Slow Movement in Fast Singapore
By Eunice Lim, Singapore
“Our senses can only take flight upon deceleration. Accelerating life simply numbs your senses. And to live without all those senses is hardly living.”
In the year 2007, Cable News Network (CNN) published an article online about a research by The British Council that identified Singaporeans as the fastest walkers of the world. The research was carried out in 32 cities including London and New York. For a small city of a mere 274 square miles, its citizens took an average time of 10.55 seconds to cover a distance of 60 feet. With astonishing statistics like these, the negative consequences of a fast city are gradually dawning upon Singaporeans. Attempts to relinquish the fast-paced rat-race lives we are used to have resulted in yoga classes mushrooming all over the city and increasingly exorbitant massage sessions, all of which are carried out, unsurprisingly, at top speed. Slow living in such a rapidly moving city seems like an impossible feat – but it is not.
From 18th May to 2nd June, Umbrella for 2 by Espaces Sonores graced the Singapore Arts Festival 2012. An in-situ reality “soundwalk” by the sound scape director Stéphane Marin from France, an Umbrella For 2 consisted of two participants sharing a large black umbrella and an mp3 playing synchronized tracks of sounds and a meticulous mish mash of opinions on the city. The walk challenged the lightning pace of the fast city by taking the participants on a 60-minute long walk through the city.
The walk combined the aesthetic experiences of reality with audio enhancements, boldly challenging our ability to see our own city for what it really is amidst our usual hustle-bustle. At some point, the walk is purposefully planned in a way that causes the participating duo to advance towards a train station’s exit gantry, inevitably hindering exiting commuters. Visibly annoyed, commuters unaware of the Umbrella for 2 dodged and shoved the duo, who momentarily found themselves trapped awkwardly in the city’s unrelenting, unstoppable human traffic. Simultaneously and almost mockingly, the synchronized track played voices uttering frantic apologies. In that carefully engineered moment, the raw realities of our fast-walking city are exposed.
Quite unapologetically, the fast walkers of Singapore are ready to jostle their way into oblivion, not once stopping to question the curious sight of a duo holding a giant umbrella indoors. The fast food culture has accelerated our lives into a succession of flitting images, blurring the various experiences into an indistinguishable mess. An Umbrella for 2 acknowledges and seeks to make sense of the mess through a slow walk, highlighting the sights and sounds Singaporeans have otherwise, been blind and deaf too. Singapore’s lack of four seasons was also pointed out to explain the Singaporean’s inability to perceive our weather and environmental changes. Communal Kampongs replaced by the cold, columbarium-like high-rise flats are pointed out as a possible cause of loneliness. The repeated emphasis on consumerism and the social and environmental price paid for these economic developments serve as an awakening for the Singaporean to embrace slow living.
Although conducted publicly, the Umbrella for 2 was a private and unique experience for each individual. Refreshingly perceptive, the one hour of slow movement reshapes the Singaporean by giving him the chance to savor the sensory experience of slow living. After all, our senses can only take flight upon deceleration. Accelerating life simply numbs your senses. And to live without all those senses is hardly living.