How do we grasp the contemporary condition of meltdown and collapse, in which fictions seem to outperform what was once vaguely known as reality? It is a question many artists are grappling with. In terms of formal solutions, some artists in recent years have experimented with performative and speculative narratives, which often oscillate between documentation and fictionalisation. Such narratives expose that our place in the world and in history is always at least as much about our physical location as it is about us being part of certain narratives that underpin traditional and popular culture, and official ideologies. In this sense, Singapore, for Ho Rui An is both a real and an imaginary location. However orderly and regulated it seems, it is also the prototypical avant-garde of the transmutations of colonial modernity and capitalism. In his ongoing performance project DASH (2016–), Ho Rui An takes us on a breathtaking journey into the workings of Singapore. He starts from a horrific accident that was recorded by a dashboard camera in 2012 and went viral on YouTube. Yet the ubiquitous dash camera is only the seemingly quotidian departure point from which he takes us into the workings of the Risk Assessment and Horizon Scanning programme of Singapore, which is a civic application of the US military’s Total Information Awareness surveillance programme. Perhaps like no other polity in our age, Singapore is a networked city that monitors its citizens and infrastructures to contain risk and predict the future.
Singapore becomes Captain Kirk’s spaceship, scanning the horizon for the known and the unknown
The horizon of the city’s streets, monitored in real time by countless taxi drivers and their cameras, mutates into the temporal horizon where the future meets the present. Singapore becomes Captain Kirk’s spaceship, scanning the horizon for the known and the unknown, driven by ‘scenario planning’ techniques derived from the mysticism-inspired California counterculture. The streams of data in Singapore from real-time surveillance are thus interpreted in never-ending storytelling sessions, Ho Rui An tells us, permanently having to question how they make sense of the world. It is at this point that the story has caught up with the storyteller. And this techno-enhanced frontier of Singaporean spaceship is screened by means of a whole bestiary of animal characters, such as black or red swans or elephants, each a shapeshifting metaphor for a future that cannot be seen, reconciling a capitalism out of bounds with the idea of control, real-time management and good governance. Ho Rui An, in DASH as well as in other works, announces himself as one of the most able clinical diagnosticians of our deranged age.
Ho is an artist and writer based between London and Singapore. He recently completed a residency at NTU CCA, Singapore. His work is currently on view at Bangkok Art and Culture Centre.