Nothing really changes

What do national service, shamans and an apocalyptic Singapore have in common? They’re all tied to some form of mythic tradition—and are each explored in this year’s edition of Stories That Matter, running from Feb 26-Apr 14.

The annual programme presented by Objectifs looks at critical issues and trends in non-fiction visual storytelling; and given the current global hotbed of political and social dissension, they probably didn’t have to look far. Inspired by how the Bicentennial has sparked national conversation on histories and established narratives, this year’s edition looks at mythic traditions, and how they continue to influence our lives.

A free outdoor exhibition in the gallery’s courtyard combines works from two landmark photography series: ICONS by Swiss artists Jojakim Cortis and Adrian Sonderegger, and The Land Archive, by Singapore’s own Robert Zhao Renhui. The former showcases the pair’s recreations of the world’s most influential photographs from the confines of their studio, while Zhao presents, in black and white, mythic scenes of Singapore from the past and future.

Image courtesy of Robert Zhao

Look out for the highlight of the programme—four feature-length documentaries from Brazil to Singapore that interrogate the role both traditional and contemporary myths play in our lives today. $10 a pop (or $35 for a season pass), each screening will be concluded with discussions with Singaporean filmmakers and visual artists, to dig deep into the ideas presented onscreen.

There’s Brazilian documentary Ex-Shaman, which straddles the line between haunting and heartrending in telling the story of an Amazonian tribe’s former shaman, retired after waning beliefs and the growing influence from the Western world. Island of the Hungry Ghosts shares a lesser-seen look into Christmas Island, an Australian territory in the Indian Ocean that also houses a detention centre for refugees seeking asylum in Australia. Through the eyes of a trauma counsellor living on the island, the film paints the lives of a community cohabiting with the traditions of the island—including the local Chinese’s Hungry Ghost Festival.

Then there’s Army, a film by Kelvin Kyung Kun Park on South Korean conscription that’s sure to raise some familiar feelings with male viewers here. A decade after his own two years in the military, Park returns to document the experience of a new recruit’s struggles and responses to a learned psyche of collectivism and national identity. Somehow we think this will be a more poignant watch than a certain local movie franchise attempting to do the same.

And finally, don’t miss Snakeskin from Singaporean filmmaker Daniel Hui. The genre-bending flick is part documentary and part fiction, molding past, present and future into a cinematic rumination on modern-day Singapore. It’s 2066, and the lone survivor of a cult (whose leader claimed to be a reincarnation of Sir Stamford Raffles) reviews footage of Singapore in 2014, questioning truth, fiction and myth in the process.

In addition, there are two free panel discussions and a ticketed seminar that will pry into how myths and rituals impact or obstruct art-making, where you can get up close and personal with some of the artists and filmmakers featured.

Stories That Matter 2019 runs from Feb 26-Apr 14 at Objectifs Centre for Photography and Film. More information available here.