Monster is a video poem from the point of view of a sixty-six-year-old woman, who really is an imagination by the thirty-three-year-old artist of herself in another thirty-three years’ time in the year 2043.
Monster addresses the eternal obsession of the human in modifying body and nature in a compulsive bid to “improve” oneself. It also teases out such notions as the frailty of the body and flesh, how our body-machines decay, and imagining the means through which we sustain/prolong/improve on them. With the classic allegory of Frankenstein as a point of departure, the work posits the Human vs. Machine/ Monster argument as a complex and layered relationship that is at once dependent, violent, obsessive, loving, and destructive. While “I” (Man) have created “you” (Machine) out of a need for survival, “you” have fought with me against (my) nature, but entrapped me nonetheless; my selfishness, greed, ambition, and insatiability have led me to create an indomitable Monster/Mutant that is increasingly out of control—yet I remain faithful, and continue to love, nurture, and protect you. And I get hungrier still. This man/machine dance/wrestle is a power play that is at once paradoxical, beautiful, grotesque, and tender.
Incorporating text, performance, and animation, Monster is accompanied by a haunting soundscape made up of sounds from construction sites—an all-too-familiar sound that fills the artist’s ears in the high-tech Asian miracle, Singapore, where she is from. Scenes of Successful Singapore dominate the colorful montage, but the grand images of the city-state in a relentless process of construction and rebuilding are juxtaposed with personal, intimate images of everyday objects [End Page 105] photographed in the artist’s home—used, forgotten, and dusty as they are. We view up close to the skin of an elderly lady, whose life overlaps her daughter’s.
Monster is a lyrical little work created in May 2009 by Kai Syng Tan. Kai Syng and her mother, Ang Geok Aye, appear in the video, which is accompanied by a composition created by Philip Tan (who is Kai Syng’s brother). Images from the video are interspersed through out the special section, “Desiring Human–Machines in the Soviet Union, East Asia, and the United States,” in this issue of Cultural Critique. The video can be viewed in full at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R81spXU2QAc. [End Page 106]
In her previous life, London-based, Singapore-born, Tokyo-Chicago-London–trained multidisciplinary award-winning artist–art curator– art educator, multihyphenate Kai Syng Tan’s work has been shown in more than forty-five cities. Her current life consists of writing a PhD thesis and running to look for the meaning of life. She is itching for her next life to come. Her website is http://www.3rdlifekaidie.com.
Premiere: Human–Machines, Mechanized Modernity, and Mass Subjectivity between Asia, the Soviet Union, and North America in the Twentieth Century, conference held at Oxford University, June 2009.