To accompany the sale of works from the prominent British and Pan Asian artists included in the groundbreaking exhibition Encounter: The Royal Academy in Asia, which is now live on Paddle8, we have created an editorial project that highlights six of the fifty artists from the show. Read below for our Q&A with Ho Tzu Nyen, and check out the above trailer for his video “Bohemian Rhapsody,” which is available for purchase on Paddle8. Stay tuned for more content from artists featured in Encounter!
Paddle8: Can you discuss the audition process for selecting the actors in your short film ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’?
Ho Tzy Nyen: In 2006, I sent out an audition call looking for the lead actor for a film called ‘Bohemian Rhapsody.’ The audition was to be held in the former Singapore Supreme Court at City Hall. Over 3 days, 20 young men arrived for the audition, and were immediately put into orange prison jumpsuits by policemen, handcuffed and led to the Defendant’s box, where they were put on ‘trial’. There, six beautiful 6 angels cheered them on as they were tested on their spoken dramatization of the words of the song – which are really the final words of a man about to be put to death. The actual film never materialized – nor was it meant to, but the resulting audition footage was edited to the original duration and rhythmic structure of the song. What came out of it was a musical courtroom drama that was also a record of its own making. In this way, all the actors who auditioned got their parts – a happy ending, in which judgment is suspended, no one axed, nor excluded, and definitely not put to death, which as we know, happens in Singapore.
P8: You cite the spectator’s own memory of Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ first released in 1975, as being critical to the piece. Can you recall your first reaction to the song?
HTN: For me, great pop songs are like ghosts from the past, at once vague and intense. With Bohemian Rhapsody, I can only recollect fuzzy images of slow, lazy afternoons spent digging tunnels in the bedrooms of lost friends, as we each silently wondered: “Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy? Caught in a landslide, No escape from reality.” We somehow all knew that we were each thinking the same thought, feeling the same sensation, and yet we were all apart.
P8: What elements of Western pop culture are most eagerly embraced by Singaporean youth today?
HTN: I think that it no longer matters what these elements are, because it seems to me that the entire field of pop culture appears to have collapsed into a kind of smooth homogeneous web spun out of limitless media access woven out of tablets, phones, screens and computers. It is no longer a matter of choosing content, but of being consumed by the form.
P8: Can you discuss the experience of representing Singapore at the 2011 Venice Biennale?
HTN: I was happy to do it primarily because it meant that having more resources than for producing a work than usual, which enabled me to work with a great group of collaborators and friends. For me, this was the best, and most memorable part of the project.
Video: Ho Tzu Nyen, The Bohemian Rhapsody Project, 2006, single-channel HD video and stereo sound, courtesy of the artist.