Naima Morelli

Singapore book: From the preliminary research to the first draft

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I’m a big fan of reading how writers organize their research and how they put their books together. I figured it would be interesting to detail the way I’m working at my new book on young artists in Singapore. In this post I’ll walk you through the first few stages from the preliminary research to the first draft.

First phase: preliminary research.  I read articles about Singapore art scene and books on Singapore urbanism, political and economical situation. I interviewed Lee Wen when he was in Rome, I met up with Italian artists who went to Singapore on a residency, and talked to a couple of Singaporean curators visiting Italy, included Paul Khoo. I stayed two weeks in Paris for the Singapour en France event, composed by the Paris Art Fair and the exhibition “Secret Archipelago”. In both case I interviewed artists, curators and gallery owners. Back home, I talked with via skype to other Singaporean artists, mainly for magazine articles. Finally, I went to Milan to visit the exhibition “Bright S’pore” at Primo Marella gallery and saw some works in person.

Second phase: I prepared the field research. I went to the library to read more books and articles, and browsing through catalogues such as Singapore Eye. I put together a list of 15 artists I wanted to interview, and start contacting them with three months in advance to fix the interview once I was there. I find accommodation and studied my itinerary. Talked with friend curator Paul Khoo about how to organze the research and read some interesting writing that he passed on to me, but try to not form a preconceived idea of what I’ll find.

Third phase: field research. I spend the month on November in Singapore interviewing artist and curators. The second day of my arrival I had a chat with Paul Khoo, who gave me some coordinates about the art scene. In the interviews I tried to be as open as possible, not I wasn’t looking for a particular angle in this stage, but letting themes and patterns emerge from the conversations. I also asked the artists I’d spoke with to give me some other names. In the end, from 15 the artists I was planning to talk to, it became 30. I also visited the galleries, art spaces, attended art event, fairs and festivals and explored the city a bit. I sat in cafes writing down my fresh impressions of the place and posted the pictures of my day-to-day research.

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Fourth phase: I decided on how to organize the information. In the face of the great quantity of material, I decided that more than a published reportage, I would have been interesting to do a short, nimble book. I consulted with friends who gave me advice also for my Indonesian book. I then decided on the overarching theme of the book.

Fifth phase: Post it mania! I’m starting to transcribe the interviews and translating all the core concepts into post it. (I have been there before with the Indonesian book, I called it post-it pandemonium) I read a lot; books tied to the social and political environment of Singapore, books on contemporary art, themes I intend to explore, and also book that would influence me in terms of style and approach. I keep doing interviews as follow-up to the major themes I’m exploring. In the meantime I’m deciding on the structure of the book.

Sixth phase: I will organize the post its into chapters, them being the bone structure on my book. They will be the roadmap guiding me through the writing of the different chapters. I will get to a first draft, while keep researching and adding missing pieces.

Right now I’m in the middle of the fifth phase, and there are just as many others to go. It’s an exciting journey – while just like everybody else I hate transcribing interviews I’m thrilled when I re-hear a particularly good quote.

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I’m also lucky my friend curator Roberto D’Onorio is working on his own book as well, so we can lock ourselves in hotel rooms and write for hours, then go down for a coffee and exchange ideas. It’s definitely not easy to write a book when you have a day job which also involves having new ideas and a whole lotta writing – but I’ll tell ya. This is the life I always wanted to live, and I couldn’t be happier. When you are working on something, you’re on the prowl, and the world opens up. You can see it clearly: the world is endlessly wide and interesting!