Diary of an NUS Museum Intern: Johann Yamin

Note: Diary of an NUS Museum Intern is a series of blog posts written by our interns about their experiences during the course of their internships. Working alongside their mentors, our interns have waded through tons of historical research, assisted in curatorial work, pitched in during exhibition installations and organised outreach events! If you would like to become our next intern, visit our internship page for more information! 


Johann Yamin is a third-year Communications and New Media student at the NUS Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, with a minor in Film Production and Art History. As our  Radio Malaya Exhibition Research Intern, Johann assisted with curatorial research and exhibition development for Radio Malaya: Abridged Conversations About Art, as well as consolidating research materials from the Vietnam War Art collection.

No neat beginnings, no neat endings. 

I come here to rearrange florets of information. Imagine knowledge being categorised, synthesised, consolidated, coagulated. Reified into physical stacks, neatly lined along a conference table in a fluorescent-lit room, scattered with the touch of a hand. I look for knowledge that has come before me, traces deposited: There are citations to be generated, bibliographies to be indexed, indexes to be bibliographed. Associations multiply meiotically while meanings unravel inconspicuously. 

I come here to propose more and more, as in, there will always be more, but what this is depends on what you want, so just go for it and don’t worry too much about it. More is needed still. Reach out for things you’ve not yet seen, searches combing wide swathes – time is spent over shelves, under the covers of books, scampering across categories in classification systems. You prise yourself between the leading of sentences and meander through spaces dividing words, cram through the kerning of letters.  

Look at pdfs and docxs accumulated, pay attention to their megabytes of information, how odd for the pdf to be neither image nor text. Consider their visuality: Information frozen in relative position on document, everything in its right place always and exactly. Push in on the document. Edges become jagged, indistinct, abstract. Pixels happily leap off into low resolution.

~ ~ ~ 

Each day, I push my palms against the textures of aged webpages, charting out urban sprawls of abandoned geocities, raptly tracing fingers along html frame dividers. As web browser histories grow lengthier and more intricate, discover how highres images of an artwork nosedive into lowres, splintering across the internet from the force of impact. Jpegs of art find themselves crawled over, scooped up, plastered to a website for interior design inspiration. “As it accelerates, it deteriorates.” 

Knowledge coquettishly prances just out of reach, arriving as a pulsating, glowing figure from beyond the screen. Sometimes it’s better to see things through a screen. Violent rectangles of light. Generate new threads, ideas unspooling, conceptualise skeins, tangle warp and weft. Everything falls through the fingers, and there is no need for a firm grasp. Again and again, note this happening. I allow my mind to be splayed open, and it begs to be interfaced.


I hover over a scanner, turning physical page to digital particulate. I marvel at how images transmute into text, made searchable by machine. Optical Character Recognition is a built-in function that occurs with the scanning of a document, the process wherein images of text, handwritten or otherwise, are identified and converted into machine-encoded text. Jagged pixellate edges coalesce into legible unicode forms, meaning sublimated from black etchings, saturating the air with a dark, pungent smell.  

As with many systems, it is not perfect. Recognition does not occur flawlessly, and errors emerge with impish regularity, a mischievous child scrawling with crayon on the wall behind the sofa. During Optical Character Recognition, the characters occasionally blur, melding into each other or fading into the grain of paper, numbers becoming letters, letters becoming other letters, and then becoming nonsense punctuation. The text becomes an abstracted version of its former self, an endearing attempt at coherence. Ins1ead ,','e f:nd oursclvcs lcf- vv:th t000 ,','ays :n vvh:ch a scntcncc ma) losc :ts or:g:nal-mcan:ng} 

Optical Character Recognition is the attempt to identify potential markers of meaning, hypostasising these signs into coherent and accessible systems of representation. I softly apply pressure as documents sensuously smoothen against the glass flatbed of the scanner, bodies of knowledge spread across a lustrous surface, anticipating permeation by shards of light. I feel like I may be falling in love with a ghost in a machine. 


17 Volcanoes

I want to tell you how things will go, I want to tell you how things will be. But we leave expectations and potential futures on an expired cloud storage subscription, forgetting they ever existed at all. Still, we celebrate the forgotten scraps of knowledge that dance in cached versions of obsolete webpages. We celebrate the tentacular reach of research to be done, of ideas to be generated. We celebrate that there are no neat beginnings, no neat endings. 

(A javascript music player begins to play lixianglan_xinqu_李香兰_心曲_1957.mp3) 
 (An embedded video montage entitled Memories begins to unfold in your head) 

(This blog post slips away into a swamp of hypertext links, disappearing from sight) 


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