Tan Pin Pin

Article Bio Works Projects www
censorship, homeland, identity, sexuality
Film (short film)
Visual Arts (curating art, video art)
Asia, Southeast
created on:
September 26, 2005
last changed on:
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Tan Pin Pin


Shadow-Dances with the Censorship

ARTIST STATEMENT/ POSTCARD PROJECT HOUSE OF WORLD CULTURES 2007 „Why and for whom do we make films today? I don´t think I have a choice as to the land of work I eventually produce but I have a choice as to where I choose to live. By my decision to live in Singapore, I made a decision, a subconscious one as to the work that I´d be making. It would be work whose primary audience is Singaporean, and it would be work that attempts to push their perspective of Singapore, to see this country as a feeming contested terrain, that they should continue to contest and above all, not lose hope." (Tan Pin Pin) In her films and videos Tan Pin Pin explores the living conditions in her hometown Singapore. She makes orthodox documentaries as well as experimental art, and she sometimes accepts commissions from television.
In her films and videos Tan Pin Pin explores living conditions in Singapore. For 40 years the city has been ruled by the People’s Action Party. Economic success and limited democracy typify the political situation. ‘Lurve Me Now’, an early short film in which she speculates about the fantasies of Barbie dolls, was banned in Singapore owing to its sexual implications. "It´s very hard to make anything critical in Singapore. You have to say something without actually saying it. So it´s sort of a shadow dance that I sometimes find myself playing. (...) It actually makes my films better. You are constantly trying to add subtext to a film."

In ‘Moving House’ Tan Pin Pin shows the shutting down of a graveyard and the consequences for a family whose dead members have to be moved to a new place. Related to this project is also a contribution to the documentary series ‘Afterlife’ about death and notions of life beyond death in Asia. In her half-hour film Tan Pin Pin shows the work of Ah Kow, who opens graves and moves bodies from place to place at need. In his spare time he tries to get rid of the negative associations of his work.

Tan Pin Pin often works for television stations in Asia but is also increasingly interested in the expressive potential of feature films and videos. ‘Microwave’ was originally part of a video installation involving the filming of various items turning in microwaves. Among the items were a dollar note, an American Express card and a Barbie doll. In effect Tan Pin Pin put iconic items into a new context.

‘80km/h’ shows a journey by car from Changi airport to the checkpoint Tuas, which is the actual entrance to Singapore. The car keeps scrupulously to this speed, and the few deviations are noted in the closing titles. Since the camera points to the side, the landscape next to the motorway is what is filmed. This is an indefinable zone between the city and its surroundings and is marked by housing development and traffic. In the course of the journey, dusk gradually falls, till the car reaches the checkpoint at 7.43 p.m.

Tan Pin Pin’s most recent film ‘Singapore GaGa’ is about folk who make a living in the niches of the official culture. A poor woman in a wheelchair sits in front of the underground and sells handkerchiefs for a dollar each. Whenever business flags, she sings about Jesus to console herself. In the underground an old man in shorts presents his musical artistry. He has often had brushes with the police, and now a disgruntled woman asks him for his permit. He replies sweetly that he is registered as a national holy treasure.

In ‘Singapore GaGa’ Tan Pin Pin seeks hints and signs of a cultural identity other than the city’s official self-presentation. This brings her to the ventriloquist Victor Khoo, who with his puppet Charlie was already famous in her childhood and has ever since been amusing the young. In the radio stations of MediaCorp she finds folk who speak the news in Chinese dialects otherwise forgotten, since the official languages in everyday life in Singapore have become English and Mandarin. Indeed she finds a whole range of languages and dialects. Old men sing ‘Gaudeamus Igitur’ and recall going to school, whereas veiled girls during a sports competition yell encouragement in Arabic. Though Singapore is only a small city state on the Southern tip of Malaysia, it is also part of Southeast Asia as a whole and is coloured by the latter’s motley past. In ‘Crossings’ Tan Pin Pin shows an emotional visit of the film maker John Woo to his hometown Hong Kong. He is now working in Hollywood. Tan Pin Pin records his career as a typical Diaspora success and presents rare exerts from his films.

From the 11th to the 13th of November Tan Pin Pin is to hold the video competition ‘Fly by Night’ together with the curator Yuni Hadi. 40 candidates or groups are to be given a theme, about which they should make a video in the course of a day. This ‘video challenge’ is meant to contribute further towards the democratisation of the audiovisual media in Singapore.

Author: Bert Rebhandl


Tan Pin Pin, born 1969 in Singapore, is a writer and director of films and videos. She completed her film studies at Northwestern University with an MFA. In 2004 she was Artist in Residence at the University of Technology in Sydney. Her works have won more than twenty awards and nominations including a Student Academy Award and the USA-ASEAN Film Award for Moving House . She is the co-organiser of the video challenge ‘Fly by Night’, meant to spur independent film-making on in Singapore.


Singapore GaGa

Film / TV,
Documentary, 55 min

80 km/h

Film / TV,
Experimental documentary


Film / TV,
Experimental short film

Moving House

Film / TV,
Documentary, 22 min

Roger´s Park

Film / TV,
short film, 16 mm

Lurve Me Now

Film / TV
Short film, 3 min 30 sec


Film / TV


Film / TV
Short film, 2 min 20 sec


This artist took part in the following project(s) organized/funded by the culturebase.net partner institutions.

Postcard Project

(01 March 07 - 31 December 08)

Spaces and Shadows

Contemporary Art from South East Asia

(30 September 05 - 20 November 05)


website of singapore gaga