The Passage of Time

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Jocelyn Chng performing in The Vault: Becoming Mother (2017).

Masthead Image

Jocelyn Chng performing in The Vault: Becoming Mother (2017).

Buildings are storage houses and museums of time and silence. Architectural structures have the capacity of transforming, speeding up, slowing down and halting time.



Source: Pallasmaa, J. (2007). Space Place Memory and Imagination: The Temporal Dimension of Existential Space. In M. A. Andersen (Ed.), Nordic Architects Write: A Documentary Anthology (pp. 188-201). London: Routledge.

The blue house at 42 Waterloo Street has been etched firmly in my mind as a space, both physical and otherwise, that I will always hold dear. I do remember the time when the physical premises was the home of Action Theatre – I had attended a few performances in the black box upstairs, and always wanted to try the restaurant in the courtyard but never got around to it! However, those memories are hazy, partly due to time, but also partly because I was only a passerby in the space, never lingering long enough for the space to touch me.

Two female-presenting persons, the one in the foreground in a sleeveless white top and the one in the background in a short-sleeved red shirt, dancing in the 42 Waterloo Street Black Box.

Jocelyn (right) and Nidya Shanthini (left) performing in The Vault: Becoming Mother (2017).

Only in the past five years or so, when Centre 42 took up residence there, did my relationship with the space evolve – from being a transient visitor to gradually coming to feel at home, where I can comfortably show people where the toilets are, and know how to lock up the space if I am the last to leave.

In the past few years, over which my memories of the space have crystallised, time seems to have passed very quickly and yet simultaneously slowly. My first memory at Centre 42 was in 2015 but feels as vivid as if it happened only in the past year. I showed up one afternoon for a recce for rehearsal space, gingerly making my way round to the back trying to locate the office. Finally I was greeted by Yanling, who gave me a tour of the house, and I went on my way. Who would know that I would be back before long, and many more times after.

At the same time, my memories of 2016 and 2017 at Centre 42 feel like a long period, one in which time slowed down. I was working on the Vault project Becoming Mother, and spent many mornings, afternoons and nights in the various spaces of the compound. We rehearsed mostly in the Meeting Room as its floor was most suitable for dancing, but it is also easily my favourite room. I love it for its odd shape and view into the Inner Courtyard where you can see plants growing outside. During the time when I was rehearsing there, I knew exactly how many windows were on one wall of the Meeting Room. When I needed to work on my laptop, I would move a table right against the floor-to-ceiling windows and sit facing the courtyard so I could see outside. I can still remember the way the morning sunlight slowly spilled into the room, casting long diagonal shadows on the floor, as I lay on it warming up.

I also love the Inner Courtyard. At the time there was a wooden bench in the courtyard, dark brown and misshapen, but full of character. I would pass by every time and say hello to the bright orange fungus that had made the bench its home. Dark brown, bright orange, and the bright blue of the walls – a perfectly alluring colour combination that sticks in my memory and makes me strangely calm, despite being someone who usually detests bright colours.

Small orange fungi growing on the surface of a wooden bench.

The orange fungus growing on a wooden stool in the Inner Courtyard. Photo: Jocelyn Chng

Over the years, my accumulated memories of the Black Box from passing through as audience member, performer and crew, can be rather disorienting. I’ve lost track of the number of performances, talks and readings I’ve watched in the Black Box, with various audience configurations and uses of space – testament to the creative energy for which the space is a continuing repository.

On the crew of productions, one of the memories that I savour the least, but yet sticks with me, is sweeping the entire Black Box, a job I did not relish in the low light conditions and with the annoying grooves in the floor! But my most treasured memory in the Black Box is the first day of bump-in for Becoming Mother. As with many bump-ins, there is the feeling of not quite being ready, combined with excitement that anything can happen. I remember lying on my back warming up as usual, with my legs in the air, staring at my feet against the high ceiling. I had never seen the Black Box from that angle before, and I thought it was beautiful.

While the face that many people see of Centre 42 is likely one of bustling activity surrounding the hundreds of events that take place there, I realise as I write that my fondest memories are not of those, but of quiet moments. I believe that one’s relationship with a space, like with people, is personal. And I hope to continue building and treasuring that relationship for many years to come.

Published: 14 January 2020


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