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Spacin' Out: Ellison Tan

An artist’s persistence through a new normal

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Published: 24 Sep 2020


Time taken : ~10mins

Welcome to Spacin’ Out, an intimate photo essay series that look at the spaces where artists work and create. Each artist is given a film camera to document these quietly revelatory spots and moments, sharing their world through their own lens and words. 

Ellison Tan is a playwright, performer and co-artistic director of Singapore theatre company The Finger Players, known for its use of puppetry. When we handed Ellison the camera, it was right before the implementation of the ‘Circuit Breaker’. What was meant to be a journey through an artist’s life now had another layer added to it—a reflection of the impact the pandemic has had on artistic practice as well as our daily lives. From mannequins to makeshift recording studios, Ellison shares little snippets of her routines as she navigates through this new normal. 


This was taken from our workshop, at level three of ONE-TWO-SIX Cairnhill Arts Centre.

Before today, I didn’t know that it faced the Elizabeth Hotel. A good friend and fellow artist Loo Zihan was serving his 14-day Stay Home Notice in the hotel, and had posted on Facebook the view from his room. I thought it’d be nice to say a physical “Hello”, because I had not seen him for a long time. But at the same time, I wanted the presence of the “Hello” to remain, so Myra [Loke, The Finger Players’ other co-artistic director] and I taped a heart on the mannequin with red gaff tape (it was more of Myra’s handiwork), and left it at the window the entire day we were there, so Zihan would always know whenever we were around working in the office.

This was the day when the Circuit Breaker (CB) was announced. Only Myra and I were in the office, as it was after our production Citizen X was unfortunately postponed and most of the office had already started working from home. We went in to tie up some loose ends and to bring back anything that we would need for WFH. Then it was announced that we were going into CB.

I work part time at the radio station UFM on weekends. This was the last time I went into the station for my shift. After this day, even radio DJs started working from home, setting up a makeshift studio at home. Weekend shifts were then taken over by the full-timers.

This was taken right under my block, the first time I finally ventured out for a walk.

Finally drove out to pick up lunch and some essentials. Yesterday PM Lee announced an extension of the circuit breaker.

Taking over grocery shopping from my parents, I had to go to four different supermarkets to get what I needed because the biggest supermarket had such a long queue.

My weekly pilgrimage to the company’s letter box [at Cairnhill Arts Centre] to retrieve letters, it’s not always essential, but because we share a letterbox with three other companies, I worry about it  being too packed for the postman to insert new ones. On this day I was also sent a photo of me going into the premises to retrieve letters, by the security guard that the Arts Council had employed to look after the premises while we had no one around. I felt almost sad that they didn’t even bother approaching me to clarify why I was there.

I had to use my father’s car to record a clip meant for our first digital content for Oiwa – The Ghost of Yotsuya. I shifted multiple car parks before finding the right spot – without birds, without other cars zooming by, without neighbours tinkering on their piano. Eventually it still wasn’t good enough, so I built a sound recording booth (not pictured, haha) at home with a table top, suitcases, and bedsheets.

This was taken from a studio during Phase 2, our first time doing a photoshoot after such a long time. This was also election season.

Realised I had completely missed my paternal grandmother’s death anniversary (on 24 June), and so I dropped by when the temples were open again.

This is a photo of Myra, my Co-AD, tearing tape / sweeping the floor / tidying the space, after we had filmed a digital production.

My first time taking a private-hire car after a very, very long time.

First day back at the [radio] station after two months of being away. The part-timers like myself were removed from the roster two weeks after the circuit breaker, because the company wanted to carry out WFH measures and the full-timers had to step in to fill our slots, which is really hard on them. I was greeted with a gorgeous sunset after my shift.


Catch The Finger Players' new performance, Peepbirdat Esplanade Recital Studio on 7 & 8 October 2020.

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