The previous weekend, Rachel and I visited Ying Foh Kuan/ Shuan Long Shan, a small Hakka ancestral hall complete with graveyard located in the midst of HDB flats at 9 Commonwealth Lane to catch the 兰芳记 Lan Fang Chronicles exhibition and guided tour, one of the highlights of this year’s Singapore Arts Festival.
While the guided tour is ticketed, the exhibition is free access to all. You still have till 2 June 2012 to catch it. Do go down if you have the time. Both Rachel and I found the visit very rewarding.
The exhibition is a fusion of history, story-telling, experiential and performance arts. Visitors are guided to the exhibitions from point-to-point to learn the history of a little known country in South East Asian history called the Lan Fang Republic 蘭芳共和國 (perhaps better known now that our Minister Chan Chun Sing has made reference to it during his election rally). Professional actors and actresses masquerade themselves as museum curator, researcher and Lan Fang descendent to suck you deep into the world of Lan Fang Republic.
Video Introduction (from 3:40 onwards):
The acting talents were pretty convincing – so much so that Rachel even approached two of them after their “talks (performances)” to ask more in-depth questions about the history and culture of Lan Fang Republic. For a moment, we forgot we were attending a arts festival event and not a museum!
The exhibition tour is divided into five chapters, each with different performers:
1. The Man Who Rode Crocodiles
A documentary inspired by the poem written by Luo Fang Bo, the founder of Lan Fang Republic. The original poem narrates the ritualistic practice of exorcising the crocodiles. The story has since morphed into multiple versions in their local folklore.
2. The Archivist’s Room
A collection of maps, documents, sketches and photographic materials collected from the Netherlands, China and Indonesia. This collection includes rare documents and reconstructed archive on the ontology of the Lan Fang Republic, presented through the experience of research and encounters.
3. The De Groot Collection
A collection of speculative artifacts inspired by the works of Dutch Sinologist J.J.M De Groot who published the earliest known and most comprehensive western document on the Lan Fang Republic in 1885.
4. Epic Poem of the Kongsi War
A poetry recital based on the original Maly poem, Syair Perang Cina di Mandor (Story of the Chinese Wars in Mandor) written by an anonymous author 1853, that charts the times of conflicts and uncertainty towards the beginning of the Republic decline in the last 30 years.
5. Memoirs of the Visitors
A dramatise reading of memories and diary entries recorded by visitors to the Lan Fang Republic. The recital is an attempt to re-enact the interactions with the residents of Lan Fang, and to create an imaginary panorama of the everyday life, practices and festivities of the Republic.
…what was, what if and what could have been, revolving round a small republic.
Singapore, you think. No, but the Lan Fang Republic certainly has similarities in geographical size, type of government rule and diligent citizens.
The Lan Fang Republic began in 1777 with Luo Fang Bo. Luo was a Hakka Chinese who united his group of hardworking gold miner comrades in West Borneo to establish the Lan Fang Republic. Democracy was the way to go, he decided.
The Republic thrived for 107 years, under the rule of 10 presidents, until the Dutch marched along and disintegrated it in 1884. It all sounds simple enough, but is it really?
Artist Choy Ka Fai delved further, and started his journey back in time to Mandor, the ancient capital of the Lan Fang Republic. There, a temple paying tribute to Luo, his tomb and an exhausted goldmine greeted him.
A trip to Mei Xian, China, Luo’s birthplace, uncovered a memorial hall honouring Luo and Luo’s last descendent.
In the Lan Fang Chronicles 2012, Choy presents a perspective of the Republic’s existence through an installation performance surrounding a series of speculative artifacts, archival materials and audio-visual works.
The multimedia presentation traces the historical path the Republic takes, and also meanders into the future and a pseudo-mythical past to explore Lan Fang’s potential.
Each narrative draws from fact and fiction, memories and forgeries, history and myth — all to reconstruct what is and ultimately, to tell the story of what was, and what could have been, the Lan Fang Republic.
Why you should catch the Lan Fang Chronicles:
…to create your own tale of fact and fiction, history and myth, through a ‘living’ museum experience and a free exhibition.
…to dig into Hakka history — the Lan Fang Chronicles 2012 will be set at the Shuang Long Shan (Chinese for “Twin Dragons Hills”), a 1.89ha site at Commonwealth Lane that contains relocated Hakka graves from 1887, the Hakka clan’s original ancestral hall and a newly- built community hall.
…for a mind-stirring exercise on the similarities between the Lan Fang Republic and Singapore.