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The senses of an empire …

by Jeremy Fernando

The senses of an empire

Yanyun Chen - Archived Presence, 2013 


“ … to visit a place for the first time is thereby to begin to write it: the address not being written, it must establish its own writing …”

(Roland Barthes)


It is in front of you.
Tall, broad, strong — wider than any other. The pavilion beyond all pavilions. 
Only you cannot see it.
Not because it isn’t there. But because, at any one point, someone is blind to it. Today it is you. Perhaps it even chose you.
So, let me see it for you.

You walk in.
Quite immediately, turn right. Not because you choose to—it is just how the path blows you along.
There is a certain lightness; one not usually associated with a place better known for being harsh, calculating, methodical—draconian even. Ironic considering it is a place of transit, movement, flows. But, then again, it is not a flow for the sake of drifting; not an appreciation of flowing. In fact — and facts are everything here — the very notion of drifting, the drift, would very much be frowned upon. For, that is too reliant on chance, currents, on being carried by, towards, from—a movement without a designed, designated, path. Without which, one can never know, decide, whether it was a good, successful, move, or not.   


You hear laughter; it rings loud—like the belly laugh of Ubu Roi. A laughter that is nothing more than just laughing: full of sound and fury … Rather difficult though to tell where it is coming from. Sound seems to bounce around the corridors; everywhere and nowhere at exactly the same time.

Completely appropriate though: faced with such absurdity one can only either laugh or cry. 


A sign. Far left.

I will be anything you want me to be.

Promising. Vowing even. Keeping in mind there is no time frame to vows: that you can never know if the promise is kept—perhaps it will be, just not yet. Thus, you can never accuse another of breaking their promise to you.


Especially if the other is an object.

But, perhaps it is only an object that can keep a promise to you. After all, only objects can be whatever you want them to be. However, this is premised on — and which promise isn’t premised on something — you being the one who writes that promise, that object itself, into being.


Opposite, a mirror.

You keep one eye on the mirror, as you watch yourself go by.

With an exhalation you betray yourself.


I met you in my dreams

If I had known you would go,

I would never have awoken

I miss you

(12th century Japanese poem)


After all, no one can disappoint you like yourself.

But, at least this would be, is only done, on your own terms, within your own boundaries, premises.   


Hauntings. Not so much by spectres from elsewhere, but from, of, your self. By you who never quite let the object remain an object, by you who thought you could actually speak to, know, an object.
And perhaps, in revenge, your haunt that never lets you forget not just that that it was once home, but that it was never — and that there can never be, that there is no such thing as a — home.
That your haunt is always also haunted.
Which might just be why it is always there, but can never quite be seen, never quite be known. 

So, perhaps you have no choice but to take on faith what I tell you. Even if you might be experiencing these feelings as you go through the space, this place—the pavilion that I am now calling, naming, the Singapore Pavilion at the Venice Biennale.

A pavilion that was never there, will never be there—and thus, perhaps has always already been there.


Not that I have ever seen it.
I am as blind to it as you are. But, it is not as if it picked me. Today is your day: your blindness is yours alone, only for you.
What I am now telling you is something I have once been told. Through writing, in writing, as I am now writing to you — 


… for writing is precisely that act which unites in the same labor what could not be apprehended together in the mere flat space of representation …”

(Roland Barthes)




Jeremy Fernando is the Jean Baudrillard Fellow at the European Graduate School, where he is also a Reader in Contemporary Literature & Thought. He works in the intersections of literature, philosophy, and the media; and has written six books—including Reading Blindly, and Writing Death. Exploring other media has led him to film, music, and art; and his work has been exhibited in Seoul, Vienna, Hong Kong, and Singapore. He is the general editor of both Delere Press, and the thematic magazine One Imperative; and a Fellow of Tembusu College at the National University of Singapore.
Yanyun Chen is a full time freelancer for illustrations, animations, design and game creation. Her clients include IDEO Singapore, Nexus Singapore, Shyalala, byFlo, and Audi, amongst others. She also contributes to the online magazine One Imperative, and does book layouts for wonderful writers, such as Peter Van De Kamp, and Anila Angin. She works under the artist name Stick and Balloon, with her long time creature pal Sara Chong; is part of the Piplatchka Collective; and is currently pursuing an MA in Media Philosophy at the European Graduate School.



Singapore will not be participating in the 55th Venice Biennale. In a statement released to the press on August 28, the National Arts Council (NAC) announced that the country has decided not to stage a national pavilion at the forthcoming edition of the internationally prestigious contemporary art show as it intends to “critically re-assess Singapore’s long-term participation” in the event. Read more here:
The local arts community has responded with dismay and puzzlement to the news that comes at a time when Singapore has attained significant critical acclaim for its most recent participations in the world’s oldest contemporary art event.
Read more here
and here


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