourners go about the streets— before the silver cord is snapped, or the golden bowl is broken, or the pitcher is shattered at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern, and the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.

If we are single and alone, if no one calls us at Christmas or asks us out for meals, it ultimately does not matter that we vapours in the wind are forgotten by other soon-to-cease-to-exist vapours; rather, loneliness should point us to find significance and rest with the only eternal permanent being – God.
Villa Alicia, 43 Binjai Park Villa Alicia, 43 Binjai Park
May the last thing to leave us be our faith in and whole-hearted dependence on a trustworthy, awesome, mighty, eternal, merciful, judging God who promised that all who trust that the death of his Son has paid for their sins will be saved from his coming wrath.

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  1. August 9, 2011 at 5:14 pm

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