“I’ve been going forward in time.” Tan Boon Hui

I come from a big family and they gave me a lot of freedom. They basically said “We don’t have much time for you. Don’t do anything illegal. As long as you can earn a decent living.”
My mother’s approach was: “I’ve got you into university. My job is done.”
In my first week at NUS, I realized that if I was just to attend tutorials and lectures, I’d be bored stiff. So I started acting.
The first play I was in was called Beauty and Braces. Obviously then, I didn’t play the beauty.
By some strange stroke of luck, I won one of the best actor awards. My character had to take off his glasses and put them down. They had conveniently polished the floor, so you could comb your hair in the reflection, and my glasses flew across the stage and into the judges.
Until I was in my 20s, I’d never stepped into a museum for very long.
My Master’s thesis was completely un-art. It was pure quantitative analysis. It was on quality supply management for sourcing of components by electronics multinationals.
Among the explosion of sound and fury in the arts, you have to be able to identify what is most critical. All that quantitative training brought a certain sort of rigor.
I curated a long series on Peranakan art at the Asian Civilisations Museum. Everything and everyone we were exhibiting had gone dust-to-dust a long time ago.
Back then, I was dealing with legacy. Here, it’s potential and what can be.
I’ve been going forward in time. I went from antiquity to history and now to contemporary art.
Until last year, my parents had problems understanding what I actually do. They thought I was just looking at lots of dead things. When they came to SAM, they said “Gee…”
Contemporary art is not the place for someone with a narrow point of view.
To do this job you have to learn to multitask. One day you’re a bean counter, the next day you might be talking about epistemology and ontology.
You need to deal with the Tower of Babel; there are 1,000 languages and 1,000 opinions. We’re dealing with a living community, one that is continuing to produce.
We’ve realized that at the Museum, we need to explain a bit more.
People here have been spoilt by nice exhibitions with air conditioning, a water cooler and a train station right outside.
It’s important for us to try and show what we think will last. Not to just mirror what’s happening.
If you want to not be dull, you need to constantly confront yourself with uncertainty and people and ideas that don’t conform to what you’re used to.
If you only do what you’re comfortable with, then you stop. The curiosity starts to die. You start to ossify. That’s why contemporary art is extremely stimulating for me; it’s pushing at the edges and sometimes it frays.
This idea that contemporary art is cool and hip will soon start to fade—there will be art that is hot; art that is full of emotion.
This is sacrilegious, but I’m quite bored by arthouse cinema. I enjoy it, but I’m not fascinated by it.
I watch a lot of trashy movies. I think to make a movie using completely clichés is an art in itself.
Why are vampires and werewolves popping up all over, and why now? I think it mirrors an uncertainty of our age.
True Blood is just incredible.