One or Several Tigers
€ 14 / € 11 (-25/65+)
EN > FR
Meet the artist after the second performance on 4/05
Multi-faceted artist Ho Tzu Nyen makes films, video art, and performances. In One or Several Tigers, he brings two simulated characters to life: a tiger and a man. The figure of the tiger, an important symbol in pre-colonial Malaysia/Singapore, forms the starting point for a mysterious duet. Elements from mythology and colonial history are processed through various computer and animation techniques into a new, fluid reality. The film reflects on the state of Singapore, which became independent in 1965 and is a place where numerous foreign – including British and Japanese – influences can still be felt. An ‘original’ culture or an unambiguous past seems to be lacking. Using multimedia techniques and animation, Tzu Nyen focuses on the hybridity of identity, bodies, and history. The characters run into each other, and gradually, the video work itself reveals its multi-layered character.
Directions, script, edit & installation design Ho Tzu Nyen
Music, vocals, motion capture performer Vindicatrix
Project management Stephanie Goh
3D scan, 2D & 3D animation, compositing Vividthree Productions
3D modeling, facial, body, 3D animation Mimic Productions
Installation co-design, lighting, technical management Andy Lim
Sound design, engineering, mix Jeffrey Yue
Show control programming, production management Yap Seok Hui
Shadow puppets Hadi Sukirno
Production (live action) Fran Borgia
Cinematography (live action) Amandi Wong
Technical coordination Steve Kwek
Touring production Ho Tzu Nyen & ARTFACTORY
Actors Mia Md Rasel, Md Mohosin, Hassand Khayrul, Chandra Roy Liton, Kathirvel Raja Kumar, Palamppan Kannan, Govindarasu Karuppaiah, Kuppan Ayyanar
Translations Babel Subtitling
Commissioned by Haus der Kulturen der Welt
Special Thanks Anselm Franke, Kim Hyunjin, Bernd Scherer, Heidi Ballet, Kevin Chua, Robert Wessing, Peter Boomgaard, Frie Leysen, Kim Seonghee, Nina Miall, Shabbir Hussain Mustafa, Charimaine Toh, Eugene Tan, Max-Philip Aschenbrenner, Hiromi Maruoka, Tomoyuki Arai
Presentation Kunstenfestivaldesarts, KVS
Production Haus der Kulturen der Welt, based on a previous commission (2 or 3 Tigers) by Asia Culture Centre Creation and Institute of Asian Culture Development
Supported by National Arts Council (Singapore), Singapore International Foundation, Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, Office for the Hub City of Asian Culture, Republic of Korea & Timelines (2017) a previous commission by National Gallery SingaporeBack to top
THREE TIGERS (extrait)
par Filipa Ramos
Writing in 1980, the late John Berger, in his well-known text Why Look at Animals, affirmed that, “the 19th century (…) saw the beginning of a process, today being completed by 20th century corporate capitalism, by which every tradition which has previously mediated between humans and nature was broken. Before this rupture, animals constituted the first circle of what surrounded humans” (Berger writes “man” but I’ve taken the liberty to amend him, despite the fact that it would be a comfortable position, that of blaming the entire male gender for all the disasters committed by humanity). With less anthropocentric yet similar and equally dualistic arguments, Akira Mizuta Lippit sustains that “everywhere one looks is surrounded by the absence of animals. No longer a sign of nature’s abundance, animals now inspire a sense of panic for the earth’s dwindling resources. Spectral animals recede into the shadows of human consumption and environmental destruction.”
Many follow these ideas and explore the equation of inverse proportionality that exists between the human transformation of a territory and the occurrence of moments of unexpected encounter with those beings that have been living and traversing it. Such an assumption is accompanied by the widespread notion that within this transformation nature is replaced by culture and self-regulatory, self-preserved, interconnected ecosystems give way to artificially organized, fragmented, and synthetic environments.
Bearing in mind these considerations, and considering the growing impact of human presence in all possible zones of interspecies contact, I’ll follow Donna Haraway’s recent invitation to make kin and constitute refuges. She sustains that “our job is to make the Anthropocene as short/thin as possible and to cultivate with each other in every way imaginable epochs to come that can replenish refuge” (defined as spaces and events that “make possible partial and robust biological-culturalpolitical-technological recuperation and recomposition”) (…). “We need stories (and theories)” – she continues – “that are just big enough to gather up the complexities and keep the edges open and greedy for surprising new and old connections.”
I’ll attempt to follow Haraway using the path of art, focusing on the same animal (…). I hope that my observations (…) offer a glimpse of the hybrid terrains and zones of outlandish encounter that resist or simply ignore the above-mentioned dualistic simplifications (the nature cultural, yin and yang), and which may contribute to constitute, reconstitute, and maintain these refugia – places of refuge – poetic and concrete zones that defy the everywhere desert portrayed by Lippit.
Road Surveying Interrupted in Singapore
(Heinrich Leutemann, c.1865 85) (image)
The first animal figure appears in a lithograph entitled Unterbrochene Strassenmessung auf Singapore (Road Surveying Interrupted in Singapore). To tell its story we need to summon three white European men (as in a bad joke): the German natural history illustrator Heinrich Leutemann, who made the original drawing of the engraving; the British Colonial agent Stamford Raffles, considered the founder of modern Singapore and who, in 1833 appointed the Irish civil architect George Drumgold Coleman as Superintendent of Public Works, Overseer of Convict Labour, and Land Surveyor of Singapore. The wood engraving depicts the moment when Coleman, together with a group of forced laborers, meet a tiger. This small print (20.8 x 29.4 cm.) is the first work visitors’ encounter when they enter the recently inaugurated National Gallery of Singapore. The work sets the tone of the curatorial approach to the hanging of the collection as a whole, which emerges as an attempt to explore the intertwinement between artistic representation, historical contextualization, and mythical storytelling that surrounds the edification of the cultural identity of the Asian city-state. The tiger has played various, often contradictory roles in the territory’s historical geopolitical definitions, from being the symbol of the invasiveness of Japan to embodying the communist menace to traversing the majority of the shamanistic accounts of human animal transformative procedures. The tiger is also used to characterize Singapore’s present-day status, referred to as one of the four “Asian Tiger” economies (alongside South Korea, Taiwan, and Hong Kong). The strength of such imaginary is acknowledged by the museum via this print and the associations it establishes.
With photographic accuracy, Leutemann represented this scene at the exact moment of in-betweeness, when everything is on the verge of happening, but while the final outcome is still undisclosed: the tiger hasn’t completed her leap; the humans haven’t yet been attacked; the theodolite hasn’t yet reached the ground; and the jungle’s vegetation hasn’t been cleared, cut, and flattened to render visible the particular topography that is about to be “mapped, itemized, measured, inscribed, transcribed, and triangulated.”
There are still no names or numbers associated to this language-free landscape; no map or guide can orientate Coleman and his team. Only the tiger seems to possess a map, made out of smells, textures, and temperatures more than of visual reference points. Coleman is there precisely to capsize such natural measurement of space, to ensure that people will be able to orientate themselves better than tigers. What we observe here is the exact moment of the transmutation of the site into another rendering of it, albeit not necessarily a clearer one. As Bruno Latour suggests, “according to our land surveyors the difference between a tropical jungle and a concrete one is not that big. One gets lost in both: in the former due to a lack of landmarks and in the latter due to an excess of signs, nails, posts and marks that one has to learn to distinguish.”
Returning to the lithograph, an attentive look at the agitated party reveals that the tiger doesn’t seem to be as interested in the group of men as it is in the theodolite they carry. The delicate and expensive topographic measuring tool for calculating the angles of horizontal and vertical planes represents the progress of modern science and its association with colonialist explorations (mapping and measuring to legitimize control). Could this interpretation be led by an artistic error, in which Leutemann – who certainly wouldn’t have observed many living tigers in his lifetime and even less in the wild – inaccurately directed the animal’s gaze toward the instrument rather than toward the individuals? Or could this be instead a representation of the animal’s intuition, the tiger’s sixth sense telling her to destroy the greatest threat to her survival, as the measuring and mapping device stands for everything that will flatten and transform the jungle where she lives? This argument – which has been thoughtfully developed by Kevin Chua in his article “The Tiger and the Theodolite” and imagined by the artist Ho Tzu Nyen in his video work Play of Shadows from Ten Thousand Tigers (2014) – allows for the inversion of the dialectics of the encounter between humans and nonhumans and the consideration of the fact that interaction isn’t exclusively a human initiative. It might well be that it was the tiger who took the decision of appearing to the group, a theory that recognizes the intentionality and agency of the animal. I would even argue it is likely that we are observing a representation of an animal’s fascination for an unknown moving object, an instrument of mapping and surveying that enters a threshold contact zone, which 150 years later continues to be interpreted in popular culture as an attack. Many may be familiar with this gesture, made popular by online channels like YouTube, which hosts a large number of “drone animal attacks,” videos and compilations that attest to the interest of various animals in intercepting, capturing, and keeping the unmanned aerial vehicles that traverse the air around them. This reading would offer a very different interpretation of Leutemann’s image, suggesting that instead of attacking and attempting to push the mysterious mechanical creature backwards, the tiger might well be curious and attracted to it.
It is clear that animals, which until that moment had been unseen start manifesting themselves during this period of land transformation. Despite the fact that tigers have lived in the Malaysian Peninsula for millennia, the first extant record of the presence of a tiger in the territory of Singapore dates from 1831. This news reports that “tigers are beginning to infest the vicinity of the town (…) not many days ago, the friends of a Chinese woodcutter (…) discovered the head, and part of one leg of their companion in the thicket not far distant from the rear of the Chinese temple which lays near the road leading to New Harbour, and (…) marks of a tiger’s feet were plainly indented in the ground, round about the spot.” In the years that followed, there were similar news and accounts of complaints from workers and citizens, who felt that “the population of Singapore is really being converted into food for tigers, and the inhabitants are departing as regularly as steamers.” They also expressed their concerns about the “rapid depopulation of Singapore by tigers,” and their fears “that the ‘evil will go on increasing’” – or in other words – that the “population will go on diminishing.”
This news reveals the existence of a zone where the opposite of what had been theorized by Berger, Lippit, and others occurs. At a certain moment in the process of modernization that led to a widespread urbanization and/or ruralisation of areas that had been previously occupied by humans, there was an inevitable rise in interspecies encounters. These weren’t always peaceful or necessarily triggered by human scientific curiosity or economic interest in other species, but were often shaped by the attraction these animals had to humans and their objects. Such an inverted relationship also opens the way for the conception that culture is indistinguishable from nature, or that one human’s culture is another tiger’s nature and vice versa.
Anna Tsing points out to the need to maintain places capable of sustaining a “reworlding in rich cultural and biological diversity,” capable of sustaining the rebirth of forms of refuge for humans and nonhumans alike. Appearing and then disappearing, as described in Coleman’s account, the tiger returns to her material refuge zone. She also returns to an immaterial refuge, embedded in a ghostly aura. The concrete presence of the animal in these territories has been sublimated and reemerges in various allegorical phantasmagorias, which recuperated the traditional myths that sustain the possibility of humans and the nonhumans alike, to traverse their respective ontological confinements and become other.
It is precisely in this period that werejaguars, werewolves, and weretigers found their way from the ages of time across the pathways constituted by Victorian anxieties and passions for the supernatural, the bestial, and the uncanny, haunting the bad conscience of the imaginaryof the colonialist with an irrational fear for the other, which leads us to a ghost story, set in the same geographical area but more than a century apart.Back to top
Ho Tzu Nyen makes films, videos, installations and theatrical performances that re-construct and re-imagine philosophical and historical texts and artefacts. He has had one-person exhibitions at the Guggenheim Bilbao (2015), DAAD Galerie (2015), Mori Art Museum, Tokyo (2012), the Singapore Pavilion at the 54th Venice Biennale (2011) and Artspace, Sydney (2011). He participated in exhibitions such as the 6th Moscow Biennale (2015); the 10th Shanghai Biennale (2014); the 2nd Kochi-Muziris Biennale (2014); the 6th Asia-Pacific Triennial, Queensland Art (2009) and the 26th Sao Paulo Biennale (2004). His works have been shown at institutions such as the Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo (2015); Museum of Modern Art, Warsaw (2015); Guggenheim New York (2013); Witte de With (2013, 2012); ZKM, Karlsruhe (2013, 2007); Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin (2011, 2017).
His theatrical works have been presented at TPAM Directions, Japan (2018), Asian Arts Theatre, Gwangju (2015); Wiener Festwochen (2014); Theater der Welt (2010); Kunstenfestivaldesarts (2006, 2008); the Singapore Arts Festival (2006, 2008).
His films have been presented at the Berlin Film Festival (2015); Sundance Film Festival (2012); Cannes Film Festival (2009); Venice Film Festival (2009); Locarno Film Festival (2011) and Rotterdam (2008, 2010, 2013).
Ho Tzu Nyen was awarded a DAAD Scholarship in Berlin (2014 – 2015) and the Grand Prize of the Asia Pacific Breweries Foundation Signature Art Prize (2015).