[This article covers the background to Inspire#5: Going Home (Calvin Pang).]

I first met Calvin at a cafe that used to stand along South Bridge Road, Singapore. I had a lot of original jazz material that I wanted to put together with a quartet I had envisioned, called White Noise. Broun Cafe proved to be the perfect starting ground for many artists and their new projects, visual and performing. The space was also a nurturing environment for fresh graduates from art school. It welcomed intimate art displays and miniature exhibitions in a cosy space. I loved it. The space wasn’t your posh French restaurant to sing jazz in or a slick art gallery to put up glossy prints with expensive frames, but it breathed with a steady pulse made up of dreams and divine ideas.

Yes, I get lost in reminiscence. But coming back, that’s how I met Calvin. He worked part-time at Broun cafe alongside other friendly staff who always made our day. Everyone has bad days of course.

I’m not the social type who thrived on limelight and so I often found comfort in knowing individuals. I still do. Calvin wasn’t exactly a chirpy server, and in fact he often carried a brooding countenance, contemplative and slightly withdrawn. Yet I am touched by his genuine care and warmth whenever he makes an effort to serve us generously, checking that our musician meals were alright. He was always earnest.

It made conversation easy. There was no small talk required, which I score poorly at. Plus he was an artist. (I love all things arty.) That started Didi and I asking a whole chain of questions. Every time I introduced him to our friends and supporters as ‘artist’ he would shy away, explaining carefully that he was a work in a progress with his works themselves also in progress. That was an aspect that resonated with me. For a long time I couldn’t come up with a biography for clients that wasn’t hazy. It was not years later that I found a comfortable place for myself to put down ‘singer’ in the bio. So in these small ways, I’ve often taken to this new friend of ours.

He always had a book with him and always discussed ideas in careful but substantial and passionate ways. He wasn’t loud, or animated but to be his dream and person was deafeningly clear. I appreciated this self-confessed introvert’s honesty, be it his challenges, flaws or intent.

I recall him one day slightly excitedly pointed to a young lady in the cafe, who turned out to be Kanako, his girlfriend at that time (and now they continue to be good friends) and how he wanted for us to meet her. I felt so privileged. For someone who didn’t say much, he was demonstrating with a sincere gesture of friendship by letting us into a very personal space. Kanako turned out also to be his partner in art as well. They had a duo called pang+kanako and some wonderful ideas together. I remember sitting down to chat with this bold yet homely girl and how open her heart was to art. They both saw ‘beauty without splendour’ with the same and yet eyes. But there was an immense amount of drive in them for the world that was out there for them to just explore in their own little ways.

In 2012, the duo had an exhibition at The Substation called ‘Departing the Departed‘ which included the production of thousands of white clay flowers handmade mainly by Kanako. At the time, Didi and I had written and arranged quite a few originals and had premiered our music at Singapore Arts Festival 2012. The quartet also featured two of Singapore’s most prolific musicians on the rhythm section, namely, Tan Boon Gee (drums) and Eddie Jansen (electric bass). The show was a success and we had our faces literally projected on containers about 3 stories high on the day of performance. The talented duo invited us to their first exhibition together, and we promised we would visit. In July, White Noise performed for 2 days at The Concourse, Esplanade Theatres by the Bay, and received overwhelming response. It was a surprise since we were a fairly new act and weren’t expecting much response. Upon listening to the live recordings from the gig, Didi commented that they sounded pretty decent and added that it would be a shame to not put this down on record if this would be out last project as White Noise. Something in me clicked, but I needed to pray about it and sit on it. I never do plan but I would always know when a green light is flashing.

We visited the art exhibit in the following week at The Substation. And I would never forget the peace and loveliness that flooded that room that weekday afternoon. I was blown away by the combination of quiet and light. It was so different and yet so familiar to me. I remember posting pictures i took of the exhibition everywhere on the social media, and was literally obsessed with their unassuming art and fierce hearts.

Possibly in the following month, I contacted a good friend, celebrated dance photographer Tan Ngiap Heng. I knew Heng appreciated light and might be keen on having a ‘play’ on shooting at the exhibit space. I believe that at that time, Heng was up to his neck with projects and wasn’t able to say yes so I left it out there and simply prayed on it. He soon returned with a yes. I am so grateful he did. Thank you Heng. With pang+kanako’s generous welcome of the spontaneous photo-shoot, we really did capture some of the most amazing shots that continue to baffle me when I revisit them. It was hauntingly ethereal and beautiful. Just as how I envisioned White Noise to be. Mainly faceless, and the subject was clearly Light. The pictures were instantly and organically adopted as the front cover of my 2nd album, my husband, Didi Mudigdo and my first album recording together. “White Noise Live” was also my first live album (I always was a risk-taker!) This series of photography also remain my favourite work from Heng. I also had the opportunity to work with good friend and multi-talented graphic designer/actor/singer Ric Liu once again. He did a beautiful job of designing the album and putting Heng’s brilliant work taken at pang+kanako’s unforgettable installation together. 4 years later, this visual (to audio) collaboration with friends remains rare, significant, invaluable and precious.

White Noise Live (Juliet Pang Quartet) 2012

White Noise Live (Juliet Pang Quartet) 2012

White Noise Live (South China Tour 2014)

White Noise Live (South China Tour 2014)

Time has passed and we have seen them each move on with their separate lives. Calvin has proceeded with his postgraduate studies, and met someone wonderful for him. Kanako had recently got married in Japan, and is enjoying the exploration of her roots back in her hometown. And their art continue to beat on in my life. I am so proud of how Calvin has persisted in what seems like ‘a little voice’ 4 years ago, and many exhibitions and a significant new book later, I see his work carry a consistency, his signature, his person, his spirit, that which is unmistakeably ‘pang’.

When his Mother passed away, we all grieved. (see his book ‘Going Home‘) But we were all lost as to how to grieve for him as well. He wrote to us one time, with a poem for his Mother. It brought me to tears. I wasn’t able to respond with a song which was something he had invited me into co-creating if I felt up to it, but in me was a question, ‘why would it need a melody when it spoke so completely?’. Thank you, Calvin, for understanding all our ineptness in responding to your grief, and thank you for standing by in understanding in your own quiet ways when I lost my grandpa a few months ago.

We are not related in anyway, but our Hainanese roots and family name probably started off this link of friendship. I am deeply blessed by his truly ‘sincere’ (he often signs off with ‘sincerely’, I find endearing since it’s so wonderfully old-fashioned) friendship and will continue to look forward to his journey and processes.

Thank you Calvin, the first brave introvert friend I had met in the Creative world who took your time in a world of chugga-chugga choo-choos. (Since then I’d found a few more falling in this 30%. Thank God!) Thank you for opening your heart up so freely to Inspire# and for being so real so that it made the world less lonely to the one who might think he or she is.

See Calvin Pang’s exhibitions here:
2016 Summer Festival in the Owl’s Town, Toshima Performing Arts Center, Tokyo, Japan | 15 July – 30 August
2016 Vanitas, Intersections Art Gallery, Singapore | 19 October – 2 November

Browse or Buy his book here:
BooksActually E-Store
Intersections Gallery E-Store
and more.

Find Calvin Pang here:
http://www.pangcalvin.net/

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