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Textual Contribution for 'head heap heat' e-publication as an extension to the physical exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, Singapore, 2018

Download e-publication here

It arrived on the last day of the week. Like any good Sunday, I woke up to the tropical sun already blazing outside. My moderately dense neighbourhood of Ampang is soundless as most of the inhabitants were out of sight in their respective homes. The tree-lined streets with rows of nearly identical terrace houses are dormant, with little activity evident.


I walked down slowly from the first floor to the heart of the house on the ground floor, the living room, and that is where I encountered it for the first time.


I never knew that anything inanimate could be so visually and materially seductive, so overbearing and so comforting simultaneously. I had always assumed that for an object to possess such qualities, it had to be a work of art, a special object- but this was definitely not that.


As I descended the steps, I caught a glimpse of it in the middle of the space, flanked on all sides by the TV, a side console and the bright yellow sofas. At first I had just a side view of its sharp corner and as I walked closer, it expanded visually into a flat mammoth.


It was enormous, slumming lazily on the cold marble floor and covering more than roughly half the horizontal surface of the room. Its striking body, facing upwards to the voraciously spinning fan, was covered by thousands of minute, vivid green tentacles from strands of polypropylene; it appeared like a monstrous flat sea anemone waiting patiently for its first victim.


It was kind of ugly. The acid green color might function as an indicator of its hyperbolized fertility, like a ripe and tempting pasture of artificial turf. Moreover, there is something materially seductive about its tactile surface, a seduction that is primal. Its body was designed in a simple way, almost child-like. The things was an awkward  marriage between naïve geometry and organic form, a square with curved sides. It has no side tufts, nothing elaborate, just uniformed machine-stitched sides.


The smell of newness exuded from it, filling every centimeter of the living room. It smelled of others like it, like a roll of new primed cotton canvas, like nylon, like decorative sackcloth you would find at Spotlight, and like something with promise and potential. I savoured this smell like the smell of a new car, because in time it would be unavailable, it would start to smell like us. Like family.


My first physical touch of this green monster was bizarre. I was uncertain how it felt. Its many short tentacles caressed and softly cradled my feet. They had a plastiky cold feeling. Being predominantly composed of artificial materials, they absorbed and retained heat only temporarily, leaving you covered in cold sweat and fragile plastic fibers.


As we connected physically, I began to realize this thing and others like it are basically similar to the prehistoric coelacanth, and that its basic form has evolved very little for centuries. Like its ancestors, it is a flat plane composed of different types of fabric and fibers organized predominantly into simple geometric shapes such as circles, squares or rectangles. I supposed this formal characteristic is inherited from its relationship to modern architectural interiors, and the cube, with little address to the human form. Preceded by a variety of historical subspecies, such as the hand-woven type with plush or Berber finishes, the technologically advanced needle-felt variety, and the knotted, piled, tufted or flat-woven types, this specific thing currently in my family’s domain is a twentieth-century invention. I was told that the variety is mass-produced and machine-constructed from new synthetic fibers in large factories in Pakistan and India before being shipped for global consumption. It is a fairly affordable, off-the-shelf variety that is also famously stain-resistant.  Furthermore, it shares formal characteristics with others made for the similar segment of the market; they are devoid of any pattern or visual ornamentation that might allude to a specific cultural identity, making them attractive to anyone who might love them. It is a truly democratic object.


Enjoying its surface, I now had both of my feet on it. I felt as one with it, and it also felt like an extension of my body. As I chatted with my sister about our plans for what to do on this last day of the week, she lay on her side on it, fully consumed by it. It almost appeared like a pedestal, elevating her, and as she stood up and stepped out of it to get a glass of water, I felt it shift slightly. We were then, the three of us- briefly, almost without knowing- physically connected. That such an object could induce real warmth and act as a catalyst for social interaction without doing more than just being there is admirable.


Mom replaced the old and shaggy one with this protagonist early Sunday morning. She purchased it from a shop outside of Tesco. A new oasis has flourished in the middle of this stark but vital living space. It will now do more than just provide insulation for our feet or enlivening the living room with a dash color; it will also witness future familial activities. History and artefacts have always for me had a dependable relationship, whether considering the historical events within my family or the larger general histories created by loud victorious voices. This new addition to our household will certainly be an avid spectator. Well, hopefully each strand of its nylon thread will in future act like a sponge and absorb much of the emotions felt by the members of my family- the heated arguments, the passionate tears, the warm embraces, the cheers and despair from the results of the upcoming general election and just pure happiness.

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