Why I still heart you, Montreal.

I’ve hung my allegorical hat in a slew of different places over the years but one of the cities that made the deepest impression was undoubtedly Montreal where I spent a good chunk of time attempting to further my art career and where I dreamt of being accosted by Leonard Cohen’s diamond-eyed gaze while treading my way down the ice-glazed sidewalks of Rue Marie-Anne. Sure, it wasn’t always that romantic but nevertheless, in the recesses of my memory, the city continues to emit a soft glow amid shadowy layers, like a glimmering winter globe wrapped in scented tissue tucked carefully away in a drawer.

Next of Kin, a beautiful short film about two sisters living in neighboring flats made by my great friend Kara Blake, is richly evocative of the gruff tenderness, the lovable inability-to-be-lovedness that one experiences at the onset of a long Montreal winter only to emerge unexpectedly enlightened upon the first signs of spring.  The monotony of this vicious cycle can be a brutal thing to experience year after year (overpowered by an accumulation of personally profound understandings,  I was eventually prompted to flee the city) but in retrospect, the whole tedious process also served as a consistent testament of my own personal growth as a young person who, like many others, had come to the city to ‘find myself’ – and did.

But rather than offering a perspective on Montreal’s transcendental qualities (as a city apparently adept at spurring on routine evolutions of the Self) which falls in danger of coming across as either predictably straight-forward or obliquely abstract, Next of Kin gives us a glimpse into something much more experiential, much more sensually direct; while the film pivots around Kara and her sister, Julie, the viewer is confronted by the human presence evoked through the space and contents of each apartment. The distant positioning of the camera stands in direct contrast with its personable subject, allowing one to take on the viewpoint of a voyeur who suddenly finds himself struck by the banal yet intimate conventions he is bearing witness to.  In short, what I love most about Kara’s films is their ability to tap into an emotion that was previously deemed intangible. She makes the most out of every scene, whether one is referring to aesthetics, the emotional quality of the space or the characters who play out their lives within it.

The film was recently nominated as one of the top five finalists in the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) Emerging Filmmakers competition in conjunction with RBC. You can watch Next of Kin here and vote for it to win the Fan Favorite Award. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did…

 

(Images courtesy of Kara Blake)

Start of a New Day

OK, I know this is not exactly a good post to follow-up with after my 5-month hiatus from this blog but how exciting is it to kickstart the day with the ultimate breakfast of champeens – oatmeal and Smarties???

Awesome beyond words.

“Naked Woman Now”

 


All I want for Christmas? Lord knows I’ve been seriously crushing on United Nude shoes for quite some time now.

Like most of my many other infatuations, it all began rather innocently enough. In this case, I was strolling through Covent Garden on a breezy fall day in 2006 when a girly itch for new winter boots propelled me through the doors of the first store that glimmered with some vague sense of promise. And while I’ve long forgotten the shop’s name, its well-curated contents – in particular, a clandestine back room kitted out with offerings from the latest UN collection – made it an unforgettable experience in weirdly wrought designer footwear.

Maybe it was the worn-down surface of the checkered laminate flooring or the fact that the space for some odd reason or another was curtained off (as if the contents inside roamed beyond the reaches of G-Rated territory) that anointed the whole experience with a starkly seedy air as one leaned over to touch one of the specimens from the display shelf. But in retrospect, it was this dirty quality that added to the appeal of the merchandise itself: shoes fashioned with bizarre appendages that contribute as much to the charm of the products as they do their functionality, ranging from UN’s now iconic Eamz pump – a titillating nod to the classic chair designed by Charles and Ray Eames – to the brand’s signature product that marked the start of it all, the Möbius shoe.

While the restraints of a meagre student budget kept me from splurging on a pair right there and then, the damage was done, the ominous seed planted. Simply put, that fateful first encounter in Covent Garden would signal the beginning of my long-standing unrequited lust for UN shoes. Imagine the combination of awe and envy that coursed right through me when I caught sight of the Australian architect/ academician Rosalea Monacella at the latest edition of the Archifest forum in Singapore recently. Otherwise conservatively dressed, she was gingerly making her way towards the podium in what else but a provocative pair of Fuck-Me Eamz-es, prompting the architecture student sitting next to me to drop the pen she was distractedly rolling between her fingers and exclaim, “She’s being cantilievered!” in breathless wonder. To hell with lecture notes – girlfriend’s clearly only thinking about where to get the goods at this point.

I must say, the fact that the shoes have been conceptualized (and favored) by architects is admittedly a major point of fascination for me. UN was founded by Dutch architect Rem D. Koolhaas (none other than the nephew of Big Rem) who later joined forces with British shoe-maker Galahad Clark. The story behind the brand is reportedly as follows: in an attempt to win back the girl of his dreams, Little Rem focuses his talents on creating the shoe of her dreams, indirectly fabricating architecture for the feet. He kick-starts a mini shoe ‘empire’ and blatantly contemplates calling the brand ‘Naked Woman Now’ to underscore its penchant for proffering sex appeal. How’s that for the stuff that modern-day movie adaptions of fairy tales are made out of?

And just because Rem D. didn’t end up getting the girl doesn’t mean that more men ought not to be taking notes on his unusual way of paying court to a lady. That is, gentlemen, if all else fails, the way to a woman’s heart is ultimately through her feet.

Hint, hint.

(Images via United Nude)

(Top Image via Outnext)

A Room of One’s Own

It might not come as a surprise for most friends and family members to learn that I am moving again.

Since uprooting from Montreal to relocate back to my home turf a few years ago, it’s become psychologically mandatory to shake the dust off my boots and start moving kit and kaboodle about once a year – you know, just when things start to get too comfortable again. At least, that is what certain parties concerned with my long-term happiness and sense of ‘settledness’ will have one believe.

Between 2005 and 2008 – perhaps the most tumultuous period of these hobo years to date – I’d hung my allegorical hat in more than 18 different places (including my barely-heated MA thesis office in chilly Aarhus). I am the first to admit that there have been circumstances in the past, reinforced by the promise of some exciting, new adventure or another, that have led me to remove, discard, pack up and shift sporadically. This particular move  (and I swear this again and again to those who have grown weary of my teenage runaway tendencies) is however, borne directly out of sheer necessity, meaning that my roommate and I are vacating the premises not because of the fact that the ongoing construction directly in front of our balcony leaves us permanently cloaked in a layer of dust or because the cockroach death toll has risen quite significantly out of unexpected meet-and-greet sessions in the night but simply because our landlord has wisely decided to unload this somewhat awkward piece of property for which we happen to be paying a pretty penny to upkeep.

Throughout the first few weeks of digesting this abrupt set of news, I found it relatively easy to keep a stiff upper lip. I mean, after all these years of toting the bindle around, hadn’t I become THE expert at living and thinking on the fly? A frequent traveller whose ‘can-do’ attitude makes me as portable and adjustable as a set of foldable Muji speakers? WRONG. After successive sleepless nights of sweatily scouring the virtual landscape for clues and contacts that will lead me to my next place of residence, my impending homelessness has become an official pain-in-the-ass. Property prices in Kuala Lumpur have apparently beanstalked their way to obscene new heights, reiterating the sad, stranded vibe one often encounters living in the Land of Stagnant Salaries and the subdistrict of No Choice.

So given that depressing line of thought, just how AMAZING is this egg-shaped mobile home constructed by 24-year old Chinese architect Dai Haifei? Situated in a courtyard in Beijing, Dai’s clever, self-sustaining solution to beating the sky-high rental housing odds has whipped both the architecture world and city officials into a frenzy; while reportedly facing a removal order from the authorities, the design has also been nominated for the 2nd Annual Chinese Architecture Media Awards.

(Image via Mother Nature Network)

Measuring just 2m high, 3m long and 2m wide, the external walls have been resourcefully constructed out of bamboo splints and sacks stuffed with sawdust and grass seeds (for insulation).The house also incorporates a solar panel complete with its own storage battery. Working within a budget of just 6400 Yuan, Dai’s creation was realized in a short time span of just two months. Although activities are pretty much limited to sleeping (it’s apparently just a place to crash come nightfall), the young architect maintains that he has taken to conducting much of his daily routine around ‘outside’ life: swimming and bathing at the local pool and frequenting restaurants and cafes when he needs to. The design was inspired by the ‘Egg of the City’ series, a project which Dai was invited to work on when he interned with the innovative Chinese firm Standard Architecture.

(Image via flavorpill)

Unfortunately, the newfound notoriety of the egg shaped mobile home most likely means that Dai won’t be able to enjoy his no-frills, zero-rent lifestyle in peace for that much longer. But at least all the media attention provoked by his ambitious and quietly subversive solution means that architects all over are more likely to be pricking up their ears and paying closer attention to the growing problem of available affordable housing in big cities, giving us regular working slobs hope that we may soon be presented with more creative and pragmatic alternatives wherein to lay our weary heads rather than the costly, thoughtlessly cobbled together options that we are so often saddled with.

In the meantime, any potential leads on reasonably priced, habitable two-bedroom gems accessible via Kuala Lumpur public transport can be forwarded directly to adelexchong [at] gmail [dot] com.

(Top image: Beijing Times)

Final Boarding Call

Due to an unexpected change of plans (and change of heart), I find myself staying put this holiday season. Perhaps that would explain why I’m feeling particularly wistful at the thought of airports these days. While the age-old glamor of boarding a plane and jetting off to a place with balmy weather and swaying palm trees has long been lost – what with the ever-heightening security measures being imposed on passengers as of late  – that post check-in experience of enjoying my machine-dispensed coffee at the waiting area continues to evoke happy memories for this global nomad, even when it means being allocated an aisle seat next to five screaming brats on a long-haul flight.
I discovered a kindred spirit in Malaysian-born and Australian-bred photojournalist Tammy Law when I first stumbled upon her work a few years back. Drawing upon the paintings of Edward Hopper and the photography of Lynne Cohen for inspiration, Law has a tendency of diverting one’s attentions back to environments that might come across as generic or entirely dismissive in the first place. This series of photographs, in their subtlety, depict the airport as a setting for  the unexpected, a blank slate waiting to be filled.
For me, Law‘s airport images quietly expose the metaphysical layer of spaces that have purposefully been designed to reflect practicality and homogeneity upon first glance.  (Strangely, wherever one lands, these are automatically the kind of  qualities that have become most indicative of an airport’s projected essence of ‘internationalism’ as well as its designated sense of reliability.)
The pervading element of emptiness come across as the strongest part of these photographs. One can really sense the heavy, underlying tension that is being emphasized as the systematic sterility of these areas become suddenly tainted with the emotional air of the fleeting human presence.

(All images courtesy of Tammy Law)

Today’s Lesson: Be Yourself

Chances are, if you were a banana-clip sporting tween in the Eighties like yours truly, it’s more than likely that you would have been privy to your share of feel-good chick flicks involving life-altering makeovers and big hair. Trailing in the wake of the Princess Diana fairy tale wedding media ruckus, this particular genre of movies hustled its chiffon-encased booty into the cinemas with a fast and furious vengeance. Gravitating around mainly the same, recycled storyline (average-but-not-too-bad-looking young girl finally gets her chance at becoming the resident hottie and in doing so, wins the love of the studly, yet sensitive jock) the movies harbored nevertheless, a strangely addictive quality.

The effects were wildly rampant; in my Grade Six class, every girl worth her cherry-flavored lipgloss secretly clung to the hope of transforming into the next Cinderella-to-be, skyward-tending bangs intact. So as the boys brandished their dime-store fedoras as wanna-be Indiana Joneses, we tween females worshipped at the altar of one Miss Robyn Lively circa 1989 (Trivia-philes might be interested to know that Robyn is also big sis to Blake Lively of Gossip Girl fame).

Granted, there have been countless blog entries documenting the myriad of awesome ways in which the high school movie, Teen Witch, rocks but it’s fair to reiterate that what truly left a sizable impression – as was nearly always the case in Disney-quality chick flicks of this sort – was the lesson it conveyed, a lesson which would come to the aid of many a young person as she (or he) ventured into the dark, deeply self-conscious universe of college, love and money.

Sure, the incorporation of this schmaltzy moral might have been a ploy to cast the film in a parent-friendly glow so that malleable youths could be allowed to pile into sold-out theaters with the full blessing of mom and dad, but how many of you out there remember the feeling of breathless anticipation when Louise Miller (Lively), in her prom dress-bedecked glory, throws down her magical amulet and forfeits her witchily attained popularity to confront hard-hitting reality head-on: does he like me for me and only me alone?

With a haughty tossed of her newly permed locks, her lips curled into a confident smile, Louise sheds her lumpy gray sweats for good and wholeheartedly embraces saucy womandom. Whatever means she initially employed to secure her newfound sense of  self-reassurance has been rendered obsolete; she doesn’t need to cling onto these devices anymore. This is her Finest Hour. Hear her roar. Her man pulls her into him and dips her in a slow Lambada-style dance maneuver as the prom crowd dissolves around them in a blue spotlighted whirl. (Come on, it was the Eighties.) All is right in the world of G-rated teen love; let the necking begin.

So People if all else fails, just take a cue from Teen Witch - Be Yourself.

It’s Out!

Technically, the book’s been out for a while (the launch was held at the V2_Lab for Unstable Media in Rotterdam on October 27) and has been getting a bit of press already but I thought I’d post it up anyway.

If you are interested in getting a closer look, you can check out the short video clip below provided courtesy of the book’s designer Paul Swagerman - of course, you can also order your own lovely copy through NAi Publishers’ website. To read an excerpt from the book, please click here.

Happiness in Transit

I’m generally bad at introductions, but being Malaysian, I’ll slip into that old habit of breaking the ice by talking about food right off the bat. (What better way to know me than to hear about the things that make me happy? Oh, did I mention that I’m Malaysian?) At the risk of coming across like a globe-trotting glutton, I’d like to elaborate on why the above image (an ordinary yet oddly memorable in-flight snack on Swiss Air) epitomizes, for me, pure unadulterated freedom. Transience has been a large part of my life since I was a kid, having moved around a bit for the last two decades. It sounds like a some sort of incurable medical condition, the way I’ve gone on about it, but I’ve grown to relish this idea of living in between worlds, this space of impermanence. Ironically enough, the predicament of temporality has become the one thing I can count on with respect to securing any form of consistency. Airports, bus depots and waiting rooms of any type therefore harbor a special significance for me.

Each time an air stewardess plunks a cellophane-wrapped meal onto my foldable tray, the automatic response of digging into it reiterates that very situation of living on the fly, a situation that has little to do with glamor and more to do with being afforded your own private bubble to let your thoughts settle while the rest of the world seemingly plunges into a state of suspended animation –  for the duration of the flight, at least. I guess the appeal in this has something to do with my perpetual wish to be a superhero, specifically the kind with the power to freeze time. I’d love to be able to explore the world while it remains at a standstill; to bear witness to its sweet, frozen weirdness like a tourist meandering through Madame Tussauds – all the while clawing at the air-tight packaging of my apple-almond bar.