Nostalgic playground with a twist
Everything You Know Goes Away is a cautionary tale, told through a playground, about the possible dangers of over-glamourising the past. (Photos: Claudio Chock)

Nostalgic playground with a twist

How do you get children and the young-at-heart to talk about history and nostalgia, without clamming up? You get them to play together in a playground.

The playground in question, named Everything You Know Goes Away, is by architect Joshua Comaroff and The Substation’s programme manager Leow Si Min. It is part of the arts centre’s final instalment in a year-long programme that explored Singapore’s heritage, conservation and nostalgia. The instalment, titled The Vanishing, spotlights landmarks, places and ways of life that have been lost, are on their way out, and those which the Singapore public fear losing.

The playground itself comprises five zones which borrow inspiration from local places where people play, relax and have fond memories of, including Kampung Glam and the Big Splash water park in East Coast Park, which closed in 2006. The names of these zones, e.g. Kampung Glum and Big Splat respectively, are satirical references to the original spots. They signal the work’s refusal to indulge in romanticising the past, even though it is eye-candy that promises fun for big and small kids.

Big Splat is an homage to the former Big Splash water park that closed in 2006.

The idea for the playground was sparked by a passing remark from Comaroff’s young daughter about “the good old days”. That phrase, from a child, got him thinking about whether children could be nostalgic for something they have never experienced.

He found a creative collaborator in Leow, whose final year project for visual communication at the Nanyang Technological University’s School of Art, Design and Media, questioned nostalgia and its purpose in Singapore today, and sought to examine this through the idea of a theme park named Kampung Dreamworld.

Read on for what Comaroff and Leow have to say about nostalgia, our fear of loss and their playground.

What is making the Singapore public nostalgic?

Leow: I think nostalgia is a coping mechanism that we use to deal with anxieties and uncertainties about the future. I believe it’s partly fuelled by fantasy and mostly motivated by denial. Singaporeans are especially susceptible to nostalgia because we have to constantly cope with a rapid rate of physical and cultural displacement.

Comaroff: Certainly, we live in times of highly accelerated change in Singapore. The cost of progress is that one sometimes implicitly compares the present, dissociative experience to a very happy and comfortable image of the past, either individual or collective.

What do you think the people of Singapore have lost, are losing and are afraid to lose?

Leow: We’ve lost the ability to have fun and take things slow, we’re losing our minds in the rat race, and we’re afraid to lose the things that are truly meaningful to our identity.

Comaroff: I feel that we are losing room for ourselves to get bored. When we were young, there was a lot of unsupervised downtime; that was when all the really creative – and possibly dangerous – moments happened. The playground itself was never interesting, it was the social invention that happened when we were hanging around there. I try to make sure that my kids are sometimes bored enough to experiment with really bad ideas. This is where creativity comes from, I think.

Why should people visit your playground?

Leow: Parents should bring their kids because it’s an opportunity to deconstruct the historical narratives that we’ve been told over and over again. It’s a chance for them to share their version of ​The​ Story with their children.

Comaroff: Visitors can expect a fun, surprising way to think about the past, and perhaps ways to better enjoy the now.

The replies have been edited and condensed. Details about Everything You Know Goes Away here.

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