Tuesday, March 08, 2011

A Monologue for The Substation Garden

Since 2006, Zai Kuning has been speaking passionately about the lost of the Substation Garden, which has been disconnected from the arts centre itself ever since Timbre Group opened its first food and beverage outlet. The arts community's response towards the lost of the iconic tree, the changing landscape around The Substation, and the community it used to gather varies from nostalgia, ambivalent pragmatism to resentment.

Commissioned for a work for the Singapore Biennale (SB) 2011, Zai proposed to close Timbre and return the garden to the arts community for the period of the Biennale. However, the proposal failed to materialise. Bearing in mind Kuo Pao Kun's words " great failure is more worthwhile than mediocre success', Zai conceived this exhibition and monologue as a response to the failed project, focusing on his personal experience and thoughts about the Garden, the Substation, and his conversation with Matthew Ngui (director of SB 2011).

More importantly, he would like to invite you to be part of this response to a sanctuary that the arts community have lost.

I want my garden back because I miss the tree
Its 4pm now but the garden is lock and the tree is as
lonely as me

I want my garden back because I miss the tree
And now they have turn the garden to be so ugly
Im feeling sad and angry for the garden and how we use
to play freely

- Zai Kuning's open letter to the artscommunity, 2006

Opening of the exhibition: 25th March 7.30pm
Speech by Zai Kuning - A Monologue for The Substation Garden

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Singular Drone Box

Footage of last week's Singular Drone Box by Amino Acid Orchestra.
This Thursday 27th January AAO will play with Zai Tang at 8pm, Substation Gallery. Tickets can be purchased at The Substation Box Office ($15)

The exhibition of Zai Kuning's sketches and drawing will run till Sunday.

Video credit: Ren Lee, Charmaine Mob
Photo Credit: Ujikaji Records

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Gospel from a Strange Flower who Grows Stubbornly

In October 2009, Zai went to Tokyo to attend Asian Meeting Festival, a sound art event organised by Otomo Yoshihide, whom Zai got to know back in 1994 during Flying Circus Project (TheatreWorks, Singapore). I remembered that both of them told me that they fought badly during that project, but
interestingly it was also because of the fight that they began to respect and like each other. The last I saw of Otomo was when he came to Singapore with Dickson Dee to work with Zai on Book from Hell in 2008.

Asian Meeting Festival saw the gathering of about 20 artists from Asia and it was held in both Asakusa Asahi Art Centre (Tokyo) and Tokuzo (Nagoya).  Apart from playing a 20 minute solo set for each concert, Zai was also given the opportunity to collaborate and improvise with several fine musicians such as Yoshinori Tanagawa on guitar, Usui Yashuhiro on saxophone, Ko Ishikawa on tradition Japanese Sho, and Otomo on guitar and turn table.

Asahi Art Centre, Asakusa, Tokyo

Tokuzo, Nagoya


As usual, when Zai travels, he is hardly contactable; He doesn't carry a phone and wants to be free from the internet. The first email he sent to onistudio was already after he had finished four gigs in Tokyo and was performing in Nagoya. He said that one night in his dreams, he saw a cactus walking towards the
sea and as it went further and further, it transformed into a whale and swam away. Thus during his trip to Nagoya in the bullet train, he pondered on the dream and some new materials that he had discovered in Tokyo. That was when the words came to his mind. This was what he wrote,

"i am playing under a `tittle` - 'strange flower grow stubornly' and `stubborn flower grow strangely`. its my new work/piece. im excited. tomorow i got to go back to tokyo to do some recording which im glad to."

As I read these two titles, a myriad of images ran through my mind, one of the most vivid being the pitcher plant and a parasitic plant called the Dopper. Strange flower... Stubborn flower... I started to wonder, "am I a strange flower who grow stubbornly, or a stubborn flower who grow strangely?" And I wondered that about the people around me too.

So, with the help of Otomo, Zai went to one of the most legendary underground studio (GOKstudio) to record his material. The recording was done by Kondo Yoshiyaki, who was also the sound engineer for Book from Hell and one of the most respected and wanted man in Tokyo underground scene.

Kondo at GOKstudio
Some of us may probably remember that Zai used to say "I'm still alive and active performing, what's the point having my CD? Come to my gig!' But things have changed, mind has changed, and even if he had to eat his own words, Zai had for the first time attempted studio recording and true to his care-less nature which some people grew to love and some grew to hate, it was a one-take affair with no onverdubbing. According to Zai, he grew tired (and embarrassed) when he was asked for a collection of his stuff. He thought making a  collection which is professionally recorded, mastered and produced might make some good friends happy and thus get it for someone's birthday or a nice-to-meet-you gift. One thing for sure, he has to now learn how to travel with 300 CDs in his luggage.

"You can consider me a traditional musician partly because I believe that real musicians are those who play musical instrument and sing their own songs; never mind if you so sucked up by what you got in the States or Europe."

Armed with three hours of live recording of the gigs and not including the above mentioned material,  onistudio thus decided to release a CD compilation titled Gospel from A Strange Flower who Grow
Stubbornly. The word 'gospel' coming from Kondoh san, who classified the recording under that when he was saving the tracks.

When Zai returned to Singapore, he excitedly played the songs and let me into this new world. I remembered I was toasting some sandwiches to eat, but I had to put down whatever I was doing and just listened. Quite frankly speaking, the experience was like being struck repeatedly on the head, which made it impossible to multi-task while listening, like we usually do to easy-listening or ambient music. And ever since our friend Shah Tahir did some magic on the mastering a month ago, this pastor sounded even more polished, or should I say, rough? Like a gospel, you will love it or hate it, but either way, it is good for you. Haha!

Shortly after Zai returned, Kai Lam and Lee Wen invited him and Amino Acid Orchestra (together with Fuzz Lee and Shark Fung) to play at Rooted-In-The-Ephemeral-Speak, or R.I.T.E.S on Boxing Day. Other invited artists were Dennis Tan and Goh Lee Kwang.

mindfucking boy (on floor), shark fung, dennis tan, goh lee kwang

If you were there, you would have remembered the hot-bloodedness in the room, both literally and metaphorically speaking. Reminiscing that enjoyable and wonderful night at Post-Museum, onistudio will be launching 'Gospel from a Strange Flower who Grow Stubbornly' with Shark and Goh Lee Kwang (who is travelling from Ipoh to Singapore especially for this occasion). To top if off, Mindfuckingboy will also be playing. So put on your crazy hat and ear plugs for the night, it would be necessary.

photo credit: rumi zai

Date: 26th March (Friday)   ;   Time: 8pm  ;   Venue: Blackhole, 212 Syed Alwi Road
Entry: $8 + CD: $12    ;   Advance Booking $16 Free Entry + CD

Please write to onistudio at houseofoni@yahoo.com.sg for advance booking. We cannot promise that it will be a mind-blowing, eyes-widening, hair-standing, and chest-tightening experience, but like all onistudio events, you will leave with your blood feeling as warm as good old wine.

See you my friends!

upcoming post: Zai tours Japan with Amino Acid Orchestra in May, kicking it off by a long awaited performance with one of his best friends, Tetsu Saitoh (contra-bass), and African dancer Jacki Job, and ending it by a performance with legendary underground and experimental sound artists Otomo Yoshihide and Keji Haino. In April, onistudio  present a most unpredictable individual - Gertjan Zhuilhof - who has produced 100 sketches on all kinds of draft paper in the past one year. which he calls 'auto-cartoon'. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010


Some people we are destined to meet; the rest of that friendship all depends on our effort.

In 2008, I visited Bali with my parents. Being our first time there, we stayed in Ubud and visited all the touristy places. On our last day, we went to Monkey Forest in the morning and decided to walk back to where we stayed. We grew a little sick of Balinese food (or tourist-Balinese food, complete with Gamelan music in the background) so we by-passed many eateries. Finally we came to a cafe which sold Japanese food, and I thought it would be a good change even though it seemed ridiculous to have Japanese food in Bali. So we settled down in this cafe called Ubud Raya and looking at the wooden furniture, coffee-beans and bookshelves, I thought 'Hmmm this may be a little like what onistudio may look like."

The man who served us was a very humourous-looking man who looked like he had just walked out from the set of Pirates of the Carribean, playing one of the pirates. He was a very polite man despite looking fierce and unfriendly, and so he reminded me of Zai. His wife was in-charge of the kitchen, she is Japanese. There and then, I text Zai "I want you to come to this cafe next time."

And so we did. In barely six months, I was back in Bali again, this time with Zai. We visited Ubud Raya and since that fateful meeting, I believed we had spend 3 out of 5 days sitting in the cafe. We got to know this pirate-looking man: Agoes, his wife: Toshiko, his daughter: Raras, his incredibly positive niece: Lani, and even his horny monkey: Tommy, his dog which stole a little girl's underwear: Pipi and a very quiet owl. We became friends, just like that.

One night as we ate and drank in Agoes cafe, he suddenly took out a blueprint of his 'dream'. It was a house by a river. He had wanted to build a house by the river to serve for artist residency. Agoes talked me through his aspirations, and I thought no one in Singapore had ever talked to me about his or her dream in that manner. I was touched by this man's openness and purity. Then he told me he has another dream - to have a painting exhibition in Singapore.

The next morning, I told Zai (who had fell asleep from exhaustion and missed out the conversation) about Agoes dream. Immediately, Zai said he would give up his slot in Jeremy Hiah's Your Mother Gallery in order to show Agoes' work. We went back to Agoes cafe that night and broke the news to him. I don't know how Agoes felt about our response, but perhaps you could ask him this Friday, because a year after that night, he is finally here in Singapore fulfilling his dream.

Agoes Djatmiko
BAHARATI - From Java to Bali Exploring Wayang
26 February 2010 (Fri)
Your Mother Gallery, Hindoo Road

In late 2009, I visited Bali for the third time. Befoe going to the airport, we went to Mediya to pack Japanese tofu and Umei shomen for Toshiko, since we found out that it was not easy to get high quality tofu in Bali. Upon reaching Denpasar, we saw the familiar face of Agoes waiting for us patiently and laughing good humouredly as usual. His car could not start that day, so he had to hire another driver to come and pick us up. We went straight to his cafe as if it were our hotel, and met all the familiar faces, watch the same Sumo wrestling on the TV, ate the not incredibly delectable but homely food - and it occured to Zai and I that we have a family in Bali now.

In that last trip to Bali, I feel terribly ill which was probably due to food poisoning somewhere or an aversion towards the amount of tourism, development and money-mindedness that engulfed the beautiful island. Yesterday we told Agoes that it would be difficult for us to return to Ubud Bali again and to our surprise, his 'river house' dream has took on a twist. He said that developers are interested to buy the plot of land beside the river in Ubud and with that money, perhaps he could really fulfill his dream but somewhere in the mountains.

Then quite abruptly in the middle of our conversation, he took out several thin t-shirts from his heavy luggage:

onistudio t-shirts! He took the photograph off our Facebook and printed t-shirts for us! That's what both of us had been supposed to do but was either too lazy or distracted to do. For the last two months, we had been busy with the disappointment of not being able to afford a real physical space for onistudio and forgot about litte things like this. So this t-shirt reminded me of onistudio motto again,

"Small is beautiful"

Every dream begins with a small step - just like how this incredible frienship we had with Agoes was forged. No matter how small each gesture is, more importantly, underlying all that we do, they all come from the heart. I guess in all attempts to translate 'Barahati', that's my intepretaion of the title of this exhibition.

Zai will be performing at 8pm. Please do come and have a look and another important thing, to hang out at Your Mother Gallery as it sprints towards its last lap and closes doors from June onwards.

See you there!

p/s: Email houseofoni@yahoo.com.sg for any enquiries

Friday, September 18, 2009

I'm abit tipsy+vertigo+stomach cramp+abit mad

Zai Kuning's Gone but Here with You
Fresh and Raw from the hospital

For seven long years, a man has not gone a day without whisky. Sometimes a dose, but more often than not a bottle. On 8th August 2009, he finally collapsed, and thus began his topsy-turvy, dizzy-fuzzy and painfully funny self discoverring adventure in the hospital.

Gone but Here with You is an intensely personal account of a man in struggle of finding sobriety in a dozy, fatigued, boorish and thankfully, morphine-equipped medical ward.

Some people are more drunk when they get a new handphone
Some people are more drunk than the drunken when they sell their art work
Some people are more drunk when they get a simple praise
Some people are more drunk when they are arrested
Some people are more drunk if they think they belong to some kind of thing hat shit
Some people are even more drunk when they get bad news of others
Some people get even more drunk when someone dies

I am afraid of people who are in love.
I am afraid of people whose heart are broke like fuck.
I am afraid of people who are blind searching without a stick.
I am afraid of people who are horny and dig something/anything.
I am afraid of people who want to be somebody.
I am afraid of people who are attention-seekers.
I am afraid of people who take shyness as a fashion.
I am afraid of people who are happy.
I am afraid of people who come to me and try to prove to me that they are better than me. Fucking assholes!
I am afraid of people who go around spreading news about humanity when they know only half of it
I am afraid of people who use their assets to suck up everything into them.
I am afraid of people who wear all black but their underwear white.
I am afraid of people who talk about doing good just so that others will see him as good.
I am afraid of people who try to convince me the way to be what I could be is their way to be.
I am afraid of people who suck up to something with no desire to be anything else but a sucker.
I am afraid of people who found religion and want to share that with me.
I am afraid of people who only want to be my friend because they think they can make use of me.

I am afraid of people who are so good at pretending nice.
I am afraid of women who want nothing but suck my dick.
I am afraid of women who think they are so fucking cool.
I am afraid of men who want to show how manly they are.
I am afraid of people who want to take care of children with little interest in education.

I am afraid of people who only know about money.
I am afraid and yes I have fear.
I have fear, I have fear not towards these people.
I have fear for my children, friend and family whom I could not protect.

I fear for them because I am a child.
Tell me who you afraid of?

"The Singaporean as a brave, outre, critical voice - what a rarity!" - X'ho

Zai Kuning, Gone but here with you
Paperback, photocopy, 104 pages
September 2009
$6 (including postage within Singapore)

Learning from previous mistakes, onistudio will be consolidating orders till the end of September and mail them all out at one go. Please write your orders to houseofoni@yahoo.com.sg, stating your address as well.