Equivalence - Cans

Singapore | 2017

The Equivalence – Cans series examines the state of the economy, social inequality and consumption patterns.

The visual assembly of 1,000 unassuming aluminium cans represents the many individuals from the vulnerable parts of society, often faceless and hidden.

Throughout its life cycle, the aluminium can intertwines with the multi-layered social stratum: as an income source for waste pickers in their immediate local environments; a consumed product for middle- and high-income consumers; and an output of the global trading system of commodities and industrial products.

In 2016, a single discarded aluminium can in Singapore was worth S$0.015 to a can collector. A thousand of these recycled cans, collected and photographed individually on the grounds of a waste metal collection centre in Singapore, formed a combined value of S$15.00. We juxtaposed a single protective case for the iPhone, one of the most popular smartphones in the country.

The monetary value of the smartphone case is exactly equivalent to that of the 1,000 cans.

+ Article: An Unequal Equation

Words by Justin Zhuang

Just as the equal symbol is signified by two parallel lines, Equivalence presents two different things that are expressed to be the same. This is the equation—in the form of 1,001 photographs—that confronts visitors to the chapel turned gallery of Objectifs. Amongst a sea of a thousand pictures each depicting depict a crushed aluminium can recovered from the trash in Singapore sits a single image of a consumer good purchased from a shop. The former was discarded and deemed worthless by consumers. The latter was acquired in exchange for something of value. Yet, an equivalence connects the two.

Their common economic value of 15 Singapore dollars is what balances this seemingly unequal equation. That the scrap metal industry can turn a used aluminium can into a commodity is a testament of the free market economy’s ability to convert garbage into gold. But by equating the value of what some in Singapore need for survival to the cost of a thing that others covet for pleasure, Equivalence also sums up the inequality such an economy brings about.

This is a pressing issue for developed economies around the world today. Popularly expressed as the 99% versus the 1%, this income and wealth gap is the inevitable result of outsourcing the allocation of scarce global resources to the free market’s “invisible hand”. All things being equal, inequality is the answer. Besides polarising societies, such an economy blinds consumers to its mechanics too. From how industrial-scale production drives wages to unsustainable lows to mass consumption’s insatiable appetite for resources and the resulting huge amounts of waste, these products of the free market economy are often far away from snazzy shopping centres and liveable cities. Out of sight and out of mind, what consumers are left with is an abstract worldview: everything simply comes with a price tag, minus the hard to quantify costs. We value the things around us by flattening everything into a price. We quantify our lives as if we were nothing more than engines of value. We speak of our homes as income-generating properties, and even measure the worth of our cities based on their economies. We’ve developed a world that makes most sense (and cents) for those who can afford to live in such a free market.

For the many who struggle to fit into this equation, they have to turn to alternative means such as salvaging aluminium cans and other remains of the consumption cycle, often from the public streets. Even such avenues are increasingly being priced out by the widening reach of the economy. A recent drop in scrap metal prices has made collecting aluminium cans unprofitable. Public spaces in cities are increasingly being privatised, squeezing out those who cannot afford to rent. In a world that is becoming so rationally divided by the common denominator of the free market, what happens those who equate to be the remainder? This is what Equivalence asks through its photographic juxtaposition of our wants and needs in contemporary urban living. This inquiry by the Beijing-based Chow and Lin—made up of photographer Stefen Chow and economist Lin Huiyi—emerges out of the rapid urbanisation of Asia, a phenomenon that has prompted a next generation to question the region’s historic adoption of Western developmental models. Just as how the late German conceptual photographers Bernd and Hilla Becher visualised the architecture of industrialisation in the 20th century—capturing water towers, coal bunkers, factory facades, amongst others—Chow and Lin bring to life globalisation in the 21st century by methodically documenting the products of our global economy. Equivalence mirrors the spectacular readymade installations of leading conceptual artists in Asia, such as the Beijing-based Song Dong and the New Delhi-based Subodh Gupta, by assembling a near life-size infographic of everyday goods from Asia to visualise the architecture of living in this region today.

Faced with an equation that adds up to be correct, but not right, Equivalence offers us an answer that only prompts more questions: Why makes things equivalent? How can the world be equal? That any equation is balanced only reflects a state of affairs in equilibrium—not necessarily one that is equitable. If this is the cost of a stability today, dare we formulate another way to value our world tomorrow?

+ Interview Transcripts

Jackson Tan
Artist, Designer, Curator, Creative Director

Mohan Dutta
Head of the Department of Communications and New Media
National University of Singapore

Parag Khanna
Global Strategist and Best-selling Author
Centre on Asia and Globalisation, Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy

Sole Proprietor
Ace Recycle Trading

+ Exhibition Details

Chapel Gallery, Objectifs
26 April to 14 May 2017
Tue to Sat, 12pm to 7pm / Sun, 12pm to 4pm

Free Admission

Opening Reception
25 April, 7pm – 9pm

Panel Discussion
27 April, 7.30pm – 9pm

This panel discussion will focus on on socio-economic trends in Singapore, how they impact different sections of society, and how art can be used to spread awareness about these issues.

Associate Professor Oh Soon-Hwa
School of Art, Design and Media, Nanyang Technological University

Professor Mohan Dutta
Head of the Department of Communications and New Media, National Universityof Singapore

Associate Professor Irene Y.H. Ng
Department of Social Work and Director of Social Service Research Centre, National University of Singapore

Lin Huiyi & Stefen Chow

Visit www.objectifs.com.sg/equivalence for more information.

Supported by

Singapore National Arts Council (NAC)

Designed by


+ Panel Discussion Transcript

Transcript of : "Equivalence: A panel discussion", Objectifs Centre for Photography and Film, Singapore, April 27th 2017

This panel discussion focused on on socio-economic trends in Singapore, how they impact different sections of society, and how art can be used to spread awareness about these issues. The speakers include:

Associate Professor Oh Soon-Hwa
School of Art, Design and Media, Nanyang Technological University

Professor Mohan Dutta
Head of the Department of Communications and New Media, National Universityof Singapore

Associate Professor Irene Y.H. Ng
Department of Social Work and Director of Social Service Research Centre, National University of Singapore

Lin Huiyi
Artist and Director of Grail Research

Stefen Chow
Artist and independent photographer

00:00 Lin Huiyi: For us to explore more about some of these issues that we need to know, what are really our own assumptions and world views and how can we go out and find out more and make a change.

Maybe we will start off with introducing a little bit about our project, for audience who may not be so familiar with our work. and after that we will have each of the 3 panelist to have a short intro about themselves as well as takeaway about the work displayed here. also from their respective views of expertise share something about what their research is on that is not so well known to the general public and from there we will start a discussion.

00:56 Stefen Chow: Thank you Huiyi. So what you see here, if you walk into the space, usually this exhibition space is basically very minimal. so there are no chairs in the middle. so if you just walk in what you see is behind me there is 500 photos of aluminium cans and right in front of me, behind you guys, would be another 500 pictures of individual aluminium cans. this are recycled cans that are discarded collected by people or kopitiams or people who go round collecting cans and they pass this to a recycling centre. what we are interested is how much value are these 1000 pieces of aluminium cans are worth to someone who actually collects them. and what we find is at least for this year today, these cans are worth in total 15 Singapore dollars, each can is worth 1.5cents. so if someone is to collect all these cans, this would constitute the amount that allows you to perhaps exchange for another item equal in value which is that photo just over there, which would be one single iphone 6 case. Its not an iphone but an iphone case. so both items are worth 15 dollars. and we dig a bit deeper, what we realise is that the alum cans themselves, the price have been fluctuating rapidly in the last few years. so in the last 6 years, the price has plummeted 60% . so imagine if you were to collect 1000 cans 6 years ago, these would be worth about 45 dollars. but today this is worth 15 dollars. and as we dig a bit deeper we realise that this is due to global growth slowdown, the developing economies like India, China, Brazil are just not doing as well in recent years and so the demand for raw materials and recycled materials has fallen. so for someone who collects waste materials as a living, their livelihood is severely threatened. and what we also know is a lot of people even during the good times, the people who collect waste material often exist at the bottom of the pyramid and the reason why we juxtapose it against a single iphone case is because the iphone 6 is currently the most popular model in Singapore. mobile network penetration rate is about 150%, so the average singaporean has 1.5 mobile phones. and so that why we juxtapose it against a iphone case which is actually common a lot of Singaporeans over here. so this juxtaposition is basically the basis of our work.

I will pass the mic to Prof Oh, to perhaps introduce herself a little and a bit about the work.

04:13 Prof Oh Soon Hwa: my name is oh soon hua, I'm a photographer and also a lecturer. I teach photography in the school of art, design and media in NTU since 2005. Stefen and Huiyi came to our school yesterday and I attended their artist talk. Then, I have not seen this work yet, that was when I raised the question about while its like a equal value, you have like for instance you have some that are 100 images that is equals to 1, in this case 1000 cans equal to one iphone case, and when I was just reading it and looking at it online and it didn't quite come to my mind how its going to work visually. So I came early, I walked into this gallery and saw the installation. the experience was very different, because what I saw was not about cans, or the buns that you photographed (equivalence Mantous), I actually saw the effort of those people who collected these cans, so what was so amazing when I see this image that, you know that I teach photography and I say that the experience in the art gallery is so different than the experience you have when you read and study about art. That experience is what I had just as what I talked about in school, I had it today. So this work, when I saw individual cans, its 1000 of them, is the can important? Actually its not so important, what is important is that I am imagining it, I am imagining the person that I dont even know, how much effort they have spent to collect these to make a living. Then I turn around and I look at the iphone case, we buy this for fashion and we buy alot of these, when you travel to korea you also collect all these things. Then the effort, you have one that is an accessory and one that is a necessity for someone to survive. and the images that actually, the way it is installed and created, that was very powerful because it brought me to think about it and it gazed me into these people’s lives, so that was one strong thing actually, even being in this space, and also the way you installed this work is so effective. When you are standing in the middle, you look at all this cans and then you saw this small object that you can almost live without it but you see these cans and you feel it, that overwhelming power that it has. So that was one take on this piece of work so I actually like this work very much. Yesterday I expressed that I actually don't get your equivalence series so I was going to ask you a question, then I thought about it and read more about it, it still didn’t quite come to me, but once I am standing in the middle of it (the exhibition), thats art isn't it. Its not like social sciences studies where you read, you stand in the middle of it, the visual image comes to you and it just takes you somewhere, that imagination, and that was really happening here so thats my take on the work.

08:46 Prof Irene Y.H. Ng: I feel like a lay person here, all these comments about the art and all that I cant comment about it. So I am a quantitative researcher. I am trained in economics and social work, I have done research on poverty for 10 years maybe 11 years if you count my 5 years as a PHD student and I spend a lot of time drawing charts and tables with big numbers. For example, one measure of inequality is the Gini index. So I teach my students about the Gini index how it is measure and all that. 0.4 is high, Singapore is one of the highest in inequality among developed countries by that measure. But I think an installation like this is very powerful, 1000 cans, 15 dollars , equivalent to one i phone 6 case. I mean pictures speaks a thousand words. It really speaks more than the numbers that I put up i think. So the thought behind it, I really appreciate that it gives a powerful message. At the same time while going around, some of the thoughts I had was we are in a very comfortable place looking at all these photographs of the cans. I think when you went there to take the photos you probably smelt the stuff and felt the stuff and I think that would be different, in the experience of going and collect these cans would be different from looking at the cans here in this comfortable environment. the other things that struck me is the photographs have a lot of drink cans that are from overseas i think, like the Myanmar ones and some of these I couldn't recognise. So it speaks something about the drinkers as well and one group that the Gini index measures in Singapore is that we measure only the local resident population and we don't measure the foreign workers and I think that they are even lower that amount.

11:16 Prof Mohan Dutta: My name is Mohan and I am a professor of communication and new media and I have been studying poverty for the last 20 years in different parts of the world and in Singapore over the last 5 years. what i mostly do is similar to Irene but a little bit different, I listen to stories of people that live in poverty, try to understand the reasons which make sense of their lives and then compare and contrast it with how we portray these people in media dispose and public dispose in public policy. So I am really interested in the juxtaposition of how we depict the low income, the poor. visibly their real experiences that what are the points where these stories converge and where they diverge. the first thing that struck me when I walked in and look at this, is how overwhelming it is, similar to your sense, and I also thought that, gee you know how much work would it take for someone to collect these cans but probably he wouldn't be able to collect these cans from one place so think about how much you have to walk or travel, how long you have to go through to put together the cans and then you’ll have to do that day after day, month after month to find a source of living, so in that sense in also thinking if you spend a day or 2 days, I would want to know how many days you have to spend to collect these cans then with the 15 dollars, what are you going to do and how far is that going to take you. I thought the depiction of the problem is also really interesting, you know i am a professor of communication and new media, so I have to think about the digital that (unclear), that you know you talk about the smart economy, the fourth industry revolution and the digital transformation, but in that what values are taken for granted and what does it mean for low income communities as we think about more and more of these digital transformations and almost take that for granted as the way which the world is going to move. so what is going to be the effect of these transformations in terms of low income communities, are they going to see more of that? and what the kinds of solutions we would have for these.

12:46 Stefen Chow: Wow. thank you, by the way we didn’t pay them to say good things about us (crowds laughing). we actually asked them to be honest and I think that has been a very good range of reactions. I think the purpose of why we also wanted to hold a dialogue today is really to talk about the themes that Huiyi and I both are concerned about. and the last thing we want to be seen as are experts in a field like inequality. I think just because we involve ourselves in this work, we really don’t see ourselves as the experts. therefore the reason why we brought these professors onboard is also to give us insight on perhaps the case study of Singapore, mainly if we could follow up with a question, maybe tell us a little bit about what is the situation in Singapore. what can we know from what you have researched so far?

14:06 Prof Mohan Dutta: so as I have said I have been interviewing low income families, so there are 3 things I want to state.

The 1st is, if you look at low income families and individuals, the first thing that is striking is that you have very young families that are low income and that struggle with meeting their everyday needs. so that is really striking and what is particularlystriking is when you juxtapose that with everyday public conversations, you know when people ask me what do I do, and I say I study poverty in the context of Singapore, they say you have nothing to study in Singapore, it is not really very valued in Singapore, you should probably look at China and India, so it is really fascinating in terms of the everyday struggles of low income families people that have to do actually multiple jobs to make ends meet, not only in terms of making ends meet, with some things like healthcare that we often talk about, you know what happens when you hit a healthcare crisis, but even when much of my world, the thing I find most interesting is with basic things like food, you know, thankfully often taken for granted. Having the kind of food security you see in that context.

The 2nd thing I also noticed and then again this perhaps is evident to those of you who have looked into this issue are elderly right? but what is a striking is in the work that i have done so far is to see this sense of isolation, those experience that actually are struggling with meeting their everyday needs, having access to resources, and how that juxtaposes in the backdrop of this idea of you have the family to take care of the elderly. so what happens if you do have elderly that don’t have the family network and the support network and are isolated in that sense and therefore in many ways do not get access to resources.

The 3rd thing I want say is, the ways in which the experiences of the low income are juxtaposed in terms of how we do or do not talk about the low income. There is still a predominant narrative of someone that is low income, is not responsible, is lazy, doesn’t do their fair share of work, they would need to step up and that is often contradicted by the lives of those that actually struggle with their day to day resources. and there is the other side of this story, you know the story of resilience. There is also this story of how the low income are great at solving their problems, they can just come together and figure out ways of getting out of their status. What we often find there is that those individual level things, they are there in terms of individual effort and individual expression of urgency, but what is often missing are sort of the necessary structural resources that would enable them to move out of the struggles that they have.

17:19 Prof Irene Y.H. Ng: Thanks Mohan, that is good. Actually when I came, I was wondering whether this panel will be preaching to the converted. do you think I can ask you guys why are you all here? like how many of you are here because you are concern about poverty in Singapore? Inequality and poverty? Ok so we have a few. So how many of you are here because this is an interesting piece of art and you are here to find out more? Ok. So that inequality issue is not that big of a concern. and I guess then there are some of you whom have not put up their hands yet would be just here to support your friends? (laughing crowd). (SC: we paid all of them to be here hahah). So actually when Huiyi and Stefen asked me to prepare a 3 minute speech. I did prepare something that I wrote out because I was like how am I coming to tell people or the public and maybe if I say something that is really abstract, and people cant get it. So this patent thing, it does not really answer exactly the question on how you framed it but hopefully it strikes some call in you and maybe there can be an interesting conversation later. So one thing that I have found in Singapore, is that we have become an urban stratified society. So, unequal, the most stratified, the most structured. And it is increasingly difficult for low income families to make ends meet. I mean the installation here about the dropping prices of cans is also about the decreasing wages of those who are earning low income, and we are making so much effort through policies to try and raise the wages, when you think about those jobs for them. Those notions that low income families in Singapore are lazy, they not trying hard enough, they need to try harder, and even if you said that you acknowledged that its hard but if you try hard you can. In today's Singapore, it is no longer like that. so we really have to think number 1 about our economy, our labour market structure, what happening there that is really make jobs bad and making earnings hard. and also then we need to think about how we respond to uplifting the poor if we are to clear them through our welfare system. where etching out a living is hard, our current emphasis on deservingness and self reliance can be counter productive. In the name of deservingness, we put in place stringent criteria to ensure only those who truly are in need of help, but when we do that, we screen out many who are living in hardship and then we create a perverse incentive to tell sob stories and under declare earnings or other informations so that they can fit a stringent criteria. and when we give minimum assistance for a limited duration in the name if self reliance, we don’t give the beneficiaries enough bandwidth to deal with the group issues, thus they are helped to just scrape through only to cycle back for assistance again. So to me emphasising self reliance creates a stifle of dependance instead, and the whole process becomes stigmatising and generates circular distrust between the giver and the beneficiary. To me when we say we want to help low income families, we really need to truly think about how to help and not just help out of deservingness. Maybe this comes from my christian belief in a god who first loves us and so in turn we will love. But I truly believe that if we focus on giving value to people instead of saying do you deserve it or not and I give you so little so that you will not want to come back for help. And this makes people feel so undignified right, that it actually perpetuates that the dependence but instead if you give people to the extent that they can be helped and they feel valued, they will want to value themselves and will want to go and do something and to want to help others even.

22:03 Stefen Chow: Thank you. Actually at this point are there any questions from the audience.

22:20 Audience 1: Have you ever considered the environment that we are living in has actually cultivate a mindset and attitude and behaviour that actually change the whole structure, rather than you know, we have all the system in there, but is our system adaptive enough to tackle the ever changing environment, because its not just Singapore alone, I think we are talking, we need to look at regional and global issues as well, because that would have certain form of impact on how our society is going to be like for the next decades, years ahead.

23:05 Prof Irene Y.H. Ng: I think recently people talk a lot about a gate economy and from my work I don't really work with low income families so might not as many I (inaudible), But a lot of them are part time informal work and I think the labour market structure has changed such that for lower wages a lot of it is contract, its informal, its part time, and so our current employment laws are not sufficient to address the protection, social protection of low income earners, and so now with our gate economy even more so. our current infrastructure is for those kinds of jobs where the people have for long term even for life. so I agree with you and I think we need to be more. do you have any thing to add?

24:03 Prof Mohan Dutta: Just a couple of things to add on what you said. like how do think about things like healthcare? which are tied to work. and gate economy like providing is talking about that changes because you are looking at the part time or your changing jobs so you don’t have consistent access to healthcare. similarly what happens to how you organise CPF and savings. these are key issues to be talk through, particularly with those, you know because you know when present gate economy I can give a very rosy picture, you think about hanging out at Starbucks and doing your work. We see that even in industries where we wouldn't think that there are struggles with income like the creative industries, for instance. But there is no benefits, no job related benefits attached to those jobs, so those are really interesting issues.

24:59 Prof Oh Soon Hwa: I like to bring back the topic little bit back to the art. Since we are in a art gallery situation. all these complex issues and very important issues how artist can get away with it, you know, as photographer, also Stefen is a photojournalist and commercial photographer, what we deal with this very complex world issues, photography plays a role, one it freezes the moment, so like the earlier, I mean your work in the statement expresses the link with Hilla and Bernard Bercher, two german photographers whose studies is a style of photography that makes many pictures to make a point. but they reference goes back to august sander. The german portrait photographer. And earlier in the 20th century, he photographed all kinds of occupation, people. He photographed all the farmers, doctors, creating a collection of people with different jobs and he showed how people lived at that time. So there is a historical references, in how a photographer would deal with this complex issues, how we lead our lives in this time. so photography can go. but on the other hand, so Stefen and Huiyi's project goes back to maybe August Sander's in early 1900, then Hilla Bercher and 1960s and now you are making it, not only you and also some of those social media that relate to photographers like Umbrico, Penolope Umbrico, She also those this kind of work and"running the numbers", Chris Jordan works with the numbers, now our life is much more complex and we cannot really freeze the moment and capture that on the surface and show all this complex issues. So artist that are working more behind, how to visualise the invisible, the complex issues. So that is one of the ways, photographers can play with it and that is the very objective when you frame things. And that object where you portray the effort is all the images are shot consistently in the same format, same composition, same scale in everything in the same way. so that one that we think that maybe this effort to how artist also try to get into this complex social economic issue. But I also have one student awhile back. He actually documented an old woman in chinatown in Singapore. her job was collecting cans, so this student followed this old lady who worked this way. He documented everything, he lived with her basically, when she didn’t go home, he stayed on the streets with her, so student would make these pictures at night in chinatown, because I gave them an assignment, "your pictures must have 4 different times of the day, Morning, afternoon, evening, night, so they can have experience in different lighting conditions." so one cleverly chose chinatown, he went down at night, and people were sleeping, he photographed people sleeping in the streets so beautifully, then another student came back, he look in his portrait and said "I want to follow this old lady, why does she sleeps outside?" Then we realise that actually she did not want to pay for this MRT fare because she cannot afford to get home, so she prefers sleeping in the street, and by looking at your images and I am looking at two different ways of photography dealing with this issue of poverty. One is so compelling because it was a real person and my student photographs immediately engaged the viewer, then Stefen and Huiyi's project is like a big social system that they are studying, a critique on the system, so it plays in two different platform, on one hand photography can immediately engage you, bring you there, you can smell the street, you can feel the pain, but this work if you look at the can (asking) why is there 1000 cans? and it just make you, you got to sit here and think about it and all of a sudden, it is not the issue of one person, its our system that affects all of us. So how photography can actually tackle this when we look at just a picture of a can. So I just wanted to highlight how artist try to deal with it, this complex issues and basically these are pictures of a soda can.

Stefen Chow: Thank you.

Audience 2: Thank you for inviting me, I will walk around later to try and experience the feeling that Soon Hwa has described. After everybody leaves I will stay. I just want to comment about, I mean I agree with everything that has been said so far but I just wanted to comment on how when we talk about inequality we often end up actually talking only about poverty. We seldom talk about wealth. Wealth of course, is an important part, a crucial part of the inequality story. This partly relates to the point Soon Hwa is making about what artists can capture and also what perhaps they don’t right? but I am wondering, thinking about, imagining what a project would look like if its not only captured the poverty side of the story but also the wealth side of the story. I mean your exhibit could be called, lack of equivalence right? I mean in a way right? it just seems to be me that there is also a lot of sort of possibilities there if we insisted on including into the inequality story with the story of wealth.

Stefen Chow: In fact I would like to explain that immediately. So thank you very much for your comment. And I think when we introduce the project, I did put it from the point of view if someone is to collect this. how much effort do you have to put in and how much is this worth. and as we dig a bit deeper, what we realise that the price of the aluminium cans has also fallen as I describe earlier, it has fallen 60% over the last few years. there is two demographics of people that will be affected, one would be the people who actually have to collect the waste materials, so this would be people at the bottom of the pyramid. The other person who will affected will be the people at the top. The mine owners, the commodities traders, the bankers. and so in doing this project, we actually spoke to people who are familiar with how this works, and what we also realise is that we assume that our audience that comes in to take in this work would somewhat belong to the middle class segment and for me, I am not academic, but so I will just define it the way I think it is, but middle class would probably mean that you don't have to worry about your three meals, you got shelter over your head, you go home in a safe condition, and its stable. and for most of us who lives in the middle class, the commodities price of aluminium does not affect our lives. We go out and purchase a can of soda and that price might change but its a very small percentage of our income. The price of aluminium in a soda can is actually a very small proportion of what we actually pay because what we actually pay for is the beverage itself, the rental of the shop, the refrigeration, the service of the staff that serves us. So when it goes down to the cost of the aluminium itself, even though it has plummeted by 60%, we don't detect a change in our soda prices. But people who collect aluminium cans or deal with the recycling business or people who deal with commodity trading or people who own mines, or they own businesses in infrastructure and so on, they actually do feel the fluctuations. So in a way when we did this project, we actually felt that this case of aluminium itself does affect both rungs. so we actually spoke to Parag Khanna, who is a ....

Lin Hui Yi: He is LKY school fellow and he looks into global connectivity and the connective-ness of economy and societies and global strategies

Stefen Chow: and he basically, eloquently, string why everything is connected. And this also has to do with globalisation, on how the price of aluminium in a way is not so much related to a supply demand system within Singapore itself, but it is connected to a more global market, because the aluminium is demanded by the developing big economies like India, China, Brazil and so on. you know, economies that need a lot of infrastructure building. The cans themselves compete with raw materials that is dug out from the mines. so in a way, this whole topic, when we started doing it, we realised how complex this whole subject is and we did not think that we are experts, therefore we started talking to other experts who could connect certain points for us. but to answer your comment, was that in face I think there is a bit to do with people at the top of the pyramid as well. But thank you.

Lin Huiyi: Any other questions? or viewpoints?

Audience 3: I just want to reflect on the part just now that an audience member has pointed out that our structures are just there to keep up with the changes in our structure and economical landscape. So I work for the (inaudible) now and I (inaudible), So I see what the reality is right on the ground. I see how hard it is for people to make ends meet at the same time I used to work for the ministry of finance, and I think under Tharman we have really tried to be more progressive. The structure of transfers and taxes has become a lot more progressive over the years. Even with the change in the gate economy, I think we are looking at whether we should change the economic act, allowing humanisation of freelancers, we are looking at including them under the trade union act. But we are always playing catch up, and we will never be fast enough, because we respond to how the society changes and once the effect become obvious or very significant to the extend we start reacting. But I was wondering, if any of you have a perspective on how we can keep pace or anticipate some of these changes so that we can structure policies to solve them before they happen?

37:50 Prof Irene Y.H. Ng: Thanks for that. I think that in Singapore, our policy makers do try to be forward looking. I am involved a bit with the ministry of manpower, with looking at low wage issues and they actually have already started thinking about, I mean we know that they have tried to look at the tutors and (inaudible). They have actually drawn out the blueprints as well for sales staff and all that, but we know that the economy is not doing very well recently, so in that committee group which is actually made up of employers and employees and the government is thinking lets hold back, so for me as a poverty researcher and (inaudible), why are we holding back? This are structural long term issues, if we don't do it now, we will never do it. But then there is the other side, running the businesses and all that, so I guess it would be us as a society continuing to want to choose to want to keep up this thing, the conditions for those at the bottom and to me actually during economic downturns, the top people are the ones more affected. The low income people they have always struggled anyway and so while we say we hold back a bit but we still need to push forward and I think they still say that for cleaners, they did announce that you still want to increase the salaries and I think society has a responsibility to say that in Singapore we want to push for these changes that we want to be a society that we shouldn't have that jobs.

39:35 Lin Huiyi: I guess now actually we have some questions for the panelists. Because I think we have heard quite a lot of interest tonight from the audience as well about people who are passionate or wanting to do something or wanting to understand more about inequality and we also know that inequality or the issue itself is maybe hidden from mainstream media. As you in each of your fields, how do you think that the issue of inequality can be discussed, I mean tonight is just the starting point, and from here the conversation has to continue and the exploration of what can we do about it as people involved in this community, what should we do about it, what do you hope for people tonight to take away from this?

40:38 Prof Mohan Dutta: I love your idea of equivalence and I want to go back to your aluminium example, I think thats a great example and one thing that struck me is that, yes, both the poor and the rich are connected in terms of the effects, for instance aluminium producers and the commodity chain, but that effects are not similar in the sense that for the top 1% the effects are quite different compared to the effects on someone who is having to collect these cans. That is one thing I thought struck me. The second thing I thought is that for someone thats collecting these cans, that because they got cut out of a job or some other opportunity to earn and therefore structurally got constituted in this life where this is one way through which they can make a living. So I think thats a great way for us to think about equivalence, thats a great way for us to think about how we prioritise what the value is, but also the basic ethics of how we organise our communities and society. What are we going to care about? you know. under communications scholars, so one of the things that strikes me is how often we see the poor or we see the low income but we do not see them. Meaning that we walk past them as if they dont exist. So here is the interesting thing, you know when I teach introductory communication and new media class, I would ask many of my students how often have you seen low income people in Singapore, and often their answer is that they have not or they haven't really register. So then the question is, as a communications person, I ask, why is it that you don't see? because it is not as if really the symptoms or the signs are tucked away. They are around us but talking to (inaudible) Training to not see to not register, and more importantly to talk to. So we would rather, and I go back to your idea of you know, sort of the middle class, there is quite a bit of social science theory that suggest that what happens with the bottom half of any society depends on where the middle class is aligned and what values they align with. So I guess an interesting question for us is are we going to un-see the poor, the images of the low income in an aspirations for the iphone and therefore not opening the conversations. I think starting the conversation at any point at any opportunity is what is needed.

43:31 Prof Irene Y.H. Ng: Ya, I am learning from the both of you. I think when you was talking about your student going out there and living with them and taking photos, I am thinking like huh maybe I should get my students to do that you know. Well I teach social work for students to go out into the field and work with low income people. But sometimes our work can be very professional and we don't actually go and do it and see the lived reality and so I feel for myself as a poverty researcher I do try to go down to the ground and actually do the interviews sometimes because it is very easy to look at the numbers and forget the lived reality as well. So I think for everyone, to answer to your question would be take the opportunity to go out to our comfort zone to experience, to see. Yesterday, there is another professor, Ng Gok Ho, he presented in a seminar in our team on rental housing dwellers and one of my colleagues was here and said, Oh I want my kids to know more about this because I am living in a neighbourhood with rental blocks, we need to go and see and experience so our children will know, cause our children don’t really have friends who are low income, who are different from themselves, and we cant start understanding unless we go out and meet low income....

44:57 Stefen Chow: Actually I just want to follow up with a comment and if you can respond. is this a problem or phenomenon that is unique to Singapore or do you think that this is a global phenomenon?

45:11 Prof Irene Y.H. Ng: When I was a student in Michigan and Michigan is very very segregated, you have to poorest cities in the country as well as the richest, they are very segregated so you don’t see, and the other aspect is that in modern day poor or rich unless you are very very rich, where you carry your really obvious lavish kind of stuff, you cant really tell. So I think urban poverty is a bit hidden, you cant really tell unless you really observe and notice.

45:49 Prof Mohan Dutta: Can I just add? I just want to say that you know I have a project in China, one in India and one in the US, and we do workshops in all these countries, so a lot of the things that is most striking is this is not a Singapore phenomenon. As the middle classes are aspirations are for the i phones and for moving into the next level, so being unseen even when we are surrounded by, so I think in many ways, the desire to not have a conversation is consistent thread that I see that is spread across; I just give you one story as an example, so if you think about Mumbai. In Mumbai, poverty is very visible in that sense, where you have these large skyscrapers and right around them you have the slums. So I had a student where I was teaching an honours seminar, the seminar was built around poverty and inequality, and this student was from Mumbai, so one of the first warming up questions that I have asked the class to talk about the poverty that you see around you and what you notice and what you feel about it. Her response was pretty poignant which she said that you know when I get out of my condo, I don’t see poverty because I cant really care about it. So I put up my window, turn on my AC and I cant let myself be bothered by it, because registering it what she meant, would unsettle my way of thinking, it would create dissonance. So I don’t want to see it, I don’t want to talk about it, I don’t want to register it. I thought that was very important for her.

47:45 Prof Oh Soon Hwa: I think what we can do as artists, one can collaborate with other scholars. As a photographer we are trying to get access to strong complex social problems and photographers job is how to visualise these complex issues, we don't take just pictures of what we see in front of our eyes and just snap the pictures, there is a misconceived notion about photography. Photography is about as you see, its about conceptualisation, understanding the complex issues, how to visualise it. So they could, this poverty, its been a long topic for photographers, its studied since the 1800s or even when the camera was invented, we are already studying it. The work here is much more sophisticated, and our lives now are much more different then back then. And I think such a collaboration, photographers cannot just work alone, or you know work alone and take pictures of beautiful mountains and come back and has no meaning, the audience now are much more sophisticated as well, so we are constantly looking for the issues to talk about it and how we create the images and engage everybody here, so we may claim the platform here is a really powerful one, that everybody comes in and start having a conversation. So as photographers we cannot work alone, I also work with sociologists and biologist, because my knowledge is somewhat limited, my expertise is in visualising it and I don’t need to get a degree in you know, anthropology, at this moment. So we are constantly looking for collaboration, that I think what this wonderful couple has done. A photographer marrying an economist. So I think collaboration is the key to making actually meaningful artwork.

50:06 Stefen Chow: Thank you. Thank you all three of you. Oh yes.

50:13 Audience 3: My comment is this. You couldn't have chosen a more useless thing like the i phone cover. you don’t really need the i phone cover, the i phone would work without it. you could have done 15 dollars worth of food, but it a brilliant choice because it makes it even more stark. That we would spend 15 dollars on something that we don’t really need and this person has spent many many days (collecting the cans). My question is this: If there is one thing that you could do, anything at all, that could alleviate poverty even if by the tallest amount, if you were god, what would it be? is it a matter of money, is it a matter of the work? what is it that you could, one thing you could do that would help lower the poverty incidence.

51:17 Prof Irene Y.H. Ng: Because you said if you were god? I would think of the bible because, in the bible there is economic models there that god has instituted to the people that .....`

51:31 Audience 3: Would you introduce a poverty tax, so that would.....

51:35 Prof Irene Y.H. Ng: I mean taxation today is about that right? its about taxing the rich to help the poor. I think for me it would be a system, a network of society which will always leave something for those who don’t have enough. So it a system of help that will always will have something for those who don’t.

51:57 Audience 3: So would it help to introduce a social system like one in England where you get money if you have a baby, you get money if you don’t have a job, would that help?

52:08 Prof Irene Y.H. Ng: I think we already have some system like that. I think that its not about system of money, its a system that, how do I say this, to me its a network. Its a network rather than saying that I give money for how long, for someone who is out of a job. because I think when you talk about poverty is not just about wanting, is people who are poor often have a lot of other issues as well. So when it is a community that comes together that we are a society that those who are at the bottom will be helped. There will be this system of help and will be part of the community in contributing. So in the bible will be about how you shake the grains and collect the heads, you leave some on the ground so that they can come and pick up. you don’t take everything, so its not a society that you want to take everything for yourself and leave nothing. So its the notion of the community in mind. So I'm probably not answering it very well, but maybe I shouldn't say anymore.

53:22 Prof Mohan Dutta: So you created an open slate right? you said if you were a god?

53:28 Audience 3: I only said god because it is something, if you say well I cant do anything, but if were, ok , if you were the prime minister, you could make decisions that could help. Because the social system in Singapore is like, you have to be really dirt poor, before the social system kicks in to give you 150 dollars a month.

53:52 Prof Irene Y.H. Ng: Ok in that case I think then Mohan beginning said about health. I think our healthcare system at least, is like when people are sick and cant afford to take care of themselves, thats a problem. To me our healthcare system at least some kind of a, I mean we claim for it to be universal healthcare but I don’t think, we are universal because the co-payment system are still really hard for people. healthcare at least.

54:17 Audience 4: Just a question, have you considered that our educational system that is the one that is causing the majority of the problems itself. you know sometimes you know some of the problems is that when it arise from how the environment how is the upbringing, like for example, our families form a certain percentage, then our education system, and the environment that we live in also contribute a certain percentage.

54:45 Prof Mohan Dutta: So is the question how do you move out of the poverty trap and is there such a thing as a poverty trap.

54:48 Audience 4: Because I notice one thing is that a lot of advertisements for(public policy) going on, but they don't really tackle the issues. The way they educate the public is like I feel like it may not reach to the masses, its only targeted at certain groups. one example would be, ethicals you know the integrity, you know all those basic moral values, it seems to be disappearing like vanished to thin air. You know when I was young, we actually talk about moral or social studies and everything, but recently the education system seems to be lagging on stuff, tackling on this area, focusing more on skill sets rather than the personal upbringing.

55:32 Prof Mohan Dutta: I just came upon a powerful research on mobility and whether education in Singapore gives you mobility. I think that is really interesting research to look at. It does provide some directions at least. So going back to your questions, I start to think about it as a big picture and I would say that you know if it was an open slate, I would think about reorganising the basic logics in which society is organised. That constitutes how we think about and value things in social systems. To extend from that and I think this again with a caveat, that I think there is a lot of value to the work that social workers, VWO, civil society organisations do, but I am also quite skeptical of the narrative of altruism because I think that in some ways, this maybe I hear that you are going to uplift the poor, lift their burdens of the soul, breeds the cycle of poverty, in the sense that we don't really transform the structure per se, but rather we sort of move on to voluntary organisations and NGOs to do the work, to deliver, rather than recalibrating the system.

56:48 Audience 3: What must be changed in the structure?

56:48 Prof Mohan Dutta: Two things. One is, you know we always come from a communications perspective, and I would argue that I would want to make sure that the poor have a voice and they have spaces where these voices are heard and where they make a difference. You know, because most of the time, the thing that strikes me is there will be a room of us experts talking and you will be saying " oh the poor want this, the poor don’t want this." and there wouldn't be a low income person around the table in the conversation at all. I think that is sort of the fundamental root of the problem. I am often struck by how often those of us that talk about policies related to poverty, low income are so far removed from the questions of poverty and low income. In fact when I do training for policy makers or civil society organisation, the first thing I say is, part of the methodology has to be that you spend 5 days or 10 days in a year going to places where low income people live, talking to them and engaging them. So thats the 1st thing really, in terms of changing the dynamics of communication and how that is structured. The 2nd thing would be to think about setting up certain bare basic necessities as a given in any society that thinks of itself as a decent society. So the question becomes what do we think of a the criteria that makes up a decent society right? is that going to be healthcare? is it going to be food? is it going to be housing? and how do we define all this?

58:30 Prof Irene Y.H. Ng: probably a mixture of it right? I guess to put the two together I think, when I talk about a community and that network, it is about how when I go back to my first point about stratification in Singapore and the education system is part of that. Even in education now we have segregated our students to the extend that they really dont have friends who are different from them and then when they say that after 18 years of school with just the same kind of people, they go out there and they are supposed to have empathy and understand about people in low income. it does not work that way, so that why to me we need to create a society where we at the first basic we have certain standards and certain ideals, I guess its not just ideals, its just standards that you want for every Singaporean and that we will value that our values in Singapore will be right.

59:30 Stefen Chow: I know Lily raised her hand earlier, you have a question?

59:34 Audience 5: I am sorry I am about to forget my question. Thank you and welcome back, Its very nice to see the both of you again. I have heard the both of you speak before, I want to come back to your comment, Stefen, about 3 questions back, about how you started this. It actually opened up a lot of other things and other topics in questions. Almost the economy of aluminium, the political economy of aluminium and all that. So I just want to step off the poverty discussion just for a minute and ask you about your practice. So I am more familiar with what you did before. which is "The Poverty Line" which is the amount of money in that country therefore this is the amount of food you see on a newspaper as a backdrop. It is very different from what you see in this work. So is this work the tip of an iceberg of something that you are going to be developing over time? this is much harder to understand. Because and I know you still play with scale and size, numbers, I learned relativity from your wife there, which poverty are we talking about, absolute or relative, and I am like what the hell is she talking? this here, you would need a room this size, to see the scale, if you didn’t do all the explanation, you don’t have all this panel, I would have thought that you are talking about lots of other things, you know it could be design, it could be graphics, it could be sugar, it could be drinking too much, it could be a lot of things. so this one is not really obvious. and I think, the reason, it get a good conversation going, but I though the other poverty line project was actually starting to suggest what the solution could be, whereas here there is no, there is no pin point, really as far as I could see, except that you kind of tied it up with the phone, you know, all those ungrateful brats that go up and buy that thing right? but there is no, and thats why I think as part of the audience, I am struggling here as I, ya, this is really, gosh its huge and its big and its wow. and then you go away and you think like, so where is the pain? where is the pain? where is that thing like in your poverty line? that was like wow, 3 cashew nuts and 2 beansprouts, you know that not a whole lot to eat. and you could feel that pain, whereas here, its almost quite beautiful to look at. So I am just wondering if you are going to develop this into something, are there other things that you are thinking of? you know that is going to develop this into? thats why I said is the tip of an iceberg of something? and you going to go into this aluminium thing? are you going to study the companies, the economy of aluminium, the study, you know, or are you going to study sugar? that poor people actually don’t eat very well, that it is not healthy and it is a vicious cycle and all that.

1:03:20 Stefen Chow: Thank you. So I think that a very very good comment. and I think your question is very valid as well. For those people who may not be familiar, prior to doing the equivalence work, Huiyi and I we started on a project called "the poverty line", so we go to different countries, 29 countries in fact, to photograph, if you are living in the poverty line what would your food budget which translated to food choices be in a single day per person. So it almost a very graphic representation of how many potatoes you get if you are poor in India, versus if you are poor in Norway, or how much fish, bread you get in China versus Japan versus Singapore and so on and so forth. It is not a very emotional project but when you look at it, it feel emotional, because we all know how much food we need per day to keep well. But as we started doing the project, I think the first motivation was about poverty and as Huiyi also describe as the difference between absolute poverty and relative poverty, but one is basically derived from a median income in a country, the other is derived from a survivability line, so how much food do you need to survive. And we realised that what absolute poverty was is in decline over the decades, so famine is no longer a major problem in most continents, but Africa, Asia used to have large populations who are undergoing famine. Now you talk about malnutrition and if you talk about conflict zones, those people still suffer the same effects. But slowly and surely, absolute poverty is becoming lesser of an issue, but relative poverty as we realised when we start photographing developed economies, like japan, Singapore, Europe and so on. what we realise is the food on the newspapers is sufficient, but in Singapore you are not just looking at the purchase of food, there is also a sense of if the society is equal to you. Because its not just about getting food, its also getting the i phone case. There is an aspiration to be up with the rest. And we realise that underneath those tensions, we started this project back in 2010, during then we remembered poverty is not really a sexy topic, but since 2010 you have the occupy wall street, you have the protest in Paris that became very violent, you have the Arab spring, you have almost every continent having severe problems, not just because people have no food to eat but because the people felt that there was insufficient opportunities that is translated to inequality. So that we felt among the two of us, that inequality has become a more perhaps a more serious topic than absolute poverty itself, because absolute poverty, the population that is living there, is increasingly becoming a minority. But now you hear in almost every country, from the economy that are rich, to the ones that are poor, inequality has become a real issue. So for us its almost taking the knowledge and the techniques we have learned from "The Poverty Line" and we feel that we could tackle something that is perhaps more invisible, more abstract and I don’t think this is a perfect method to do it. You can say that we are still experimenting, but the fact that we are able to do it in such a beautiful space in the central part of Singapore, and hopefully people walk in and feel that something in them has changed when they walk out. I think that is our purpose you know. So to answer your question if this is going to be tip of the iceberg, I think so. Because I feel that we are tackling a problem that is going to be a bigger problem in years to come. Inequality has shown that, me and Huiyi have been living in Beijing for the last 9 years, and we have also been sort of studying the Chinese system, and just about 30, 40 years ago, there was a big redistribution of wealth. Land owners who have been sitting on wealth for too long, people who have access to generations of wealth, have all been taken apart, declared as villains and the wealth has been redistributed back to everyone. The system would have been ideal in a way, you know, at least for the first few years it would have seemed ok, because everyone now is more equal, its good, but you look at China again today, once again, similar issues have arise, you have people who could buy a Bentley at a drop of a hat, I have walked into offices of bosses where there is two floors of recreational space just for themselves. I know someone who has just built a 15 lane rock wall in his company just for himself and tell are all self belay, so its all machines, so he can climb by himself without a single other human in the space. We have reached the point in China, where inequality is obscene if you see it at face value. But who are we to say that they don’t deserve it, because these people have worked their way to be where they are. So in a way our work, it is not to directly criticise wealth and we are not being anti elitist, but we see this as an issue that will perhaps persist in more and more societies, you know all the zones, all the countries that are in conflict right now, give them peace, give them time and inequality will become an issue.

1:10:22 Audience 7: I think the other point that you mentioned is valid, that anyone walking in looking at this, no words and they didn’t have the chance to read anything and have no idea what this is about and when I first walked in I asked Jiahan( Stefen's 3year old daughter), What is this ? what does this mean? Anyway, I thought, is it a comment on waste? is it a comment on rubbish? is it a comment on growing trash? and only when you started explaining, then I had visions of old ladies digging into rubbish bins on the streets of New York, not even Singapore, but otherwise we wouldn’t know.

1:11:09 Stefen Chow: Read! (crowds laughing)

1:11:22 Prof Oh Soon Hwa: The Poverty Line you mentioned was really much easier as always to access. which I totally agree because that is earlier work as I believed and its more photojournalistic, it very clear reference that there is a newspaper from the country, there is food, numbers, it just the way we frame the understanding, numbers and words and images. and this work is much more minimalistic and conceptual, so that where not everybody trained to think unless you are a practising visual artist, but does that mean this work is less good? I think that it is a very successful, maybe even more successful. You know, for us to stay here to create this event and dialogue, I don't think the conceptual artist often is about ideas. and we are able to engage it and for that this work is very successful. So we are comparing in some ways, apples and oranges. It is saying poverty issues, but artist is trying different in experimenting and visualising it. In earlier work, you did it in a more journalistic manner, and then you also experimented and we change the way we practice, and this one seems to be more conceptual and minimalistic way of presenting, and the emphasis also changed as you put it (inaudible), as you put it form absolute poverty to relative poverty. So that was a shift here and therefore the method of visualising has to be changed from the journalistic point of view to this more conceptual point, or way of presenting.

1:13:18 Audience 7: I would suggest to move the word over here. (Crowds Laughing)

1:13:24 Stefen Chow: Ok if you were to walk into this space alone, you would have seen this and on the way out you would have seen the words. but because you came into the panel, so ya.

1:13:45 Lin Huiyi: So two points to add to that. one is that I think the way we design is, to us equivalence is a more open concept definitely. It a more open concept which is design to make people question them more, about their own assumptions, about our own world views, because one thing is that we all have our own assumptions about what we know, about inequality and poverty, because that is coloured by our own upbringing, what we see and what we choose not to see in our own environment and our own community. So this really is meant to trigger little notions of you know, its what I assume or what I choose to see, true? what else do I need to see and understand about my own community. So thats we wanted to leave it more of a question, a questioning process rather than delivering answers in a straight forward way. That was the way we wanted to approach. Second was that, as Stefen mentioned, you know as we moved from a more fixed topic like poverty into something about the world, as I already mentioned in the beginning, we all know in economics, inequality as well, poverty is measured, inequality can be talked about in the gini co-efficient. But it is very hard to translate this into something that is visual, that I think you know a lot of communicationas well starts from a strong visual at least for photography wise how it hopes to give your audience to form a visual image to the impact on the cerebral thinking and to let them absorb the experience themselves. For us to translate inequality from something that is again very hard numbers, into something which is more visually appealing, it means that we choose everyday objects that we are in touch with, that everybody know about and have something that is visually attractive. If this was something, that you know, is a turn off, I think people from different walks of life may not be able to associate with it so much. We choose everyday objects which people do recognise and already form relationships with such objects in our everyday lives. From there making it visually attractive, to pay attention to these details, then figure out why is there a whole grid on the wall, and why do I need to understand more about this can, what does it do, how is it related, is it about recycling, is it about sugar? so I think for us having that visual which is appealing attractive and yet commonly associated with people from different walks of life was an important starting point in going into this journey about connecting it to inequality. Because for us, it is very hard to communicate, these numbers and concepts that we hope to drive down to more simple questions to about what are our assumptions, what are our values, what do we want to do about it?

1:17:06 Stefen Chow: I think we have a question there?

1:17:10 Audience 8: I just wanted to continue on Stefen's point that you mentioned opportunity, I think that is something that, I was thinking about when I saw this because I just thought it was interesting that at least from my experience, the demographic that collects cans, I think the tendency is a little bit older. So I think its quite different from the kind of demographic that might have an i phone. And this whole idea about I think what Huiyi mentioned about the gate economy about technology. I think it will be very interesting, maybe in the future or something to actually try to also capture that, what are the comparison between poverty between different ages perhaps? also the effect of technology, people who are more technology advanced perhaps versus people who might not have that kind of access.

1:18:10 Audience 9: I just have a very quick question. So the topic has been very complex and in a way abstract for me. obviously everybody is concerned about poverty and everybody that is here is probably convinced to a greater or lesser extent. So my question is really especially to the panelists, whom have been studying this for awhile, what do you guys think that we as individuals can do? Because the reality has been based on what has been discussed so far, its all really high level issues, like what the government can do, what type of support system can be put in place and stuff like that but obviously as an everyday person we are just going about with our own day. What do you guys think we as an individuals can do to make a difference however small?

1:18:59Prof Irene Y.H. Ng: We really need to pay more taxes. (laughter from crowd). I think my issue with policy makers, they would say things like the society is not ready for this. Teachers are not ready to change, parents are not ready to change. But I think we can respond, we can let them know that we are ready.

1:19:35 Prof Mohan Dutta: So have conversations. You know the public opinion matters and you are part of that public opinion. So register your opinion in a way that counts. I think thats a real thing.

1:19:50 Lin Huiyi: I think we all are individuals and we are also part of the society and we make up the social fabric. I think in Singapore there is a lot of looking to mainstream media, there is a lot of looking to politicians, looking to agencies, to do the right thing. I think nowadays, there is a lot of social media chatter, but there is very little real action. I think we need to move from talking about it to doing something about it. I do think that a lot of it is going to come from ourselves. The Government is going to be part of the equation definitely. But there is also you know a lot of push and individual actions that do make a difference. You can talk about a micro level right, making a difference at a personal level, to understand at least. I think from understanding what needs to be done, or what can you do. I don't think that we can go out to say that we can solve a whole nation's problems but to understand another person, to be in someone else's shoes, I think that makes a difference at least on a personal level. I think that as we sit around in this room while listening, do we really understand people who are living day to day basis, facing very real challenges and do we really engage with them? I think for a lot of us, no, right because we are so caught up in our everyday lives that we may not even make time for this. But this is important as we go into the future, there is going to be a lot of issues that cannot be solved just by government policy and if there is enough social discourse which says that this is something important for our own community to advance together, to tackle certain challenges that people are left behind faced with, then there needs to be action taken at an individual level and taken at a community level. So I think we are part of the change which happens.

1:22:05 Prof Oh Soon Hwa: I think that the part where you mention about the engagement and discourses is very important. If we don't talk about it, nothing will be heard and nothing will be taken care of. One way of talking about it is to just do art. Art is not something that belongs to the museum to look at, but also it can be belong here among the people or community centres and even young ones can express what they think how they feel. The general misconception about art and photography is that it is something beautiful, poverty is not beautiful at all. So how do we actually visualise this and use an artist platform to create more discussion about it.

1:22:56 audience 10: First of all I have to agree with Prof Mohan about what he said about communities. At a high level panels a lot of times when we want to decide on policy matters you will find that none of the committee levels are from that group that is affected. For example you talked about attending a committee talking about how to tackle poverty but you know that there is no one from the poor. That seems to be quite pervasive at a government level. Take for example there is one recent one where they talk about what kind of changes they need to put in to hawker centres but there are no hawkers in that committee and those who are in the committee you really wonder how many of them actually goes to a hawker centre to have their meals on a weekly or a monthly basis. Going back to Prof Mohan, you mentioned about asking your students about whether they can see anybody poor on a day to day basis. Somehow we are being brought up to be unable to see them but at the same time to say that they are no poor people in Singapore is also not true. The question is how do we define who is poor? do we define that as somebody who is selling tissue papers at the MRT stations, or do we consider those who are working on a part time basis, those elderly, part time basis in the fast food outlets, do we consider those poor? So how has the media or the education system, the narrative that we are being told, we are bringing brought up on, help us to frame that kind of inability to see the poor. The other one is also some of the policy that have been made to our own infrastructure, to prevent the poor from being seen. As an example, we have seats in the park and void decks of HDB blocks are designed intentionally to not let people sleep on them. So how can policies and education systems help us to frame that kind of inability to see?

1:25:52 Prof Mohan Dutta: So I think it is a great point that you raise about to see the poor. In a similar way, it is also the inability to converse about the poor. So what language we use become very important, what do we call a particular group of people, poor or low income. and those have different kinds of meanings. So when we do that exercise with students and ask do you see the poor? One of the parts of the exercise is to also let them define what the poor means for them and their world view and understanding but to the extend that you don't register that category to begin with. You are not going to have definitions either. So you are not really going to have an anchor to engage that way, that the first thing. The second thing I want to say is that nobody brought up about the absence of people from spaces. I think this is a consistent issue, one of the things that I write about in mine scholarship, I say that communicative injustice. The idea that someone cannot be present, or is not worthy to be present here so that they matter. its tied to material injustice, or structural injustice, so that economically also they are not going to matter in that sense and I think how to go about changing that, is by creating more and more spaces and openings for having those voices to be heard on everyday basis.

1:27:34 Lin Hui Yi: Thank you very much. And I think we need to bring the session to a close. we would like to invite the panelists to give a concluding statement based on our discussion tonight.

1:27:53 Prof Oh Soon Hwa: I think its wonderful to have this format of discussion, that we create much more problems than solutions but these are all important things and I think its also great to see how this very simple works can spark such a complex conversation here. So I hope we just continue doing this, more talking, find more problems and create more works and see how we solve them.

1:28:30 Prof Irene Y.H. Ng: I just have one clarification and one action step. The clarification is that although with market inequality and inequality is the concern, when we mention wall street or occupy wall street and Brexit, people have actually suffered, actually the wages of the working class have actually suffered, so it is still back down to the low income issues. Secondly, we will talk about action steps. How about this right? All of us work in a certain organisation right? Look for the lowest earning person in your organisation and you go and talk to that person. Understand the person's life, with a face, then maybe we will start something else that we would want to do.

1:29:11 Prof Mohan: Dutta I just want to record that, that conversations matter and talking to people that you think of as low income or that we don't see I think it is an important starting point in continuing this conversation.

1:29:29 Lin Hui Yi: I think that is very true, I think for us as artists, we see things maybe in a communications standpoint as well and a lot of what we try to do stems from our understanding and our understanding of our own selves, our own assumptions and perceptions but also an understanding of what other people are going through. Of course I am sure everybody, we have to do it very sensitively, I mean it is also challenging for other people to communicate what we are going through, and a lot of it they want to do it with dignity, and at the same time we want to understand not because of our altruistic or wanting to feel better about ourselves, but really because this is a part of our own community and what we are doing in our own community shapes who we are and what we want to be.

1:30:24 Stefen Chow: So if I were to bring on all this back is, I think Lin and myself, the reason why we do this, the reason why we do the work we do, is we wanted to spark conversations. We saw certain issues and we are concerned about them but at that point I think we have very little knowledge. So we used the excuse of asking that question and then finding a way to explain it in our own way. It was our own way of understanding the issue and through that process we create works that also create reactions and emotions in the viewers. And so for us, the purpose of this work is really to spark conversation and we always wanted to have a panel, to sit here with us and also be under the spot light and criticism of the things we do, so on that note I think we are really happy and really honoured to have such an esteem panel to sit through with us, to explain to us some of the issues that was beyond us and also to answer your questions. If we can hope you can walk away from this with one thing, is perhaps to think about some of these topics and have that takeaway, and also perhaps to tell a friend. Our request to you, if you felt this was powerful, bring a friend over, show them the show and explain to them, because maybe not all of them will read the statement. So we will require you to be our ambassador, to explain that. So thank you very much. Thank you everyone.

End of Transcript