One Man’s Rubbish

sARTurdays, Part 1

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A family of artists named Holycrap with a publication called RUBBISH FAMzine may reek of Asian self-deprecation, but they claim to have their reasons for the junk-themed nomenclature: rubbish is a common utterance at home, while crap is an acronym for the members’ names – mum Claire, son Renn, daughter Aira and dad Pann (pahn), who is an ad and design man by day. This funky, fashionable family of four is perhaps best remembered for the National Gallery debacle last year, when nearly all the pieces in an exhibition of the kids’ art had to be taken down, prompting the family to withdraw altogether. Their famzine (stress on zine for Singaporean effect) is a family project in various senses. It is a freeform magazine made by the family, an artistic scrapbook of family activities and conversations, and a meaningful memento for future family reminiscence. Previous editions include a record of a trip to Japan, a celebration of our Garden City’s fiftieth year of independence, and a time capsule in the form of a biscuit tin to be unearthed in 2044.

The latest issue of the zine is a tribute to Pann’s dad who passed away in 1998. For its launch at BooksActually two Saturdays ago, Pann took the audience through a long and heartfelt presentation interspersed with contributions from the rest of the family (interrupted at one point by Aira tripping over the microphone wire) and accompanied by a PowerPoint projected on a modestly sized drop cloth. The slides were of the stylish variety – never mind the text is too small to read, it looks good that way! The family seemed loving and lovely, the children products of what I imagine to be an enviable upbringing – liberal yet grounded, generously propulsive yet suitably restraining. Aira is the mini spitting image of Claire, Renn a junior carbon copy of Pann. I suppose the children’s names were Scrabbled from their parents’ names too.

One of the greatest delights at BooksActually is the unexpected appearances by its three in-house cats: Cake, Pico and Lemon. According to her official bio, Pico is a big-hearted kitty, with a bigger appetite to boot. Greedy and needy, I suppose. I don’t know about the greedy bit, but I witnessed her neediness firsthand as she leapt up with her forepaws on BooksActually Renee’s tights, alternately press-pricking her thighs: left, right, left, right, left, right…. After causing sufficient wincing, Pico got what she wanted, and was scooped up and cradled like a baby as she gazed lovingly into her human’s eyes. Subsequently, she prowled about the space behind Pann, creating a fluffy and genial diversion for the children seated in the front.

picoPhotos: BooksActually

RUBBISH FAMzine No. 5: In the Name of the Father documents the life and death of Pann’s father, honouring his existence and mourning his absence. It recounts his hobbies, his family life, his career as a self-taught musician, conductor and composer; it revisits his last days, the shocking revelation of the liver cancer kept hidden for years, and imagines what life would be like if he were still around. Poignantly, the entire volume is swaddled in a fluorescent copy of his death certificate and secured by a rubber band looped onto a violin bridge of maple wood. Below are some parts of the zine that I found charming or striking.

– In a replica Kodak film folder are photo strips of Pann’s dad’s musical life and a QR code that points to his new SoundCloud page, where his music lives on in digital immortality. A number of the songs feature his wife’s marvelous singing.

– We can love a male chauvinist who redeems himself in other ways: Now as I think back to those years, Papa could also be considered a male chauvinist, maybe? Holding the view that women do all the housework while men watch TV; the man is the head of the family and whatever he says is final. My mum was the dutiful wife, doing as she was told, never questioning his intentions. And yet we could also see how much Papa was in love with and protective of my mum.

I recall the most important lesson Papa has ever taught me. I am always trying to follow his mantra of zo ho sei (to do things properly). In other words, your obsessions in life can truly be anything you love, but you must always “do” them properly.

– A love note from the days of courtship written by Pann’s dad presents columns of exquisite Chinese handwriting. (The couple later married in secret because he came from an unacceptably poor family.)

– The cheese story: Inspired by Tom and Jerry, little Pann asked for cheese at breakfasts with dad at the kopitiam. Each morning, his father would order him a thick slab of butter (Planta margarine?) and tell him, That is cheese.

– Basic grammar errors aside, what repeatedly bugged me were the remarks, particularly by the children, that Pann’s dad is alive and well in another dimension (How are you doing in heaven? I hope you are enjoying your afterlife.), and that the family will get to meet and chat with him face-to-face sometime in the future.

I have to admit, I am beating myself up over the design of the zine. I feel I am not doing a good enough job because this issue is way too precious too me. Forgive me Papa if it is not up to your expectations. I really hope I can do your stories justice.

NB: Quotations from the zine were edited.

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