9th August was a commission from the National Museum of Singapore via GSM Projects for its History of Singapore permanent exhibition. It was the finale of this experiential exhibition. This is a video that spliced together 41 years of National Day Parade TV broadcasts to produce a 7 min film that would be played as an immersive video installation, on a permanent loop.
The television broadcasts (like Singapore the ruling party) did not change over the past decades. In kind, neither did the militaristic tone of the annual commemorative ceremony. As such, we were able to find 41 similar parades to splice together. The organising theme was the passing of time, as well as the unchanging nature of the parades.
As part of the design for this installation, I decided to break the parades into 5 movements: press and fly past, presidents and salutes, cascade of MPs and Prime ministers waving, mass displays, and the audience.
The movements are separated black, each movement has its own theme music composed by Philip Tan.
The film is structured so that the viewer can enter the installation at any point and still have a sense of flow of the proceedings. The permanent exhibition has since been changed to another exhibition.
Duration: 712″ / Aspect Ratio: 4:3
Audio: Stereo Ch1 & Ch2
Colour: Colour and Black & White
Singapore Independence Day Parade
Television Broadcasts 1966-2006
Footage Courtesy of National Archives of Singapore
Commissioned by National Museum of Singapore
DIrector Tan Pin Pin
Editor Melanie Foo
Production Manager Cheryl Koh
Composer Philip Tan
Assistant Tan Wen Ling
For GSM Projects Mark R Frost, Panuksmi Hardjowirogo
Proposal for the National Day Parade Montage 2006 for the commissioners
I am a great fan of National Day Parades (NDPs) and have attended it and filmed it for as long as I can remember. However, even as a fan, I have never watched through all the National Day Parade recordings back to back in 10 days. But for this project I did and several impressions emerge and it is these impressions that I hope to foreground in the montage for the finale of the History Gallery.
I am struck by how similar save for cosmetic changes, one parade is from the next. Singapore may have moved from third world to the first, the style of this public display of Nationalism over 40 years (arrival of Members of Parliament in white, Prime Ministers, Guard of Honour, residential motorcade, inspection of guard, march past of civilians, armoury, military groups etc) remains a constant. It is so consistent in fact that shot sizes, framing and camera positions of the tv recordings of the event remain unchanged.
I came to see the parade for what it is, a ritual. It’s filming and our viewing is ritualised too. It is a ritual for the civilians to honour and celebrate their country in a military manner. It is a ritual for the ruling party and its personalities to assert themselves when they make an appearance in their party uniforms. It is a ritual to fire the 21 gun salute to honour the president as he inspects the Guard. Mass displays extolling the values of Singapore (discipline, thrift, harmony, vigour etc) and Singapore’s special brand of multiculturalism are also a must for every NDP, not to mention the show of military might and capability through the armoury column and precision airshows.
The other aspect of NDP that struck me was that the qualities that make the NDP for what it is also embody Singapore. The whole event is very organized, disciplined in a precise and militaristic way. Even civilian groups like the SIA girls in their kebayas walk in sync to the beat of military bands. Every parade has a commander (always a man) who shouts out commands to the participants. He tells them when to be rigid, when to be at ease. Where they are expressions of joyful chaos, it is controlled and confined to a portion of the parade, usually in the end when the lion dance troupes are released onto the field.
Watching the footage back to back, I also felt pride. Yes, there is a lot to celebrate about. I saw the nation prosper materially before my eyes. The cityscape became more verdant, built up and less decrepit. People looked less sallow, better fed. Even our armoury looked less forlorn, our first parade military column had all of six tanks. I knew this was the work of the dancing and marching masses, the onslaught before my eyes and they in turn were shepherded, sometimes commandeered into place by their leaders, also before me.
Relatedly, I was struck by the passing of time. In the 10 days, I saw the same leaders age incrementally before my eyes. As years passed, they became more bent and gray, just as the parades became more flashy, colourful and better funded. Some passed on and were replaced by younger more dynamic leaders. I even spotted my father who led a civilian contingent in the early 80s marching past me on my little TV screen at the archives. How vigorouus he was then.
Watching this footage, I could not but feel the journey of a country through time and this is the main theme I hope to communicate with the viewer. Time is best experienced if the viewer sees change for himself. And change is most obvious if the viewer can see a constant (e.g. a face, in this case LKY) transform over four decades. Change can also be experienced if they see the same ritual (e.g. the president waving at the masses) performed by different presidents over the years.
The main advantage of choosing the passing of time as the main theme to which to hang the other sub themes is that the form of this montage’s presentation, as a permanent loop in a history gallery, lends itself perfectly to this theme. The repetition of the montage feels like the ticking of the clock or a heart beating, mirroring the passing of time which the parade seeks to mark. The loop format also suggests constancy, it keeps starting over and over again, and this reflects the ritualistic aspect of the Parade where its core is unchanging as it becomes a mesmerizing roundel. For looping installations where there is a high chance of viewers visiting in the middle of the clip so it is important that they quickly “get it” or they may leave. The montage must make sense at whatever point the viewer starts watching it. I tackled this challenge in two ways.
I structured the montage so that the audience gets the passing of time theme immediately through the repetition of the same kind of shots even as we tackle different themes. Very quickly the viewer latches onto a rhythm which hooks him. We edit to a beat using different images of photographers (1st movement), presidents (2nd movement), LKY(3rd movement), audience (5th movement) to create the rhythm.
In addition, I structured the montage into five discrete yet interconnected movements to take into account the looping format. The viewers come in any time and feel that they are seeing a “start” of the montage; that they are not short changed by missing out on the earlier bits. Hopefully, the viewer stays to watch it several times. This reinforces the repetitive and ritualistic aspect of the NDPs.
Since this is the Finale of the Singapore history gallery, I wanted to focus the fifth and last movement on the individual, the proverbial man in the street for whom this whole endeavour (nation building, communitarianism, even the idea of a history museum and the finale gallery) was undertaken. But this man in the street is a woman, a Malay woman, we see her across the decades as she looks forth towards us (her visage taken by the hordes of cameramen memoralising the NDPs in the first movement). As we look across the room at each other, her shyly at us, and we at her, what do we say to each other.