Saturday, September 22, 2007

Time travel

I really had meant to go before writing my dissertation, but now that I've seen it, perhaps it was for the best that I hadn't.

Today, my mum and I took a trip back in time with a visit to the old Ford Factory at 351 Upper Bukit Timah Road, which became a national monument just last February.

ford factory Singapore
It is a lovely old building, restored to its former glory. Apparently built in 1941 (according to the website).

While it looks nice on the outside, I wasn't quite so impressed with what went on inside. It was a 'Memories at Old Ford Factory' exhibition, explaining what happened during the Japanese Occupation.

ford factory, singapore
Yes, this is the exhibition. It looks like it was designed, displayed and laid out by a student. There is so much text that you're not sure where to begin. And a lot of the text is above and below eye level - am I really supposed to bend down to read all that small print?
There are fewer artefacts than I expected - I suppose all that text and quotes and newspaper articles are meant to make up for that. Instead, all it did was put me off reading the displays. It was quite evident that a lot of research and effort had been put into this exhibition. However, sometimes, less is more. And in this case, far far less.

The designers also need to rethink the flow of the exhibition. There are numbers on the panels but as I walked through the hall, the numbers jumped from 14 to 20. I had to backtrack and head to the back, near the exit, to continue to read about life in Endau, which was what number 15 was about. That would've been the perfect place for the final displays - the Japanese surrender. Instead the last exhibit I saw before I exited was an old toilet.

I suppose it's partly because I spent several months researching this topic that I feel really strongly about it. I'd read many of the stories and autobiographies, and even had listened to the oral archives. Yet the exhibition emerged as impersonal and cold. Those who created this exhibition missed out on a good chance to leave an impact. And it makes me wonder what happens to tourists who have little knowledge about the Japanese occupation - like the Japanese couple I saw entering as I was leaving - will they leave, like me, confused and irritated?

The one saving grace was the rather decent documentary that was screened in the AV theatre, which is separate from the main exhibition hall. Why wasn't it screened first as visitors enter the exhibition, to give an initial clearer picture of what happened?

While I commend the effort to restore the building and to educate people about the Japanese occupation, the exhibition does not do it justice.

1 comment:

melch said...

go to the national museum and tell me what you think? i find some of the stories really personal there (but i may be biased heh). remember to devote at least 4 hours!