0600 is named for the time that executions are carried out. What makes an artist take on the polarising topic of the death penalty in Singapore? Zelda Tatiana Ng has been a fixture in the Singapore performing arts scene for over 20 years. Her newly founded collective, GroundZ-0, makes its Singapore and SIFA debut with this interactive, mixed-media work. ArtsEquator talks to the director about the impetus for the work and gets a glimpse into her motivation for making it.
ArtsEquator (AE): 0600 is about something that’s pretty contentious, locally and internationally: the death penalty in Singapore. Why take on this topic?
Zelda Tatiana Ng (ZTN): I used to have a pretty strong stand some years ago. Then one day, I went to an exhibition about capital punishment, and I realised that it felt too ‘easy’ for me to take any stand at all, because I didn’t have a real stake in the issue. I’ve neither had family nor friends who were either victims or perpetrators. What does it mean, then, to have a stand? And THAT question has been on my mind since. Every time I come across something on the topic of the death penalty, I ask myself the same question and I still don’t have the answer, so I’m still searching.
AE: Are you looking for answers with this work?
ZTN: I have friends who hold very strong stands, either pro- or anti-death penalty. They all have their points and to me, all are valid. I want to hear others out. I want to research and present all aspects of the issue. I hope that others, before setting their own stand, take the time to understand different points of view from theirs. Don’t judge first, listen first. Many times, we are just too fast in judging others.
AE: Tell us briefly about the nature of the work. It is described as a mixed media presentation. What does that entail?
ZTN: There are live performances, video, audio presentations and interactive activities. The form was incorporated and created with the venue – the National Gallery Singapore – in mind. We have a specific route in this presentation. After we decided on the route, we thought about HOW to use the spaces and what would be effective on this route, i.e. what to do in various the spaces in the site.
AE: As you’ve mentioned, the site of 0600 is the National Gallery, which was once the nation’s Supreme Court and City Hall. Your work seems to be an attempt to ‘recall’ the past lives of these buildings as sites where life and death are decided. How would you describe the original function of the Supreme Court?
ZTN: A place of Justice. But what is Justice? Is it ‘subjective’? Justice done to whom? How can we judge whether it’s ‘just’ enough if we are already tinted by certain opinions? As ‘outsider’, who are we to judge? How can we make ‘better’ decisions? Or can we?
AE: You’ve said that you want the work to speak to people across their own opinions. As a director and maker, how do you feel the specific form you’ve chosen might achieve this?
ZTN: All audios, videos and live performances present monologues, inspired by real cases. I conducted interviews, researched and found extracts from various sources. There is, of course, dramatisation and devising. We will be introducing the ‘characters’ through various media. The reason there are different presentation modes is because it’s ‘designed’ to fit the location. Whatever works best for the spaces.
AE: Tell us about the cases you’ve chosen to research and feature in 0600.
ZTN: There are many different cases in this work, including drug cases, juvenile cases, murder and so on. We have interviews with prosecutors, defense lawyers – we tried to cover as many different perspectives as possible. They all have different opinions and points of view. We are trying to strive for a ‘balance’, giving enough focus to all points of views – we sincerely do think all points ARE equally important. It’s all in the heart. This show is not to propagate one view over the other. And if after ‘listening’, the audience still holds their own stand, that’s all right. We just want to create a space for people to think and maybe, discuss.
GroundZ-0’s 0600 opens 27 April, and runs till 3 May 2018 at the National Gallery Singapore. 0600 is a Singapore International Festival of the Arts 2018 Commission. For more information on performance times and ticketing, visit the SIFA 2018 site here.
This article is sponsored by The Arts House Limited.
About the author(s)
Kathy Rowland is the Managing Editor of ArtsEquator.com, a registered charity that she co-founded with Jenny Daneels in 2016. The site is dedicated to supporting and promoting arts criticism with a regional perspective in Southeast Asia. Kathy has worked in the arts for over 25 years, working in the areas of critical writing and arts advocacy, with a special interest in media platforms for the arts. She is the Project Lead for ArtsEquator’s Southeast Asian Arts and Culture Censorship Documentation Project, launched in 2021. She has written extensively on censorship of arts and culture in Malaysia. She was a member of the International Programme Advisory Committee of the 8th World Summit on Arts and Culture, 2019.