A playbook for weathering the storm – Part 2
Singaporean author Sharene Teo created a short film, Essential Animal, for new digital art project Life in a Cloud. (Photo: Amaal Said)

A playbook for weathering the storm – Part 2

If Sylvanian Families, the popular line of anthropomorphic animal figurines could talk, they might reveal something about our state of affairs – the struggles of living together in a pandemic, and what it means to be a worker in ‘essential services’.

That, at least, is what Singaporean author Sharene Teo imagines. She has made the figurines the main cast of the short film she produced for Life in a Cloud, a collection of digital creations by seven artists. The compilation is curated by the Singapore International Festival of Arts (SIFA) Festival Director-designate, Natalie Hennedige. It aims to bring together unique perspectives and ways of creating, while inspiring viewers to tap into their own creative potential during these unusual times.

For Teo, whose budding career as a writer received a boost when her debut novel Ponti won the inaugural Deborah Rogers Writer’s Award, penning the script for Essential Animal and pulling together a creative team for the day-long shoot was an entirely new experience, and not without its challenges.

She says: “It was a very hot day when we assembled small sets for the Sylvanian animals, taping things into place, and figuring out how to make them look like they were moving by themselves. Watching it come together through the various edits was a marvel.”

Photo credit Siobhan Maguire
Behind the scenes of Teo’s short film, Essential Animal, starring the miniature furniture sets and figurines from the Sylvanian Family line of collectibles. (Photo: Siobhan Maguire)

Teo’s film explores people’s emotional response to the global Covid-19 pandemic – the existential questions that arise from the divide between essential and non-essential workers, and the impact of confinement on our relationships and capacity for introspection.

Based in the UK, Teo confesses to having had a hard time coping at the beginning of Britain’s lockdown. She says she cycled through five phases of adjustment – “a crafts and batch cooking phase, a home exercise phase, a pasta addiction phase, an insomnia phase, and a long sleep phase.” Through all the phases, she turned to art to help her cope as she did when she was a teenager – art offered her consolation, amusement, a source of refuge and a way to rebel against circumstances.

As she becomes somewhat acclimatised to her new normal, she has also found herself trying more to live in the moment and spend time away from the Internet. “I’m becoming more of a luddite. I’m trying to get better at facing the discomfort and boredom we usually block out with social schedules and the normality of overstimulation. The key word is ‘trying’.”

Kaylene Tan and Paul Rae
Artists Kaylene Tan and Paul Rae, who created a short film for Life in a Cloud, want viewers to reimagine the familiar spaces of their home environments. (Photos: Kaylene Tan and Paul Rae)

Incidentally, artists Kaylene Tan and Paul Rae created a short film for Life in a Cloud that is all about getting people away from their screens. Ironically, viewers will have to watch this online.

The husband and wife team was inspired to come up with the work after observing how the home became a strangely familiar place for many people during the stay-home period. Tan and Rae want the work to encourage audiences to revisit their lockdown experience as if it were a dream, in the hope of defamiliarising the environments they have grown accustomed to.

Neo Swee Lin and Lim Kay Siu
Behind the scenes of Tan and Rae’s film, starring performers Neo Swee Lin and Lim Kay Siu. (Photo: @kiat_sg)

The film also explores themes familiar to married couples during the stay-home period – the feeling of isolation while isolating with another, and the tension between dependency and loneliness in long-term relationships. The film stars Singaporean actors Lim Kay Siu and Neo Swee Lin, who are married in real life, as an onscreen couple.

For Tan and Rae, who moved to Australia last year, art has offered them some degree of comfort amidst the pandemic. “Art cultivates the capacity for mind travel, offers immersion in other worlds, and provides a fund of memories to draw upon,” say the couple, who describe themselves as “theatre watchers” in the absence of live theatre.

They add, in a joint email reply: “It will be interesting to see how the changed conditions of our life change the art that people make, and what art from the past emerges to address us in ways it may not have done previously.”

Life in a Cloud is commissioned by the National Arts Council as part of #SGCultureAnywhere. New works are released on the project’s website every Sunday at 3pm, until 20 Sep.

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