Residency #13 – Ernest Goh – November 2018


Residency #13 – Ernest Goh – November 2018

Artist’s Statement

In physics, plasticity describes the deformation of a material by an applied force. Since its first appearance in 1907, synthetic plastic has forced a permanent change in human cultures and commerce globally.
We are all addicted to plastic and the great convenience it has brought us but along with that, plastic has also brought about catastrophic environmental pollution and potentially harmful effects on human health.



Exactly Foundation – Residency #13 – Plasticity by Ernest Goh November 2018, Singapore

NOTE:  No part of ANY text and material related to Plasticity can be used, copied, published or quoted without written permission from the author(s).

Artist Statement  

16thFebruary 2019



Did you have a good Chinese New Year? I assume you must have been very busy embracing the pomelos, biscuits and cakes. It’s a profitable time but it must also have consumed so much of you.

Since new beginnings require just that…new beginnings, I would like to be honest with you. Your obsessive behaviour is making our relationship toxic.  When I shop for groceries, not only do I see you clinging to every fruit and vegetable, you have even wrapped yourself around almost every single item on the shelf.

On the beach, I see you floating carelessly in the water and then wash up onto the shore in billions of tiny bits. Why do you never leave? You remain in the ocean for so long that marine animals suck you in, thinking you’re food! That’s the last straw for me!

Imagine how I feel when you invade the food chain and end up in my fish curry? Are you trying to make me sick – or kill me?

My friends and family love you so much that they think they can’t do without you. I’m not being jealous but can you give others a chance too? Glass, for example, is just as talented. She may be fragile but she doesn’t disintegrate and give us toxins. There’s Bamboo too. She’s tall and gangly but really very strong. Why not let them venture into people’s lives in a bigger way? You don’t have to be so possessive and be everywhere. Spreading yourself too thin will just lead you to breakdown into tiny pieces again. And guess who will have to clean up the mess bit by bit?

Can I give you some advice? Try to recharge and recycle more often and while you are at it reduce yourself. Don’t ruin your life by being cheap and useless. Be a reusable member of society and quit being self-servingly single-use. Always remember to offer yourself for a refill; otherwise you will end up buried in a landfill.

I want you to know that you’ve brought so much joy to my life. You were my toys in childhood, my stationary in school, my sugary pleasure in a bottle and at one time, almost my everything.

You made my world a better place. Your ability to make things light and flexible and not compromise on strength and clarity, gave me conveniences I could only dream of.

So it really pains me to write this, but our relationship now is so much garbage and is suffocatingmy beloved home. We should see less of each other and find some room for more sustainable alternatives. I have to go now. I have to empty the trash.

Yours truly,


Exactly Foundation – Residency #13 – Plasticity by Ernest Goh November 2018, Singapore

NOTE:  No part of ANY text and material related to Plasticity can be used, copied, published or quoted without written permission from the author(s).

Word from the ‘Wart[1]16thFebruary 2019

What is “green”?  There’s the color green, which is as soothing as blue and opposite of fiery red.

Trees, foliage are mostly green.  I like this subtitle – “Some Kind of Green” in Yahoo News’ Five Singapore statistics that stunned in 2018: “The Botanic Gardens are a UNESCO World Heritage site and almost half the city is under green cover, but we are undeniably wasteful. The 820 million plastic supermarket bags that Singapore uses each year could fill Gardens by the Bay 126 times over. Only about 2 per cent of those bags are recycled.”[2]

We can eat green: organic, vegan although I am not fond of eating only uncooked, cold food and I can only take so much of shrivelled, air-dried vegetables and portobello mushrooms pretending to be hamburger buns.

This looks positive: “The Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources (MEWR) has designated 2019 as the Year Towards Zero Waste”.[3]  The statistic quoted: “Of the 1.6 million tonnes of domestic waste disposed in 2017, one third consisted of packaging waste (includes plastics)”.  Zero is good, right?  To me, zero has an artificial “feel good” ring to it. If whatever you consume is burnt up/recycled 100%, net net it’s zero.

So, the official posture gives the impression that our problem in Singapore is mostly about not recycling enough.  In fact, some argue that we don’t have a plastic waste problem, it’s only “11 per cent of the total waste generated in Singapore in 2017”.[4]  What about the demand side, are we overconsuming plastic material? We would not have to recycle so much if we did not use so much in the first place (a stunning 2017 stat: 7.7 million tonnes of waste were produced in Singapore, a seven-fold increase from 40 years ago).[5] The Zero Waste press release says:  “Of the 1.6 million tonnes of domestic waste disposed in 2017, one-third consisted of packaging waste (includes plastics)”.  So we are advised to “… avoid single-use disposables where possible. Bring your own reusable bags, containers and utensils. Choose products with less/green packaging”.  That “green” word again.  Green also means dissolving miraculously back into nature without harming it or any living thing.

But wait, there’s another color: blue. “Launch of the Singapore Blue Plan 2018!”, which is an impressive 230-page document on what to do about protecting marine life.[6]  At around the same time, a motion to charge for plastic bags was rejected in Parliament.[7] A side thought on fighting diabetes: drink more water to cut back on sweet drinks.  Connected topics?

Will we Singaporeans only get excited when microplastics show up inside our food? Ernest Goh’s Plasticity project talks about what we don’t see: the microplastic bits that marine life mistakes for food. Makes one think carefully about eating fish as a healthier alternative to meat.  It is not conclusive that consuming fish meat carrying microplastics is directly harmful to humans, causing malfunction of our organs.  Do we need such hard evidence before we buck up and do something about how much plastic material we are using and throwing away?  It’s showing up: “Toxic bacteria found on small pieces of plastic trash from S’pore beaches”.[8]

The tough question is how are we to behave? How do we stop using so much plastic? Is it enough, just shouting to get people to do the right thing?  Should we be made tostop using so much plastic?

My favorite plastic gripe is the sale of bottled water (nearly 30% of discarded plastic items)[9].  I think we should stop selling them.  But, in Singapore, it is not as easy as carrying water from home in your own bottle. It is about finding where in Singapore to refill them.  And on that, we are sorely behind other countries.  Not only are drinking water dispensers hard to find around Singapore, restaurants and pubs will not refill your water bottle if you just want walk in and ask.  Nearly all beverage vendors in hawker centers/food courts charge 30cents for a cup of boiled water. For many, it’s a WTF moment.  Nowhere else except in Singapore, do I cringe at possibly getting scolded for asking for water from a food or beverage vendor.  Would it be easy for the government to give a tax break to F&B businesses to allow them to give out free water?  If we can ban chewing gum in one fell swoop, we can ban selling plastic bottled water, no?

What can we safely eat?  That portobello mushroom bun doesn’t look so comical after all.

[1] ‘Wart is short for Stalwart, which Exactly Foundation’s first resident Kevin Lee suggested that for future residences, I should pen a statement as “Exactly Foundation Stalwart”. Thought “Stalwart” carried too much adult responsibility … ‘Wart will do.

[2] “Five Singapore statistics that stunned in 2018”.  Yahoo News Singapore 27thDecember 2018.


[4] Aw Boon Jun. “Zero plastic bags or zero waste? In defence of Singapore’s rejection of a plastic bag ban”.

[5] Source: Ministry of Environment and Water Resources.


[7] Robin Hicks. “Singapore environment ministry pushes back against MP’s proposal to cut single-use plastic and tax bags”.


[9] 470 million bottles out of 1.76 billion discarded plastic items (Singapore Environment Council study 2018).