The relationship between tigers and humans is complex. First regarded as kin and vehicles for ancestral spirits, humans ended up by virtually exterminating tigers in the age of colonialism. Yet, as myths and metaphors, tigers incessantly return to haunt the public imagination. In a film duet, the Singaporean artist and filmmaker Ho Tzu Nyen weaves history, ecology and mythology through his theatrical installation One or Several Tigers. Grafting animism onto animation, a Malayan Tiger and a colonial surveyor on two facing screens sing a duet in which a million years of history pass by. Through seamless use of cinematic techniques, ancient and contemporary, Ho Tzu Nyen enacts the manifold metamorphoses of tigers, humans and weretigers (people who can turn into tigers).
The theatrical installation One or Several Tigers invites visitors to step into a dream world where they meet the Tiger and the Surveyor. These figures come from a historical engraving from 1865, titled
Unterbrochene Straßenmessung auf Singapore (‘Interrupted Road Surveying in Singapore’) by the German illustrator Heinrich Leutemann. The engraving features George Coleman, who was the first head surveyor of British Public Works in Malaysia in the 1830s. Together with a group of prisoners, used as forced labour, Coleman is attacked by a tiger. It’s an image that can be seen as an allegory of colonial history: the wilderness opened up by modern technology on the one hand, confronted by the tiger that resists and attacks on the other.
The history of the tiger in the Malayan world is a recurring theme in Singaporean artist Ho Tzu Nyen’s exploration of South East Asian history. His Critical Dictionary of Southeast Asia presents an atlas of motifs woven through this diverse region. In recent years he has created the much-praised multimedia production Ten Thousand Tigers, a number of video works, installations and texts, as well as giving lectures. One or Several Tigers (2017) forms a synthesis of all these different projects.
In the Malayan cosmology people and tigers have always been closely connected: some tigers can turn themselves into humans and some people, like shamans, can transform themselves into tigers. One or Several Tigers is both about the old mythology of the weretiger, the being that communicates with the world of the ancestors and spirits, as well as the extermination of the tiger during the colonial period. In the 20th century the focus shifts away from transformations between humans and tigers, as the tiger comes to exist mainly in the domain of language, as a metaphor. For example: Tomoyuki Yamashita, the Japanese general who defeated the British in 1942, was called the ‘Tiger of Malaysia’ and the tiger is also became associated with communism in the Malaya.
In One or Several Tigers Ho Tzu Nyen a pair of digitally animated surveyor and tiger on two screens, sing a duet spanning a million years of shared history. Ho uses old and contemporary film techniques to mould his story into a hypnotizing sequence, including shadow puppetry, video, 3D scans, motion capture and animation. This means One or Several Tigers is also a reflection on visual technology and the history of film animation. The figures from the engraving have become digital characters in space. They revolve around each other like heavenly bodies, slowly merging as the boundaries fade between what is human and animal, magic and reason, history and folklore. Animism and the silenced history of Malaysia is etched into the retina via the medium of animation, claiming a space in the collective memory.
Ho Tzu Nyen (1976, Singapore) creates videos, films, installations and theatre performances, finding his inspiration in historical and philosophical texts. He has a bachelor’s degree in Creative Arts
from the Victorian College of the Arts, University of Melbourne, and an MA in Southeast Asian Studies from the National University of Singapore. His work has been exhibited at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt in Berlin (2017), the Guggenheim Bilbao (2015), the DAAD Gallerie in Berlin (2015), the Guggenheim New York (2013), Homeworks 6 in Beirut (2013), the 5th Auckland Triennial (2013), MAM Project #16 Mori Art Museum in Tokyo (2012), Artspace in Sydney (2011), the Tate Modern in London (2010), the 6th Asia Pacific Triennial in Brisbane (2009), the first Singapore Biennial (2006), the 3rd Fukuoka Asian Art Triennial (2005) and during the 26th Biennial of Sao Paulo (2004). His theatrical works have been shown at the Asian Arts Theatre in Gwangju (2015), the Wiener Festwochen (2014), Theater der Welt (2010), KunstenFestivaldesArts (2008, 2006) and the Singapore Arts Festival (also in 2006 and 2008). His first feature-length film HERE premiered during the 41st Directors’ Fortnight of the Cannes Film Festival (2009); and EARTH during the 66th International Film Festival of Venice (2009). In 2011 he represented Singapore at the 54th Venice Biennale. One or Several Tigers is the latest work in a series about tigers. This also includes The Song of the Brokenhearted Tigers (2012), Ten Thousand Tigers (2014), 2 or 3 Tigers (2015) and Timelines (2017).
- direction, script, editing, compositing
- Ho Tzu Nyen
- 3D scan, 2D + 3D animation, compositing
- Vividthree Productions
- 3D modeling and animation
- Mimic Productions
- project management
- Stephanie Goh
- production (live action)
- Fran Borgia
- cinematography (live action)
- Amandi Wong
- Mia Md Rasel, Md Mohosin, Hassand Khayrul, Chandra Roy Liton, Kathirvel Raja Kumar, Palamppan Kannan, Govindarasu Karuppaiah en Kuppan Ayyanar
- special thanks to
- Anselm Franke, Kim Hyunjin, Bernd Scherer, Heidi Ballet, Kevin Chua, Robert Wessing, Peter Boomgaard, Frie Leysen, Kim Seonghee, Nina Miall, Shabbir Hussain Mustafa, Charimaine Toh, Eugene Tan, Max-Philip Aschenbrenner, Hiromi Maruoka and Tomoyuki Arai
- music, vocals, motion capture performer
- co-design installation, light
- Andy Lim
- show control programming
- Yap Seok Hui
- sound design, engineer, mix
- Jeffrey Yue
- shadow puppetry
- Hadi Sukirno
- technical coordination
- Steve Kwek, Jed Lim
- touring production
- Tzu + ARTFACTORY
- commissioned by
- Haus der Kulturen der Welt
- supported by
- National Arts Council (Singapore) ; Singapore International Foundation
- based on 2 or 3 Tigers (2015)
- a previous commission by Asia Culture Centre Creation and Institute of Asian Culture Development, supported by: Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, Office for the Hub City of Asian Culture, Republic of Korea + Timelines (2017) a previous commission by National Gallery Singapore