We headed down to the National Museum on Sunday after lunch at Toa Payoh to see the Sebastiao Salgado photo exhibition there (Genesis). It is an exhibit of his and his wife’s (Lelia Walnick Salgado)’s photography project to document the beginnings of our world, or rather, parts of our modern world that remain unchanged from its beginnings. It includes photos of various indigenous tribes in Brazil, various landscapes and animal colonies in the North and South pole, vistas and geographically interesting regions in Brazil and other parts of South America, and various islands in the British Isles.

The exhibit was completely in black and white; there is a teaser exhibit outside the main exhibit, which you need tickets to go to. Tickets are free for singaporeans (perhaps everyone? not sure about this), but you do need to collect the tickets at the museum ticket office using your pink IC. Which is really superfluous and somewhat against the environmental preservation message of the entire show, especially since they got funding from a Brazilian mining company (Vale) whose key objective is to produce sustainable energy. Couldn’t we just flash our pink ICs at the door to gain entrance? What is the point of printing the tickets?

The photos are brilliant, edgy, have marvellous composition, although some are blown up really large and are a bit grainy because of the film he uses to capture high speed photos, something I have yet to learn how to appreciate. The photos in the external “free” exhibition are also framed with glossy glass panes, which interferes with the viewer’s enjoyment of the photos because of the multitude of reflections on each print. You can read more about his experiences on shooting with the Nenets and drinking reindeer blood and other extreme conditions of this project here.

After the photo exhibit was probably our last SSO chamber concert for some time at SOTA. I planned on going to the exhibition on Sunday because it’s just across the street from SOTA, and we had planned on attending this particular concert (Mendelssohn Piano Trio No. 1 and Vaughan William’s Piano Quintet in C minor was playing with my favourite musicians as usual) about a month or so back when the publicity first came out. We didn’t bother purchasing the tickets until the week we came back from Italy because the concert had free seating (their sunday afternoon concerts at SOTA usually do) and there was no rush to get the good seats when all you have to do is to show up earlier.

I think I actually received two brochures in the post about this concert, plus an email, which made me think that perhaps the ticket sales were not doing too well. When we actually showed up a quarter of an hour before the concert though, a lot of seats in the left half of the stall were filled, and still more people came, to have the largest turnout I’ve seen at a Sunday afternoon chamber concert so far.

I like chamber concerts because I prefer chamber music to orchestral music, and there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of decent chamber ensembles performing independently in Singapore (or perhaps I don’t do enough research). So it was really nice to listen to a piano trio or a quintet for once instead of a concerto/symphony. I think more work needs to go into chamber performances too, because you are unsupported by your section – each instrumentalist has to carry his own and any mistakes can be immediately attributed to the only violinist in the group, or the only cellist in the group, etc.

I didn’t really like the first pianist’s rendition of the Mendelssohn piano trio – I thought her playing was a bit flustered/messy. The runs weren’t clear or confident and there were quite a few errors. The second ensemble that played the Vaughan Williams quintet was clearly the more together one, but they had the better pianist, and I have always been biased to that particular cellist and bassist. The Vaughan Williams also had more interesting sonorities and harmonies for the piano quintet genre (I haven’t listened to any of his chamber music before), but that didn’t stop either of us from sneaking little naps in the boring movements of both pieces. I stayed awake for most of the second piece, but we were out cold for entire sections of the first piece. The problem was working on D and S’s wedding prezi slideshow until 3am on saturday, and then having to wake at 7.45am on sunday morning to go to church, and not having any time to fit in an afternoon nap before the chamber concert because I intelligently decided to go for Genesis. I don’t regret any of it! We even spotted a white shouldered starling outside SMU while walking from the National Museum to SOTA, which was pretty cool.

Sebastiao Salgado’s book is selling for $98 in the museum shop, but is $47 on Amazon. This is the regular sized copy by Taschen. The larger sized display copy goes for about $5560 in the museum gift shop.

I suppose I should do some posts on Italy soon. It was a very undocumentable trip – everywhere was filled with breathtaking beauty and sunlit vales and tangled vineyards and blue skies and poppy fields – you just feel it’s a bit unfair on artists living anywhere else in the world but Tuscany, to have all their senses assaulted in this manner every single day while doing something as mundane as driving to the supermarket. Do you know what I see while walking to the supermarket at Yishun MRT? Neighbourhood cats fighting, the occasional rat, students canoodling in the study corner. Unspeakably ugly architecture that is our HDB estates. Even more visually disturbing are the brightly colored playgrounds and garbage bins, the clothes that people wear, the simultaneously orange AND blue bus stops. Grass and mud everywhere, not a flower in sight.

In Singapore, you have to work to find art. In Tuscany, art finds you.

What do I mean by “undocumentable” then? It’s simple – to document the trip with clumsy words (for these take the least brain power to write) would be to spoil anything you experienced. If there was any single motivation to become a better writer, it would be to not debase your own memories with cheesy descriptions. (Not saying anything about anyone *cough* Liangze *cough* :P)

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