The city-state of Singapore nearly straddles the equator. We landed there in a heavy, moist heat tinged with toxic haze, beyond jetlagged, hardly able to find the right temperature to feel human. And so we found ourselves brain-dead in Singapore for two months.
We had to die a little to survive this place. All inputs originate from a cyborg reality. The control function is deep inside the people. What better way to be a corpse than to defer to dérive mode in this travel-efficient safety bubble? We dizzily slid along the endless conveyor belt of techno-spectacle. Its surfaces offered no secrets. Turns you into a panning motion. Please turn off your camera at the Freeport. Romantic alienation stops dead in its tracks at pancultural hawker dining stalls, an affordable foodie-tourist utopia of spicy fusion flavors. This MSG optimism quickly becomes depressing again. We were told artists like old things, like Peranakan folk art. We did get charmed by the colorful miniature paper mansions created to be set on fire. Every other building seemed to be gleaming glass and energy efficiency.
Lacking in natural resources, Singapore’s high-functioning state apparatus actively facilitates business and banking, which has made it the preeminent money-nexus of the emerging Southeast Asian market. This is what paid for our residency stay. If contemporary art (anywhere) is always getting snagged between the machinations of the state and the machinations of capital, then Singapore offers one of the most convincing visions of how such a bind could be streamlined, channeling art’s good intentions into smothering policy decisions. How to summon creative agency out of this trap?
Short-circuit that delusional gap between art, state and capital. Self-electrocute via Enzo’s Baby Sister: young woman, raised in Singapore, Princeton-educated, beautiful, popular, climbing the analyst-associate-partner ladder within the investment banking wing of Credit Suisse Singapore. Her youth, like all youth, makes palpable several future potentialities, nested in her body and pulsating in overlapping syncopated rhythms just barely below the surface of her skin. The resultant twitchy glow is attractive but disconcerting. The world’s most established banks are able to capture the world’s most promising youths by offering starting salaries upwards of $XXXXXX. Global financial capitalism must reproduce itself. But is investment banking getting crusty? Is it eating itself empty? Returns are narrowing. US and Europe are doing poorly. Best performing are emerging markets. After Asia is Africa. Postcolonial Asia is the place to be right now. For these baby bankers, tomorrow is a preventable hangover, or preventable burnout, or preventable suicide. Stressed at work? An MBA is the way to relaunch your career in the tech industry. Switch to venture capital, or managing an accelerator. How much risk do you want to bear? Why leave if things are comfortable? Regulation has made transactions timid these days, but bonus season is around the corner. The most amazing beaches are only a short flight away. On the global scale, pay is still amazing, plus low taxes and your wealth is safe. Money courses through young bodies still bearing traces of acne and baby fat. “Spending power feels fabulous” has no dialectic counterthrust when you are the only class that can afford to hit the bottle.
We attached ourselves to Baby Sister, star of the working day and party night. We were too numb and sleepy to navigate her day, preferring to rest in our air-conditioned designer residency condo. Rise at muggy dusk to pull on borrowed heels and a borrowed bandage dress (door policy). Mooching off her posse was our only task, and we half-succeeded to chronicle it with a GoPro camera. What imagery could we capture that was not already its own degraded generic version? Novelty cocktails. Dance floors flanked by company tables (Deutsche Bank, Wells Fargo, HSBC). What kind of artist? Ok, nerds. Blinking lights modulating bodies. Chubby hands grabbing. Metallic dance remix. Expats. Frenetic performance of Asian man swag. Sweat stains on a starched collar. Am I a prostitute/gay? Several grand fluttering in our faces. We clung to the night’s activities like wet cats to a lifeline. All-you-can-drink daytime brunch on the artificial beach of Sentosa Island, where someone blacked out then regained consciousness splashing around in the waves with strangers wondering where her shoes and purse had gone (nothing got stolen, everything safe). Is this hedonism? Ladies’ Night, when a liquid ton of free lycheetinis is imbibed by eligible lady-hopefuls in the singularly cross-class event of every week.
Baby Sister is effortlessly strong and opaque in the way she negotiates these sites of excess. A star is born in a giant bottle of Belvedere. Whatever contradictions and violence we wanted to project onto her did not find a surface to grip to. They just bounced off the taut neoprene of her cocktail minidress. She is, in her youth and success, too seamless an enigma. She goes back to work in the morning, cheerful. She just pulled a Singapore on us…