Clara Chow 2: Clip 2
Clara Chow discusses how she resists official Singaporean narratives of progress through her writing and assuages personal anxieties about space / purpose / production through crocheting.
AnxietyArchitectureEnvironmental DegradationOfficial Narratives
Dr. Joanne Leow
blk 128 Potong Pasir Avenue 1 #03-209
Joanne Leow: You’re really imagining the the death of capitalism and the kind of horribleness, the dystopia that you’re left with, like what are the remnants—the horrible poisonous things. [0:09] Clara Chow: I believe they can be reclaimed, because I believe in the power of nature, right, like even if it’s really polluted, at some point the corals will start to grow, it will be rehabilitated. So there’s this end of civilization. 0:23 Joanne Leow: Yeah, not in our timeframe, not in our timeline. That’s so interesting. So, I guess jumping off from that, maybe two more questions. One about your thinking about Bukum, and I really love what you’re saying about the island, like, you know, is it a corporatized space, what happens when it’s not in the end. I’ve been thinking about coastal changes—and also in the context of your book, right, because you’re talking to architects, you’re thinking about unbuilt buildings, but then you’re building them in the stories as well. So, what do you think is that relationship between the words that you’re writing, the stories, the kind of buildings you’re imagining, or even the coastlines you’re imagining, and the actual, material—have you thought about that? Like the materials that we’re using, like sand, like cement, like glass, workers’ labour? [1:06] Clara Chow: Okay, so sand is interesting, because when I was writing, there was this whole sand shortage going on in Singapore and Joshua Comaroff, who is also interviewed in the book, he wrote this whole essay about sand, and how it’s precious, and our relationship with sand and Indonesia; so, in a way, that comes up because sand is the key to our survival as a city, so if we didn’t have any more sand, then Singapore can’t really function anymore. That’s one aspect of it, but the other aspect is my anxiety as someone who has never actually made anything with my hands. Like, my entire career was just writing and arranging words, and I look at architects where your entire career can be mucked up in this house, that building, and even like a competitor. Your entire career is that you make this cupboard, and even if you are ninety years old you have made this cupboard so many times, you’re a master craftsman, and you can still make this cupboard perfectly. We don’t have that assurance as writers. So, by the time I’m ninety I might have Alzheimer’s and I wouldn’t even be able to string a sentence together, so practice doesn’t really make perfect in our case, right…it was really depressing. To me, I felt like materiality was the key of this anxiety, so if you could kind of make something, and at least that would stand as a testament to what you have done. So probably a little bit—not the same as what you’re asking, but I do think about materials now, but I do a lot of crochet, and just working with yarn calms me a lot, like I’ve gotten past the, envying the architects, because that—okay, yeah, you work with concrete, you work with tar, you know, but I just do my domestic thing, and I work with yarn, and it’s really really calming, and then you make a scarf, and you’re like, okay, at least it’s something. So, there’s this whole tension between producing something that is intangible and producing something that’s tangible. [3:20] Joanne Leow: But you produced the book, the book is a physical object! Clara Chow: I know, I know, okay, yeah, that’s what people say, right, you make a book— Joanne Leow: You made a book, I mean, c’mon! Clara Chow: —but, but, I want to argue that if no one reads the book it’s still not a thing. The book only becomes a thing when someone reads it. Whereas a scarf is a thing, its thingness is indisputable. Does that make sense? Joanne Leow: Yes, yes that makes sense. Clara Chow: Of course, then you can counterargue and say, but a scarf is not a scarf until someone wears it, a house is not a house until someone lives in it, and I’m like, yeah, but, you know, a house is a pretty big thing, you can’t ignore it. Joanne Leow: (laughs) Depends, maybe if it’s on Pulau Bukom you could. Clara Chow: (laughs) True dat. [4:01] Joanne Leow: Maybe one last question. So then, I guess, a more broader, philosophical question. Now that you’ve written it—and I know writing the book you were thinking about space in Singapore—what do you think is the role of the fictional text, then? Because I mean, the fact that you chose to build the buildings that they hadn’t built, right, means also architects in some case are also…they’re authors, right, they write fictions. So, what do you think is the role of the literary text, your literary text, but also many other people writing at the same time right now thinking about space here? [4:33] Clara Chow: In the course of writing the book I realized that architects are actually very good writers, so they actually don’t need me around, they write fantastically and they do write fiction, and there’s this whole subset called architectural fiction where architects themselves write like sci-fi and all that. So, I think that architecture and fiction has always gone hand-in-hand. Even when you go to architecture school, there are these modules to tell you how to write so that you can convey your vision of what you’re about to build, so space has always been contingent on the words. It’s like the: “let there be light,” right, and then there’s the world, so “let there be words,” and then there’s the building. The role of the text in the city, then, is, as I say in the preface, it’s a set of alternative blueprints. So, we have the physical landscape, but these are only the buildings that made it into concrete, right. There were all these other rejected buildings, like, for example, Golden Mile Complex, like it was really supposed to be entire mile, and continue on and on. But because, for whatever reason, it was never built—but imagine if it had been, right, and then this city would look different. So, I just thought that, if we could kind of do our own alternative blueprints, then that would be a form of resistance to official landscapes, official narratives. And even though they don’t get built, we don’t have to feel like whatever we think about or whatever we imagine is not valid. It’s still collected somewhere; it still will survive in some form or other.