Critical Conversations: Reframing the Past
Delving into obfuscated histories from the region, Dr John Solomon and artist Debbie Ding think about what it means to reframe the past through their respective approaches to the archive. Focusing on methodology, both speakers will articulate their approaches to historicising through the processes of cataloguing, collecting, mapping, and focusing on social histories. Here, their inquiries find both points of departure and semblance: where Dr Solomon’s research primarily uncovers un-archived histories with respect to the “untouchables” and citizenship, Ding’s work traces the distortions in time and space caused by archiving, delving instead into speculations of the future through archaeological ambiguities. Altogether, their conversation posits alterity in reading regional histories, pointing towards ways to frame alternative constructions of knowledge about the past and therefore, how we can understand its residues in our contemporary circumstances.
Conventional Western-centric conceptions of narration and time tend towards the linear: personal lifestyles conform to social schedules, the notion of history relegated to key players, stories unfolding across a traditional arc of climax and conclusion. Across philosophy, art, films and historicity, Critical Conversations 2021 is an inquiry that lingers on the questions: who and what frames time? And how do we understand alternate conceptions of time? Here, the politics, contexts and anxieties that arise from grasping at time find space in discourse, and is where lesser-known narratives and ordinary people are given agency to make sense of time.
“It left me feeling simultaneously smaller and larger as I considered the history associated with the simple act of being”
Dr John Solomon
Assistant Professor, Department of History, FASS, NUS
Dr John Solomon is currently an Assistant Professor of History at the National University of Singapore where he enjoys teaching modules on Singapore, popular culture, Asian History and historiography. His research interests include social history, the British Empire and decolonisation. He is also interested in the exploration of national and ethnic identities, particularly in how they are constructed, sustained and circulated in different historical contexts. He published a book about untouchability and South Asian migration in colonial Singapore – A Subaltern History of the Indian Diaspora in Singapore: Gradual Disappearance of Untouchability: 1872 -1965 (New York: Routledge, 2016).
Visual Artist and Technologist
Debbie Ding is a visual artist and technologist who researches and explores technologies of perception through personal investigations and experimentation. She is a recipient of the NAC Arts Scholarship (Postgraduate), where she pursued an MA in Design Interactions from the Royal College of Art, London. She has had solo exhibitions at The Substation Gallery, Singapore (2010) and Galerie Steph, Singapore (2013). Notable group exhibitions include “President’s Young Talents” (Singapore Art Museum, 2018); “After the Fall” (National Museum of Singapore, 2017); Singapore Biennale (2016); Radio Malaya (NUS Museum, 2016); Unearthed (Singapore Art Museum, 2014); and Engaging Perspectives: New Art from Singapore (NTU Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore, 2013). She currently lives and works in Singapore. Her works can be found on dbbd.sg.