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Interview with Dr. Hong Yan from GMAC Singapore

Conducted via email correspondence in August 2020

Could you introduce GMAC and what the committee does?

GMAC is a multi-agency advisory body established in April 1999 by the Ministry of Trade and Industry in Singapore. GMAC has been tasked with monitoring and providing scientifically sound advice on the research and development, production, release, use and handling of GMOs in Singapore. The objective of GMAC is to ensure public safety while maintaining an environment that is conducive for the commercial use of GMOs and GMO-derived products, in compliance with international standards.


Could you briefly explain the history and origins of GMOs and how they came to be normalised?

Humans have been altering the genetics of organisms for over 10,000 years, but modern genetic modification dates back to the 1970s. The breakthrough came in 1973, when Herbert Boyer and Stanley Cohen worked together to engineer the first successful GMO — a gene that encoded antibiotic resistance was transferred from one organism (i.e. bacterium) to another.


Moving forward, several years that saw multiple breakthroughs in genetically engineered medication (e.g. Humulin, a form of human insulin) and in agriculture (e.g. the Flavr Savr tomato with an extended shelf life) laid the foundations for large-scale commercial GMO production. The production of insect-tolerant Bt-corn in 1996 started the first wave of GMO produce for consumers, followed by crops such as summer squash, soybeans, corn, papayas, tomatoes, potatoes, and canola. Scientists have also engineered crops with a higher nutritional value, such as golden rice, which was developed in 2000 to combat Vitamin A deficiency.


Genetic modification hasn’t been limited to just food and medicine, and has also transcended boundaries with the first commercialised genetically modified animal — the GloFish, developed in 2003. It’s a Zebra fish with a gene that encodes a fluorescent protein, which allows the fish to glow in the dark under ultraviolet light. In 2015, AquAdvantage salmon became the first genetically modified animal to be approved for food use. The salmon was genetically transformed with a growth hormone from another fish, enabling it to grow year-round instead of only during the warmer seasons. 


And thus, gene technology can be applied to a wide spectrum of fields. Currently, gene technology spans various industries, including food and feed, medicine, pharmaceuticals and research, environment mitigation, and ornamental plants.


Full interview can be found in 'Now & Again: Exquisite Corpse'

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Interview with Dr. Li Ju Shang

Conducted at Tian Xing Jian TCM Clinic in Singapore on 2nd August 2020

The transcript has been translated from Mandarin into English and edited for clarity.


What inspired you to become a TCM physician?

In my family, all of us are doctors. My grandfather was a doctor; he was one of the first-generation doctors to practise Western medicine alongside the likes of Sun Yat-sen. These first-generation doctors studied at Christian medical schools and mission hospitals, where they learned from the Germans. After that, he opened his own clinic in Nanjing. However, when the Japanese came during the Sino-Japanese War, he escaped to Anshun and opened another clinic, which expanded and developed overtime to become the current Anshun People’s Hospital.


In his later years, due to his smoking habit, my grandfather developed bronchitis, which is a chronic cough. As a doctor, he was only familiar with Western medicine, but no method was effective in curing his condition. He subsequently looked to TCM, and realised it was actually more effective than Western medicine. So he told my grandmother that he hoped one of our family members could learn TCM. After my grandfather passed away, my grandmother took all the books he had and gave them to me, hoping that I could inherit the medical knowledge he had accumulated. This included studies such as Pavlov’s neurology, electrocardiography (ECG), doctors’ manuals, and so on and so forth.


After my peers and I graduated from secondary school, we all had to participate in rural labour because we lived in the countryside. The medical conditions were not ideal, so I wanted to become a barefoot doctor (赤脚医生, chì jiǎo yī shēng, a healthcare provider with basic medical and paramedical training working in rural villages in China). I even bought a manual for barefoot doctors, and I would refer to the atlas in the manual to collect herbs. This came in handy because there was a time when our chicken at home had fallen sick — it had diarrhoea — so I quickly went to get herbs for the chicken. And the chicken recovered! This made me even more interested in medicine. It would always be on my mind. When I read wuxia (武侠, a genre of fantasy literature where the characters engage in martial arts, typically set in ancient China) novels where people got hurt in battle, I would even read about what they would consume or apply on themselves for treatment.

Full interview can be found in 'Now & Again: Exquisite Corpse'





Interview with Rachael Cheong from Closet Children

Conducted via email correspondence in August 2020

Photos by Viktor Naumovski

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Could you introduce yourself and Closet Children?

My name is Rachael Cheong and I am a fashion designer who graduated from the Royal Academy of Art in the Hague. I am currently running my own brand Closet Children where I do custom clothing and accessories, and am venturing into made-to-order ready-to-wear. The Closet Children style is a mix of fantasy and fetishism where darkness is deceptively colourful. I see myself as a “dollmaker” and not just a designer, as dolls were used for centuries to dictate the fashions of the season way before the supermodel. As the creator, I don’t just create clothing for the human body, but for the artificially constructed body. Dollmakers also put in a lot of love and care into their dolls and their garments. I definitely relate to that with Closet Children


You’ve mentioned “creating an atmosphere” with the garments that you make. Could you describe the concept of your fashion design practice and the inspirations behind it?

I always tend to take inspiration from dark themes because I just find them more interesting. I grew up in a Christian home, and every time I went to church, it was always about “finding the light”. It was too “happy” for me and I never felt comfortable being the goth teenager. I would wonder about the darkness. The world is a dark place and I’m simply using fantasy to reflect reality in the same way fairytales were used as “lessons” for children about the realities of the adult world.


Closet Children is into fairytales, horror stories, kink and artificial bodies — dolls, virtual avatars, robots, etc. I have a fetish for the artificial body: taxidermy animals, latex-clad gimps, antique dolls and mannequins — what they represent as empty vessels on their own and what they mean to us. My understanding of object fetishism started with dolls. I loved seeing female characters on television carry around a doll companion (in a Western-style dress, no less) and I started believing that acquiring such dolls would somehow make my life as an only child better and happier, fulfilling my fantasies of having an inseparable companion that I could manipulate.


For me, fashion doesn’t always have to exist on the “human” body. As the dollmaker, I create artificial bodies and clothe them to tell a story, allowing the wearer as well as the viewer to be immersed in this world. As Robert Stoller puts it: fetishism is really just “a story masquerading as an object”.

Full interview can be found in 'Now & Again: Exquisite Corpse'

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