Living Foods

Part of Exhibition:

Eric

Review

of an Exhibit

by Eric Leyland

Published on July 05, 2011 , Modified on July 07, 2011

  • Description:

    How often do we walk out of an exhibit disappointed that the opportunity to tell a great story has been lost? It may be well put together, with lots of artefacts or pictures, a film that delivers a first person account and text panels with lots of information, but on the whole the exhibit comes across as dry and pedantic and rather forgettable. This is sad because we all know the incredible amount of effort that is needed from many people to mount an exhibit. To often the perceived need to impart information to the visitor overwhelms the opportunity to create a memorable experience. So, rather than leaving being moved in some way or seeing the exhibit topic in a different light, the visitor leaves with only a few more factoids than when they walked in. In some ways the exhibit can be considered a success but unfortunately it’s probably not going to be something they talk about to their friends.

    Recently, in the National Museum of Singapore I happened upon a small exhibit designed by gsmprjct° a Montreal-based firm that was quite different. It had all the things I’ve mentioned above, it was well put together, a good selection of artefacts to illustrate the text but this one approached the subject of the origin of local street food in a very unique way. Local favourites were focused on. Each had a display showing how the food would be prepared on the street and a text panel discussing its origins. What made this exhibit stand out to me and why I remember it was the memorable quality of the short films displayed on a touch screen with each exhibit. The filmmakers chose to focus on what the food meant to specific individuals rather than focus on the food itself. I think it is this that makes the stories so poignant. Two films stood out to me; one about a young woman who orders a dish of chicken and rice. As she smells the food the film shows us her as a very young girl watching her mother preparing the dish. The mother explains to her daughter how this dish was so important to their family as it kept them fed when times were hard and how it always brought the family together. As the film brought us back to the present the camera showed that the young woman was pregnant and that we are led to believe that while her mother is no longer around to see her grandchild this simple dish of chicken and rice would help carry on her memory to the next generation.

    The second film highlights a teenage boy delivering bowls of noodles house to house that his father cooks in a stall on the street. A young girl calls the boy and orders a bowl. She flirts with the boy while lowering her basket with the money from her second floor window. While the boy waits for his father to make the noodles we can see he is struggling to make up his mind about something. Finally, when he puts the noodle soup into her basket he slips a ticket to a movie under the bowl. When the girl pulls the basket up to her window she is delighted to find the ticket and agrees to meet the boy at the film. Certainly it’s cheesy, but as with the other films it helps to make the exhibit about so much more than just ingredients and a few factoids about the history of street food in Singapore. It is about those moments and things in our pasts that help us remember our own unique history and that we will use to pass our memories on to future generations.

    I wasn’t able to take photos in the museum but I’ve included a link to gsmprjct’s video.

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