01 Jan 2019

Talk To Strangers In The Name Of Art

A Grab driver and his passenger are in the middle of a conversation.

The young man, back in Singapore from the United States where he is based, says he feels nostalgic about his home town.

The driver replies: “I don’t understand you young people nowadays. Not even 30 years old, already last time this, last time that. You’re supposed to be about the future, but you are always looking back.”

This is a snippet from one of 11 dialogues that will take place at the Telok Ayer Arts Club as part of a new performance artwork by Singapore artist Dawn Ng, 36, which runs on Jan 17, 24 and 31 and Feb 14.

Twenty-two members of the public will sit on opposite ends of 11 “confessional booths”, which are arranged in a circle.

Each pair has three minutes to read from a script Ng has written before they move on – one person clockwise, the other anticlockwise – to re-enact a different dialogue with a different stranger.

These range from the everyday to the fantastical; from a conversation with Apple’s Siri virtual assistant to two children talking about a tooth fairy.

“Because the participants are strangers, I wanted to push them into the deep end of the fictional relationships I created,” says Ng, the artist behind Walter, a huge white rabbit that has popped up in places such as the lawn of the Singapore Art Museum, Housing Board estates and the MAC Lyon museum of contemporary arts in France.

“For example, you could be getting a divorce from a person, who in reality, you just met. I want audiences to be able to access their emotions instantly and challenge their capacity for empathy for the characters they play and the others they encounter.”

The title of the show is 11.

Ng explains: “The two ones mirror each other, yet stand as two parallel lines that never meet.

“11 visually reflects what this social experiment is about – two individuals sharing a binding story or emotion for a brief moment, then moving on.”

Inspiration came when she was wrapping up production for her solo exhibition Perfect Stranger at Sullivan + Strumpf gallery in Sydney last year. That project, which comprises 61 text prints, was first displayed at Chan + Hori Contemporary in Gillman Barracks.

It was born out of a year’s worth of daily responses to questions from a psychologist she had recently met.

“I find the acute honesty between two people who don’t know each other moving,” says Ng, whose work can be found at United Overseas Bank and in the Singapore Art Museum’s permanent collection.

The upcoming show – part-performance art, part-social experiment – recalls the practice of speed dating, although Ng, who is married to Mr Wee Teng Wen, co-founder of hospitality company The Lo & Behold Group, says she is not drawing from first-hand experience.

What does she hope it will achieve?

“That everyone will feel something. And maybe someone might even fall in love with a stranger.”

Titled 11, the performance artwork by artist Dawn Ng sees members of the public reading from prepared scripts to one another in "confessional booths".