Profile: Brian Gothong Tan

Published on 16 August 2016

Brian Gothong Tan has made his mark on film, theatre and installation. And it all started with a love for cartoons.


WHOEVER SAYS MEN CAN’T MULTITASK SHOULD MEET BRIAN GOTHONG TAN. n the past few months alone, he’s been directing Tropical Traumas: A Series of Cinematic Choreographies (a film-theatre hybrid for the 2016 Singapore International Festival of Arts) while serving as multimedia director on this year’s National Day Parade, all the time continuing to gather inspiration for the installation artworks he’s equally known for.


“I get bored easily,” explains the recipient of the 2012 Young Artist Award and Singapore Youth Award 2015. “Even when I was young and wanted to be an artist, I liked lots of art forms… and sometimes wanted to be a pilot.”


Yet while Tan’s current trio of passions — film, theatre and installation — seem diverse, his involvement in all three stems from a single root: animation. A die-hard Disney fan when young, he began watching the cartoons frame by frame to see how they were created, and went on to study digital animation in Singapore and California. He also developed an interest in photography.


Returning to Singapore, he applied his animation skills to various installation artworks, catching the eye of Ekachai Uekrongtham (film director and founder of the now-defunct Action Theatre) who roped him in to design multimedia for the Alfian Sa’at play The Optic Trilogy. That led to more theatrical multimedia projects and numerous Life Theatre Awards, and finally, to Cake Theatrical Productions getting him to direct a play in 2014. In 2008, Uekrongtham also asked Tan to lens his movie Pleasure Factory, which went to Cannes and was singled out by director Eric Khoo, who decided to groom Tan into a film director in his own right.


“There have been crazy learning curves, but I’ve always managed to work with many wonderful collaborators from whom I could learn on the job. Today, when I direct, I think of myself as one among many collaborators, each with different skills and talents.”


It’s also helped that his experience in each art form feeds into the rest. “My animation and photography experience taught me about storyboards and interesting angles, so I didn’t really have to think about them when I jumped into film. And working on multimedia for theatre meant that over this decade, I’ve watched almost every established director direct. That’s a treasure trove of inspiration I’ve used when I direct theatre.”


Apt, then, that Tropical Traumas is a hybrid experience fusing film and live theatre. “It’s combining art forms to express a feeling I have for the world today. Film is like a dream that washes over you, while theatre is a live experience: you see the actor seeing you. Then when you combine the two, there’s this third reality that appears.

That’s like our contemporary world, where we live life on our screens, but there’s also real life, and the life in-between. I think people will get it intuitively.”


Tropical Traumas: A Series of Cinematic Choreographies is on from 2-4 September at Gardens By the Bay, 9pm. Free admission.

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