Welcome to Loving Things, a theatrical performance about how to love objects and things.
This is a guide to help you better understand Loving Things, especially if you’re new to the arts or find the arts intimidating. You can also download a PDF version of it here.
In this guide, we’ll
- Start with a short FAQ about understanding art; and
- Provide explanations to help you understand Loving Things
We hope that this guide will make it easier for you to begin experiencing and participating in the arts, as well as appreciate Loving Things.
To start, we should say that we will never fully understand any work of art. Rather than offering answers, art often proposes questions about the world, and imagines other ways of living.
Art asks you to both meet with and accept the unknown. That might feel uncomfortable, which is why so many people end up feeling too ‘stupid’ to understand. You are not too stupid to understand. There are many, many things we will all never quite know, and art is frequently interested in those big emotions, those big questions about why we’re here and how we can live.
You may have been taught that not knowing something is bad, or that it means you’re inferior. All of that is not true. And we hope the art you encounter never asks such a difficult thing of you. Knowing everything. Bleh!
I need to be smart to understand art.
You might find it hard to believe, but this is not true.
Firstly, you don’t have to understand art. Or at least, art isn’t always made to be fully understood. More often, it’s like a prompt or trigger for us to see certain things differently, or a way of communicating emotions or ideas. So rather than using your brain to understand art, sometimes you should tune in more to how it makes you feel, or whether you like it.
Sometimes the art you’re looking at gives you very little, or nothing. That’s also okay. It may be that the audience that the artwork was made for is not you. It may be that the art is bad. Or that the artist, for various reasons, decided to make an exclusive, elitist work. You can turn away, and walk toward something else that catches your eye. You not understanding that piece of work says nothing about you.
Secondly, smartness is not everything. Many of us have been taught to think of ourselves as stupid whenever we don’t understand something. But the ways our intelligence and understanding of things are measured often exclude other things you may be good at, like cooking, or listening to your friends when they’re sad, or having a really good sense of direction. Just like how society’s idea of success is limited, even cruel, this idea of intelligence is also not meaningful in the long run.
But art feels so chim*.
Yes… That’s because art tends to be more interested in asking questions than giving answers. So a lot of art is about sitting in the uncomfortable, ambiguous, and unknown. But we are not really taught how to sit like this. How to be okay with not knowing.
That being said, art can also be very academic or theory-driven, in ways that exclude people who haven’t read XYZ books, or been privileged enough to receive such an education. More inclusive, not chim* art needs to be made, and more comprehensive art education is needed.
How can I find art that suits me?
By exploring what’s out there. You can find arts listings on sites such as Arts Republic, Bakchormeeboy, ArtsEquator, and A-List, as well as Telegram channels like Channel News Theatre and SG Arts Channel. You can also keep tabs on annual events such as the Singapore International Festival of Arts, Singapore Writers Festival, M1 Singapore Fringe Festival, and Singapore Art Week.
Stay open, but also trust yourself. Again, not connecting with the work doesn’t mean that you’re not smart enough. Make an effort, but don’t feel totally responsible for your experience with the work.
Finally, if you ultimately decide that art is not for you, that’s totally okay. Live your life. Do what makes you happy. You don’t owe it to anyone to engage with the arts, and you don’t need to prove anything.
Understanding Loving Things
To begin, Loving Things is an experimental theatrical work. It tries to stretch certain ideas of what performance can be, and how performance can be presented and shared with audiences. As a piece of theatre, it also veers into the avant-garde and performance art. You can read this to better understand the difference between theatre and performance art.
Loving Things is also non-narrative, which means that it doesn’t have a story in the way you might expect, with a start, middle, and end. There is no plot or character in the way a fable or novel tends to have. So how do you make sense of it?
For one, while there’s no character or plot, there is still (1) an engagement with time and space. And there are certain items that show up repeatedly in the performance, such as the performer, the plastic bags, the green balloons, and the dragon fruit. So these items, or (2) motifs, can be considered characters, in a way, and you can track their movement throughout the show.
Finally, even without character or plot, there is emotion and feeling. (3) What do you feel when you watch Loving Things?
Here are some themes that can be picked up in Loving Things. We hope you can use them as guides rather than answers. The show is whatever the show is, and you get to see it the way you see it. There is no right answer.
Climate Change and Environment
The plastic bags in the first scene of the show point toward environmental concerns and anxieties. This is especially because they accumulate and fill the space over time, crowding the space.
A video of people skydiving and parachuting from planes is projected on the wall. Maybe the plastic bags flying and the people parachuting form parallels? There is a sense of repetition here, as well as release.
The spoken lines in the show also alludes to environmental destruction. For example:
“A human foetus takes about 3 months to form 300 bones.
A human adult body, unembalmed and without a coffin, takes 8 to 12 years to decompose.
Glass takes a million years.
Styrofoam takes 500 years to forever, or never.”
Time is another key theme in Loving Things. Whether in the scenes of waiting or prolonged and drawn out actions, time is stretched out in the show. It enacts a slowness that may feel boring, even tedious. But in doing so it moves closer toward ecological time, which is a far more expansive than human time.
What this suggests is that our perceptions of time and speed are limited by our human concepts of hours, days, months, years. How we see time is an extension of the biological rhythms of human bodies, and is ultimately different from the time felt by an ant, a rock, or water.
“In the time we’ve known each other, a mayfly could have lived a hundred lifetimes. If we had a hundred lifetimes we’d have 8300 years.”
“Your eyes are a screen attached to your face. Through it, you see everything, but you must see everything through it. […] Hummingbird wings are too fast for it, while the unfurling of a leaf is too slow.”
Love is a key theme of Loving Things. The object which anchors this theme is probably the dragon fruit, though the green balloons can also be considered within this sentiment.
Through acts of care, largely conveyed through touch and movement, the performer enacts a relationship with the dragon fruit. The caress or gaze become important channels here as the show asks: what does a relationship with an inanimate thing look like? Do we necessarily have to anthropomorphize (give human qualities to) the object? How can we love an object on its own terms, within its own time and rhythms?
Loving Things is centred on inanimate objects and their lives beyond our human ones. It has been said that “object” refers to things that humans take for granted, in the sense that we don’t pay attention to actual material or tendencies of the object outside our use of them. To us, the object is simply a table, or an EZ-link card, or a sock. We sit at it, tap it on card readers, and wear it. We don’t think about what the object is (wood, magnets, wool, etc.).
A word that is sometimes used in theory about objects is “thingness”. Objects are objects until they stop functioning as we expect them to. Then, they become things, something without a name, without a clear identity. That’s when we are more aware, for example, that a shower head is plastic and/or metal molded into that specific shape. It’s not that we didn’t know this before, but rather than we lived with little awareness of it, as long as the shower head continued to be the object that spouted water when we turned it on.
We also think of objects as dead matter. We control them, and they don’t control us. That is not true. The EZ-link card makes you pinch your fingers together to hold it. A brightly-coloured shirt distracts you on the MRT. A mirror makes you stop to look, or quickly turn away.
Loving Things is about rethinking these assumptions. Much of the show revolves around interacting differently with things like the dragon fruit. If we’re not eating the dragon fruit, but caring for it and dancing with it, what does the dragon fruit become?
“The size of each apple makes your fingers curl differently. The colour of your HDB block makes you gloomy as you draw closer. The dim light makes you sleepy. Your sleepiness makes you less cautious. You say funny things, honest things about how you feel.”
Loving Things also presents the theme of cycles, which ties into life, death, and responsibility. The circle is a recurring shape in the show, in the form of items such as the mirror, and the movements of the performer.
The cycle of life is a key cycle. Death is present in some of the spoken text, which talks about lifespans and time. The last few spoken lines of the show also touch on the idea of responsibility, even karma, through an environmentalist lens.
“As ragged pieces washed ashore, or particles in your water, or an unnaturally hot month in the year… it finds its way back to you.”
It suggests that whatever you discard or destroy eventually returns to you, closing a loop of responsibility and harm.
There are a number of motifs (recurring images) in Loving Things. Rather than offer answers to what they mean or symbolize, we will list three key ones for you to think about:
- Red dragon fruit
- Green balloons
We hope this guide has been useful for you! If you have further questions, you can contact us at lovingthings.sg[at]gmail[dot]com.