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How to Succeed Without Being Too Singaporean: Hang Out A Lot, Say Yes to Everything

How to Succeed Without Being Too Singaporean: Hang Out A Lot, Say Yes to Everything

  • Culture
  • People
All photography by Zachary Tang.

Ginette Chittick, 42, is a bona fide m-u-l-t-i-h-y-p-h-e-n-a-t-e celebrity in the worlds of art, music, and fashion. 

By day, she is a fashion lecturer at LASALLE College of the Arts; by night, she transforms into an artist, a bassist, DJ, a fashion designer, and a singer. 

In the artistic and cultural battleground that is Singapore, where people struggle in this most hostile of environments to become even one of these things, how does she do it all at the same time? 

By being the most un-Singaporean she could be: “wasting time hanging out” instead of “studying very hard”; “just doing things” when she doesn’t know how to do them in the first place; giving a giant ‘fuck you’ to the fear of failure pervading our air.

Ginette's solo exhibition, "This, That." is showing at Telok Ayer Arts Club from 15 July to 5 September 2019.
Ginette might sound like those infuriating people who deny studying but always end up topping the class. Unlike these pricks, however, she isn’t fudging the truth. As told to me by Ginette, this is how she started playing bass in her punk band PsychoSonique:

Friend: Let’s form a girl band!
Ginette: Yeah let’s do this!
Friend: You will play the bass.
Ginette: I don’t know how to play the bass.
Friend: Never mind I will point and then you play.
Ginette: Okay.

At a jamming session.

Friend: Can you play B?
Ginette: Eh, which one ah?
Friend: The top string, second bar.
Ginette: Orh.

“That was the basis of how I became a bassist.”

That haphazard beginning propelled Ginette into the local music scene, and she is currently the lead singer of Astreal, a band that just released its latest album and performed at Laneway in 2017.

Similarly, Ginette’s foray into DJ-ing boiled down to being in the right place and saying, “Okay lor.”

Scene: Ginette hanging out at Home Club.  

Kelvin Tan (co-owner of Home Club): You want to DJ or not?
Ginette: I don’t know how.
Kelvin Tan: You just press the button.
Ginette: Okay lor.

“Like that I became a DJ,” Ginette laughs.

“It’s really a lot of hanging out. At Home Club or at Zouk, and TNT Music Studio … these are all the connections I made, friends who asked me ‘want to do this or that?’ I fell into these things because I hung out a lot.”

How to become a successful everything-artist lesson #1: hang out in hip places and never let inexperience get in the way of anything.

"I wanted to take crafts like that that would have been deemed ‘it’s just craft, just something for decoration’ and bring it into contemporary art and design."
You might think this stardom reeks too much of miraculous meritocracy, in which someone of fierce talents, regardless of background, will inevitably find a way to pluck the starlight from thin air and cloak herself in it.

You wouldn’t be alone—Ginette thinks so too. And this is why she’s almost incredulous of how many different art forms she has her fingers on, to the extent that she doesn’t think of herself as a ‘real’ practitioner.

“I’m not here and I’m not there. I always feel like: ‘Am I an artist? No la, I’m not. Am I a musician? No la, I’m not. And I’ve always felt that I wasn’t a real DJ because I didn’t practise every week.”

Some context: Ginette has released a total of 6 albums (EPs included) while in her various bands and was the resident DJ at Home Club for “close to 7 years”. She’s even performed at Laneway TWICE, once as a DJ and once as the singer of Astreal. 

So her self-deprecation is startlingly out of place, and if you didn’t know her well enough, you might say she’s being falsely modest. But she isn’t.

“At most I’ll just call myself a ‘multitasker’,” Ginette muses.

"I harvested the kapok from around LaSalle, the kapok trees. Then the security guard was like ‘what the hell is this girl doing?’"
As Ginette struggles to articulate these contradictory feelings, Anmari, the arts manager of Telok Ayer Arts Club, jumps in.

“I remember speaking to this woman who said there’s always a shame around [dabbling in different art forms] because people are always asking, ‘Define yourself. What are you?’ It’s really about society wanting to put this one label on you. But what it boils down to is what you do.”

“I get that,” Ginette nods fervently.

“I felt like this year I should own it so … there is a positive contribution to representation of women in the media. Then women can feel”—she pauses to correct herself—“So anybody can do anything or be anything.”

Inside, I cringe. I’ve heard this overly optimistic pronouncement too many times; it’s why youths grow up believing they can protest for democracy, for a Green New Deal, for more equitable capitalism. But these hopes—and they—are crushed, sometimes literally, by tanks.

So I feebly protest, “I can’t do anything.”

Provoked, Ginette starts interviewing me.

“What are your hobbies? What do you like doing?”

I mumble a string of activities that end with “chilling”.

“See? Who isn’t a multi-hyphenate?” Ginette’s voice overwhelms me in a maternal way.

“Even at the most basic, you are a friend. I am a mother. I am a wife. Everyone has so many facets. Putting a label on them or saying ‘I am a this’ is just not important. In my life I never really had the ‘I want to be this’ thought. I just do things.”

How to become a successful everything-artist lesson #2: It’s not what you are, it’s what you do.

"I don’t think art should be gendered, of course. But I think that over the years there’s so much baggage, so many experiences that have been pushed into the realm of being in men’s or women’s domains."
Without the heady mix of anger and fear, sex becomes routine and colourless.

The same principle applies to art: art born in a pure land where anger and fear do not exist tend to be boring. For instance, The Scream is so hypnotising precisely because of the sense of terror it strikes in and conveys to viewers.

While Ginette’s practices do not trade directly in these emotions, they nonetheless flourish via an edge sharpened by them. Her mixing has been described as “reckless, raucous fun”—and you can’t be ‘reckless’ unless you make an effort to consciously overcome a fear you are very, very aware of.

But what on earth is an artistic polymath as successful as Ginette afraid of? The same things everybody is: judgment and failure.

As Ginette herself admits: “Even now, if somebody asks me ‘do you want to do this gig’, in my head I immediately I say, ‘No la I don’t want to do this’ because the other DJs are ‘real’ DJs.”

“But I tell myself, ‘Never mind. Just say yes.’ And later it turns out okay. I did not very badly embarrass myself. I did it.”

"My exhibition is called 'This, That.' It’s really a perfect combination of who I am because I’m not here and I’m not there."
Ginette believes this attitude is integral to her success as a multi-hyphenate artist, and wants her 4-year-old daughter, Luella, to embody this ‘reckless’ drive.

“Sometimes when Luella is climbing very high in this spider-web thing, passers-by look at her and go, ‘Wah, so high. Xiao mei careful ah you’re going to fall down’. What the fuck? I will be like ‘NO she will NOT FALL DOWN’.”

“Singaporeans are so afraid of failing. Don’t say something bad is going to happen. It’s these small things that become an environment”.

As Ginette admits, she is not immune to this culturally ingrained fear of falling. But her multiple artistic practices have blossomed because of a simple mantra she repeats to herself each time she feels herself hesitating:

“I just try, you know? If it doesn’t work out, at least I know I tried. And I had fun while doing it.”

“And if it’s not fun then don’t fucking do it anymore.”

How to become a successful everything-artist lesson #3: Fuck the people—and the voice in your head—that tell you you’re going to fail.

Ginette Chittick’s art exhibition, ‘This, That.’ a body of works crafted using mixed media of hand-spun yarn, wood and acrylic, is showing at Telok Ayer Arts Club from 15 July to 5 September 2019.

A fan of Ginette’s? What did you think of the exhibition? Tell us at community@ricemedia.co

Author

Yeo Boon Ping Staff Writer