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making time

August 6, 2012

Last week, I accepted an invitation from the lovely staff at Hermès Singapore to attend the opening of their new at exhibition, The Gift of Time. My camera wouldn’t fit in my clutch, so I brought a photographer!

Produced by artist Hilton McConnico and very dramatically staged at the Tangjong Pagar Railway Station, the exhibition was stunning in that every element was clever wink at the evening’s theme; the historic venue, the nostalgia-inducing menu, the possible conspiracy to start it at rush hour so that I’d be forced to sit in my car for 45 minutes on the highway…

But let me kick this off with a overview of the exhibition itself. The work is broken up into seven different rooms, with each designed to prompt the viewer’s contemplation on different aspects of time.

First up was a visual representation of the origins of time, represented by an Astrologie scarf with the shadowy horse head you’ll probably recognize from the exhibition’s branding.

Next, we were led into a white room of free time. We were instructed to take a little pouch and put our wallet and phones inside, the idea being that by doing so were were putting our time on pause for a moment. Of course, the pouches were stamped with Hermès’ logo: the time we were hypothetically gaining here? Their gift – the one true luxury in this world.

The room itself was covered in short phrases written in Chinese, English and French, all different directives to do things normally associated with having free time. Stopping to feel the sun on your face, laughing with a friend, baking and licking the bowl…simple pleasures. The messages, coupled with the stark display was another interesting commentary on the idea of time as a luxury, as imagined by a company in the business of luxury goods.

The next room was fascinating, but (for me at least) more for its content than its core. Can you guess what these are?

The original Hermès leather product – saddles!

Clearly I was the only rider in the group as nobody else seemed quite as mesmerized by the exploded views. To be fair though, everyone was duly impressed by the life-sized representation of the highest jump ever made by a horse. At over 8 feet, Adam and I were joking that it would have taken a 25-hand monster to jump that high, but in reality it was a record set by a 16-hander. Amazing!

Our next stop was very Dali-eque. A skewed spinning top, inlaid with an un-tippable Hermès drink tray (you’ll just need to go and see it yourself), referenced the way most of us perceive time in relation to our hectic lives: sometimes unbalanced and crazy, but ultimately unfaltering in its course.

Then, a pun. In the following room dedicated to leather patina, the theme was ‘The Stroke of Time’. A display showed an original Macpherson bag from 1920, its modern incarnation, and a Toolbox bag swinging on a pendulum between them. In the center of the room was my favorite element of the exhibition – an parrot made entirely of intricate leather feathers. Staring right at it was an enormous portrait of a cat’s face, crafted composed of small squares of leather and set over a pair of sliding doors. Apparently, while the horse represents Hermès as a company, the cat was the animal chosen to best represent Hermès time. Each of us was encouraged to leave our mark by stroking the leather portrait, underscoring the room’s theme as each stroke would patina the door over time.

Next up was a completely dark room with nothing but benches and a mesmerizing light projection. We were asked to take a breath here, look up into the projection and relax our minds enough to let our imagination take over for a moment.

I’m a superstar at zoning out (ask Adam) so I actually enjoyed this, but lots of the people in our group chose to pace the room and check their phones instead. I felt sorry for them. You should too.

The last room was pure whimsy. It featured a see-saw which, with each dip, changed the lighting of the room. The room itself was anchored by a tortoise – as in, the guy who raced the hare – with a tree growing out of its shell.

Under the luminous foliage painted onto the ceiling were several fun little displays featuring Hermès products. Of all the rooms, the Hermès plug here was the least subtle. The theme was continuity and eternity though, so it did make good business (if not artistic) sense.

As a finishing touch, we were led out the doors of this room…and into the first. The exhibition, like the course of time, was circular – how neat! We hadn’t even realized while walking through it, which really says something about how engaging it was. Before leaving, we were invited to write a postcard to anyone anywhere in the world, which Hermès would mail for us, thus adding another dimension to the theme of continuity.

All in, I really enjoyed the exhibition. It wasn’t large in scale, but I felt McConnico really explored the breadth of time as a theme and did it in a way that struck a good balance between merchandise display and creative delivery. I did hear people griping about how conspicuous the product placement was throughout, but come on. Maybe try saying that while not clad in head-to-toe Hermès, swilling champagne at an Hermès party? The 1% doth protest too much, methinks.

Speaking of champagne, after the exhibition, we funneled out to the old station platforms where the cocktail party was underway. It was kind of like stepping back into a carefully curated time warp. Retro food stands and slick caboose seating were everywhere.

Most of the nibbles were of the traditional variety: kong bak paos, siew yok, kaya buns, and even a selection of old-timey cookies. As you can see, I definitely tested the seams of my dress.

There was even a faux mama shop set-up, selling toys and candies of a bygone era.

While I’m sure these were only around to feed and amuse guests at the opening party, The Gift of Time is absolutely still worth a visit. If not for obvious reasons, then at least to see the inside of the Tanjong Pagar Railway Station before the State Land signs go back up indefinitely.

The Gift of Time exhibition by Hermès runs from 11:00 am to 9:00 pm daily till August 12th, when it will be moved to its final destination in Lille.

All photos courtesy of Adam Stamenkovic.

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