Every 40 seconds, we lose a person to suicide globally. What if we’re able to create an environment that allows a person to be and express who they are authentically without holding anything back? What difference would that make?
ThisConnect: Threading Worlds, an art exhibition by local artist duo Hunny and Lummy, was held in conjunction with World Suicide Prevention Awareness Month from 10 to 27 September. This art exhibition aimed to raise awareness about the issues surrounding mental and emotional health in the context of rising suicide and depression rates, accelerated by COVID-19 circumstances.
Two works, Tipping Point and I Feel You, make up the exhibition. When you enter the first room, three chairs line the wall, facing three separate TV screens. On each chair is a card with a question that we don’t really ask ourselves enough – “Are you present?”
I visited the exhibition two days in a row, and here’s what I have to say about it.
You pick a chair based on the one that draws you in the most and begin to get immersed in the world that is “Tipping Point”, an examination of the way we deal with our daily lives, thoughts, and emotions through the performative act of blowing a balloon.
At first, it seems abstract and repetitive – the sound of a balloon being inflated against the daily humdrum of chatter, cars, birds, and MRT announcements – but it soon begins to feel strangely familiar, and for me, it started feeling like I was looking into and experiencing my own life from the outside.
Physical sensations start creeping up my body – my chest starts feeling tight and my breathing starts to get heavy alongside the rhythm of air being forced into the balloon. There’s a lethargic haze that seems to descend upon me, I’m more present than ever to how eerily accurate a depiction of my life this first work seems to be – and it is confronting.
Every couple of minutes, a balloon pops, a startling noise in the otherwise quiet room, and while everybody present will pay attention for that one moment, the video moves on almost immediately, and the attention from that moment is quickly lost as well.
It’s a 24-minute long video, but it passes by in a flash. I don’t know how many balloon pops I’ve heard, but it hits me just how fast that moment passes, because that is obviously representative of somebody snapping under pressure, but it is only given a second’s worth of attention that is quickly grabbed by whatever comes next.
It is rather reminiscent of the way we react and respond to suicide and death. You mourn the rising statistics for a bit before the hustle and bustle of the world demands your attention again, and life goes on. How many lives have come and gone, people unnoticed, and stories unheard?
It’s a scary feeling that accompanies me as I stand up and move to the next room.
Beyond the curtains lies the second work of the exhibition, I Feel You, and it feels immediately intimate. Ten TV screens with headphones are arranged across the floor in a dim room, with a main video projection on an empty wall.
In this piece, two strangers stand facing each other, hands clasped together, as they take turns sharing and listening to each other. When one person is talking, the only thing the other person is allowed to say is “I feel you”.
The underlying question this piece of work seeks to answer is this: Will two strangers, who don’t know anything about each other, be able to connect wholeheartedly and be present to each other’s stories?
One visit is not nearly enough to fully experience this exhibition. There are 20 different stories shared across the ten TV screens, and each person does a deeply intimate sharing of the deepest pains and losses they’ve experienced in their lives for 10 minutes. It is wrought with emotion, authenticity, vulnerability, and very real struggles that many of us face but may not have the space to express.
You would think that these stories would be shared amongst close family and friends, but a common statement kept coming up:
“I’ve never really talked about this to anyone before… and I’m not sure why I’m talking to you about this, but it feels good. Really good. Thanks for listening. Can I give you a hug?”
It makes you wonder about how lonely it must be for a person to be surrounded by people, yet feeling so unheard, misunderstood, and unable to speak out about their struggles, feelings, and things that matter to them.
It’s not as if these are special cases – in fact, the participants of I Feel You are people like us. Students in school. Undergraduates. Fresh graduates. Working adults. Your everyday Singaporean trying to get by in the rat race to achieve the Singaporean Dream.
As I’m experiencing the exhibition, one question keeps coming to mind – When a close family or friend confides in you, what do you say, or what do you do?
The work shows that people are looking for a listening ear and an open heart. The simple act of holding someone’s hand and saying “I feel you” when appropriate creates that safe environment.
Our natural instinct is to respond with well-intentioned advice, opinions, and thoughts on the matter, but this piece of work challenges that instinct with documented, unscripted, hard evidence that a person can easily go deep into what’s really weighing on their hearts if all we do is be there and listen to their struggles, acknowledge them, and thank them for sharing.
Advice is only useful when asked for, and our opinions and thoughts about how people are and how the world works are purely our own – they serve no purpose other than to prevent someone from feeling comfortable and safe enough to open up about what really matters in that moment.
Depression and suicide are stealthy and sneak up on us over time. More often than not, we don’t know what the people closest to us are facing inside until it’s too late. A statistic by the World Health Organisation states that one person dies from suicide every 40 seconds globally.
When that happens, you’re left with all the ‘what-ifs’: what if you had just reached out sooner? What if you just made that extra 10 minutes to reconnect with people who matter amidst your busy day, every day? What if you just paid more attention to what this person was trying to say the past few times you talked? What if there was something more you could have done to make this person feel less alone? Just, what if?
ThisConnect: Threading Worlds as a whole paints an elaborate picture of how any one of us can easily succumb to depression and suicide. Every day, we bottle up stress and negativity in that inflatable, expandable balloon we think is our infinite capacity for pain and hardship, not realizing that our balloons have a finite capacity, and deflating it is the only thing that will keep us alive and going. Without that, we would eventually reach our own tipping points and possibly go down the path of depression and suicide.
I Feel You shows exactly how you can deflate your own balloon of pain and hardship, and help others around you do the same. While the stories shared are emotionally heavy, the exhibition ends on an uplifting note. There’s a survey form given out to all visitors that helps them integrate their insights and realisations from the two pieces of work so that they can apply them and make a change to the way they relate and connect with others, and conversations with the artists themselves make the whole experience one that empowers us to empower others.
A single visit is barely enough to experience the entirety of what this exhibition offers. I’ve visited twice, but each time, I walked away with different realisations about myself and the way I relate and connect with others.
The intention that the artists put behind these works powerfully came forth in how a safe space was created for visitors to reflect and have deeper conversations with each other about themselves or what they realised.
It stripped us of our masks, gave us the courage to be vulnerable, and you walk away with deeper connections with the people you came together with in that timespan of one to two hours.
This is only a prelude to their main show in December.
The exhibition doesn’t end when you leave DECK.
In fact, the conversations, the stories, and the connections stay with you long after, and they build upon each other to show you a different possibility of what our lives could be like, if only we gave each other the space to be ourselves, unapologetically and authentically.
by Hunny & Lummy
Date: 10 - 27 Sep 2020
Venue: DECK, 120A Prinsep Street, Singapore 187937
More about the exhibition →