Date : 5th March 2005
Time of talk : 7pm
Screenings at 6pm and 9pm
Location : Sparwasser HQ

Sparwasser HQ is proud to present a lecture-performance "Utama- Every Name in History is I" by Ho Tzu Nyen, an strong emerging voice in the discourse of art, cinema and history. The event will be followed and preceeded by screening sessions of the film with the same name.

Ho Tzu Nyen is an artist and a writer based in Singapore. He graduated from Victorian College of the Arts, University of Melbourne in 2001, with a Dean's Award for Academic Excellence, and is currently an Associate Artist with The Substation, Singapore's pioneer independent artspace (

As an artist, Ho is interested in the possibility of producing a work of art that does not die with the end of its exhibition-life, but which can be disseminated in the economical medium of talks is something he is currently interested in. His first solo exhibition in Singapore, Utama ­ Every Name in History is I, was made up of a film, a set of 20 paintings, an installation and a research project about the origins of Singapore. Subsequently, this exhibition has been repackaged into a presentation. This project was shown at the 26th Sao Paulo Biennale and is currently being performed at the ICA London as part of the Insomnia series.

As a writer, Ho frequently writes on art and cinema. Some of his writings can be found in the exhibition catalogues 'Cinepolitans ­ Film, Art and the City' and 'Painting as Process ­ Re-evaluating Painting', as well as in the magazines, Art Asia Pacific (US), Broadsheet (Australia), REALTIME (Australia), Singapore Architect, ISH and Vehicle. He has recently completed two essays on Singaporean cinema that will be published in the near future. A Research Scholar at the National University of Singapore, Southeast Asian Studies Programme, he is writing a dissertation on the anxieties of influence in postwar Singaporean art history.


Utama- Every Name in History is I

The very name 'Singapura' was a paradox. For no lion had ever set foot in this Lion City.
A History of Singapore 1819 ­ 1988

Sang Nila Utama is the mythical first king of the Malays, and also the pre-colonial founder of Singapore ­ the one who had given Singapore its name. 'Singa' refers to lion and 'Pore' or 'Pura' in Malay means City. This name was said to have resulted from Utama's encounter with the majestic creature upon the shores of Singapore at around 12 or 13th Century, although much uncertainty surrounds this account as the lion such an animal is not indigenous to our shores. In fact, the identity of Utama himself is often an issue of doubt, at least for many modern, 'rational' historians.

In Singaporean society today, the figure of Sang Nila Utama has been gradually erased from public consciousness and for many Singaporeans, history seems to begin only with the arrival of the colonial founder ­ Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, agent of the East India Company. The name of 'Raffles' is today used as a sign of class and prestige, just as image of Raffles has become inscribed into public memory, sculptures of Raffles have become landmarks in Singapore.

Utama ­ Every Name in History is I is, in some sense, an attempt to summon forth the 'ghost' of Utama as a way of putting pressure on the existing, dominant discourse of history. This 'return' to Utama is not one which brings us to a singular, essentialist, or unified point of origin. There has never been one Utama, but many - an ambiguous multiplicity of possible identities, and a mad proliferation of names. It is this very ambiguity at the heart of ontology which this project affirms ­ as a possibility of self-invention.

This difficult task of giving birth to one's own 'father' is aided by a motley host of characters dispersed across time and cultures. Julius Cesar, the great Chinese eunuch- navigator Admiral Cheng Hoe, Vasco de Gama, Christopher Columbus, King David, King Solomon, Raja Chulan and Raja Shulan of India, Alexander the Great, the mighty Greek hunter Actaeon and Diana, Goddess of the Hunt and of Chastity from Ovid's Metamorphosis, are some of the figures appearing at various moments of this tale.

Utama ­ Every Name in History is I which began as an installation containing twenty paintings and a short film of 22 minutes was a meditation on the dialectical relationship between painting and cinema, the still and the moving image. It was last exhibited at the 26th Sao Paulo Biennale. However, the artist Ho Tzu Nyen has also taken the step of transforming the entire project into an hour long lecture and film presentation. In this performative lecture, actual paintings are replaced by projected images, while the spatial experience of the installation is transformed into a conceptual elaboration. Tzu Nyen currently considers the installation form of Utama a fossil ­ an remnant to be resurrected in its lecture form - 'live', immediate, logical and economical.