Marilyn Yun Jin Goh is an artist based in Singapore. She is one half of Knuckles & Notch, a Risograph press that she runs with her long time partner, Djohan Hanapi. Compulsively photographing her life, Marilyn catches the people around her without judgement. You can also find her on Instagram
You are born and raised in Singapore. How has Singapore changed since you were younger?
Back when I was growing up, I had pet hamsters, many chickens, birds, rabbits and a dog. It felt like a kampong! Streets weren’t as narrow as it is now, more roads and highways are being built, old buildings are demolished and replaced by new ones. The society is advancing. There are more shopping malls, new businesses, new opportunities for business owners, an increase in population, more complicated transportation system, world class education system, a well considered tax rate — good for new business start-ups and a lot more foreigners working in Singapore due to the stable and safe society we have here.
There are still some old shopping malls and restaurants, cafes that I used to go and they are still around, I’m grateful for that, but their futures are uncertain.
When you have a country that is developing so quickly, you have to constantly improve yourself or you may be left behind, hence, there is quite alot of financial stress if you aren’t skilled in areas that striving industries require. I see many businesses dissolving because of very high overheads. Rents are always increasing but I don’t understand why there is a need to when these landlords seems financially well-off.
There is a gulf in the lifestyles of people from different social classes. I feel that as I am born to a middle class family I am always struck by the differences between my life and my partner’s. I realized that I tend to take a lot of things for granted, and I hope to change that.
What are some of the things that you have missed the most from Singapore, that is not there anymore? Why?
Mostly, I miss the second hand bookshops and a candy shop ran by a really sweet auntie who dresses in her traditional silk clothing from the 1900s! She was such a sweetheart. I don’t think she’s around anymore. She was about 85–90 years old when I was buying candies from her. I know the rent was cheap back in Coronation Plaza but now I think it’s way more now. I also wish more senior citizens have the chance to work and own small businesses so they won’t feel left behind. I miss so many other things including the huge tree that they planted beside the canal at the roadside near my house, they are gone because of road construction.
Growing up in the 90s to early 2000s was revolutionary. It was an explosion of pop culture. There was crappy local television that was so bad that we didn’t know what else to watch, MTV for the wannabe cool kids, porn, books and the internet that gave us access to many things people weren’t exposed to. People found interesting ways to express themselves through so many things. It shaped a new generation of people and it gave birth to new ideas.
After that era was over, now being in the present, there’s a constant need to keep up, there was this overload of information that makes people like me, a bit overwhelmed and jaded. I missed the times when you had to save up money to buy that CD that you’ve been eyeing for and forming friendships through spending real time together. There was a stronger sense of appreciation in the past!
Tell us a little bit more about your family, and your relationship with them.
My relationship with my family is cool. They are very understanding and they just want me to be healthy and happy, “anything before health and happiness is a lie!” direct translation in mandarin. We speak many dialects in my family but being a language noob, I only pick up all the curse words and I use them when I’m frustrated with life at home.
How is photographing your friends and family? Does this affect your relationships with them? Why do you do it?
Photographing and documenting is so habitual to me that when I shoot friends and family members, they just forget that I’m pointing a camera or my iPhone at them. My dad would just continue doing his stuff with a grumpy look on his face, my mum would sometime pose for me. She’s so damn photogenic. I am regretting for not shooting her more when I first picked up the camera. My sister don’t like me shooting her because she is self-conscious but I can understand why, because I am too, we have issues with our body and how we look. I’m very close with my sister, we beat each other up and make up by just ignoring each other after a few days, we are closed to the point I don’t even know why we fought. She doesn’t see herself that way but I think she’s smart, very much enlightened and well read.
i feel that I am doing everything my family and relatives are not familiar with and they are incredibly supportive but that worries me. They just want me to be healthy and happy even if I fail in life. But I have such high expectations in myself that it makes me feel that the support feels like a heavier burden on me. I love my family but I feel weird now for not spending enough time with them. They are very loving and I appreciate that because I know when I was younger, other parents aren’t supportive of their children doing what I do. The arts is the last thing most strict or ambitious parents want their kids to do.
Shooting friends is simple, because most of my friends are pretty chill, and they trust me to make them look good. I used to take sneaky pictures of friends and strangers, I see it kind of as a sort of challenge. As a female, it’s so much easier to get away with it.
How is making a living as a creative in Singapore? Do you have any advice for people who are trying to pursue a career in the creative industry?
I don’t know how is it living as a creative elsewhere but I think we have a lot of freedom to be creative here as long as you don’t vandalise government properties and voice your political opinion in public spaces.
We do Risograph printing, which is so niche and so new here in Singapore that it takes on a new level of surprise. There’s this saying “BAO KA LIAO” means you do everything. In my small humble start up, I “BAO KA LIAO” I bring in jobs, do the jobs, do admin work that I have hardly anytime for creating. But I enjoyed doing it, I enjoy the process and progress, the challenges and developing problem solving skills. But, I need creative time and when I’m done with all those things, I start shooting and creating, when I do that I become obsessive and I immerse myself in the creation process.
Advise for people trying to pursue a career in the creative industry? — get out of your comfort zones, take walks, save up some money to travel and see other parts of the world. Take risks and create habits that makes you want to work and create even when you are feeling the least creative. Immerse yourself in the process, enjoy the process and don’t just look for inspiration on the internet. Find inspirations from your surrounding, your experience and books. Even the most boring looking piece of object can be turned into something worth looking at.
This Feature is part of COLLECTION #01: “IN THE CITY”