A Visit to Gillman Barrack(I) – Hold The/m Skulls in Your Hands and Make a Wish

No, that would be unethical of me – I did not actually hold the skulls in my hands and make a wish. I wished I did though.

I visited Gillman Barrack’s Sundaram Tagore Gallery at Block 1-5 last week. They have a very interesting exhibition going on right now that features 11 emerging artists from Singapore and Thailand but unfortunately, I am going to zoom into one specific art that caught my eye and heart alongside with it.

Created by Nino Sarabutra, a Thai artist based in Bangkok, she puts more than 100,000 miniature porcelain skulls and invites visitors to walk on them. I am a sucker for participatory art and I gleefully take off my flip-flops and step onto them. Titled, What Will You Leave Behind, it is an obvious and immediate challenge to those of us who are healthy and alive. Healthy and alive. How often have we taken these two words for granted? We often forget that we have an expiry date – we live as if eternity is in our grasp when that is something only vampires have and empirically, that too remains fictional. Stepping onto the skulls, I feel almost giddy from disgust. I suffer from mild trypophobia – a repetitive pattern phobia usually consisting of holes, beehives and the likes. The skulls, albeit bigger and look less threatening than holes still put me on an edge and I have this delirious desire to leave them behind.

Back to the skulls. An image that is directly linked with death, one can’t help but think of fire being snuffed out, the inevitable passing of life, the temporariness of things and, as weird as it might sound, coffins. Nino challenges us to ask this question, “What will you leave behind?” when we die and she prompted answers from various people while she was making them. Surprisingly, not all answers given are morbid and this asphyxiating topic seems to take on a lighter turn. Some of the answers – “I don’t know, ask me later”, “LIGHT”, “Nothing…I hope!”, “Colossal carbon foot print!” and “Fertilizer”. A lot of answers talk about leaving nothing or carbon footprints behind – very realistic and responsible, yes?

So, what about you then?

‘I want people to ask themselves how they live, what are they doing 
– if today was your last on earth, what will you leave behind?’

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