Thursday, July 9, 2009

Mark: A Biography (Part Two)

The origins of Singapore: A Biography go back to 2005. At that time, having left ARI and having no major career plans - other than to drop out again and head with my wife to Shanghai (yes, another port-city) to study Chinese and perhaps try writing a novel - I was approached to work as Content Director for a company called GSM Design and Media. GSM had been hired by the National Museum of Singapore to open its now award-winning Living and Singapore History Galleries and my work for them involved conceptualizing the new Singapore History Gallery as well as co-writing its ‘Companion’ audio guide and many of its other audio-visual exhibits. In the process, I collaborated closely with the Museum’s curatorial team and with several local Singaporean and Malaysia artists.

By the end of this project, I had definitely got the exhibition design 'bug', so I went on to co-found Intuitive Studios, a Singapore-based exhibition design firm. In Singapore, I have also worked as a consultant for another local company, Intuitive Films. Thankfully, despite the downturn, both companies are still alive and getting some interesting new projects.

I think it's fair to say that nowadays I have an equal passion for academic scholarship, other writing, as well as film and exhibition design, and for projects that try to successfully combine them all. Next year, the big project is to develop (in collaboration with Dany Leong of Intuitive Films) a feature length film set in Singapore, Hong Kong and China, the original script of which was the recipient of a Singapore Film Commission Script Development Grant back in 2006. Currently, I am also continuing to work as a consultant for Intuitive Studios on various exhibition projects in Singapore.

My all consuming project right at this moment is a book entitled Dreams of Other Empires, another big work of history which should hopefully hit the stores some time next year – after which, it might be necessary to drop out again (except that this time my wife and I have two small children to take along with us).

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Mark: A Biography (Part One)

Since we have just written Singapore: A Biography, Yu-Mei says we should give ourselves the same treatment. (I blame her for all that follows….)

So far, my professional career has been divided between stints in academia and time away from the Ivory Tower earning a living as a freelance writer, exhibition designer, screenwriter and occasional (short) documentary filmmaker – and I think that each experience, in its own way, has had a valuable influence on the others.

After receiving a B.A. in Modern History with First Class Honours from Oxford University, I dropped out for a while and moved to London. Here, I tried writing some (generally failed) plays and screenplays, while hanging around the fringe scene and earning my crust teaching at a remedial school for children with special needs. [Don’t ask how I got that job, being totally unqualified in special needs education - this is a story in itself].

However, being unable to afford to travel the wider world, which remains one of my great passions, eventually got to me, so I returned to academia in 1997. Five long years later, I completed a PhD in Imperial and Asian history at the University of Cambridge on a subject that had ensured maximum air-miles: a study of the interlinked histories of Indian Ocean port-cities. Most importantly, it was during my research trip for this PhD that in Singapore I met my future wife. In 2002, we both moved back to her home town, where I took a job as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Asia Research Institute (ARI), National University of Singapore. Currently, I live and work in Hong Kong, having been appointed Research Assistant Professor in History at the University of Hong Kong in early 2009.

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