Conquering Chaos: Making Sense in a Modern Life

By nor
Still from I Love You More Than Words Can Say, dir. Liana Yang. Text overlay on image says: “Are you really in control?

“Bread-making demands order.

Order only exists if there is chaos.

Chaos is essential for success.”

I Love You More Than Words Can Say by Liana Yang


In a couple of years, the Covid-19 pandemic ushering us into the 2020s will become less of a memory, but more of a fever dream. The stringent measures taken to combat the spread of the virus launched us directly into both collective and individual battles with chaos. In Grace Chia’s essay, Conquering Yeast from Making Kin: Ecofeminist Essays from Singapore, she shared about how the pandemic changed her relationship with bread. Stuck at home where the “boundaries between inside and outside are no longer clear”, breadmaking revealed itself to Grace through “the inane topics that pop up unwarranted” on her phone searches. This led to her great breadmaking experiment and the result of her first attempt, while “somewhat accidental” was also “glorious”. She described bread-making as an “unpredictable animal”.“From nothing, something is made”. Something must always be made.

In a parallel tradition, Liana Yang’s I Love You More Than Words Can Say uses bread-making as a metaphor on the human need for order to arise from the chaos of life and the Universe. Similarly, variations of this theme are explored in Visions From My Scalp by Mark Chua and Lam Li Shuen and Elizabeth Xu’s Conversations With A Koel Bird.

I Love You More Than Words Can Say by Liana Yang

Still from I Love You More Than Words Can Say, dir. Liana Yang

For close to 14 minutes, Liana Yang takes us through what is initially presented as a bread-making instructional video. The title of the film hints at it being a love letter. Low-res found footage and animated gifs sourced from the internet are juxtaposed against a constant white and blue of clouds in the sky. This imposition draws a clear boundary between nature and the order within domestic spaces. This film has no dialogue. The art of making bread is broken down to a science. Instructions are flashed through text with an accompanying soundtrack of rhythmic space-age synthesizers.

Still from I Love You More Than Words Can Say, dir. Liana Yang. Text overlay reads “Chaos is essential for success”

“What does it mean to bloom?”—the film asks at one point. The instructions relate to bread-making and beyond. They become existential questions about the Universe. They become affirmations. They become meditations on love. Bread-making is love. Bread-making is an extension of your soul. Bread-making is dependent on your labour. Bread-making can also be a distraction. “How far would you go in your trust of the Universe and its laws?”


Visions from My Scalp by Mark Chua, Lam Li Shuen

Still from Visions from My Scalp by Mark Chua, Lam Li Shuen

If  I Love You More Than Words Can Say was an attempt to make sense of life’s chaos through order and instruction, Visions from My Scalp embraces and meditates with the chaos as a violent technicolour daydream. When was the last time you got a closer look at your scalp? For those who have had encounters with images of their scalp on a micro level, it is through scalp health analyses. Scalp health can be an indicator of how our bodies are adjusting to our immediate environment—excess sebum production due to weather, obesity or stress.

Still from Visions from My Scalp, dir. Mark Chua, Lam Li Shuen

Here, the filmmakers generate what seem like extreme close-ups of the scalp by gluing hair onto 16mm and Super 8 film leaders. Chance experimentation with hair, modified with ink, results in a highly abstracted sequence, itchy and aggravating, like an overextended film burn one is forced to seek meaning from. Anxiety-inducing as it is, the film asks you to take a closer look at the chaos that is also part of you. Blurry vision and all, the audience eventually gets used to the disorientation and recognises it as rhythm and rest.

The film utilises two opposing voices reiterating what the other has said. The voice panned to the left is recognisably more masculine, while the right more feminine. The voiceover is hardly discernible save for “I need no friend” and “No need to talk”.


Conversations With A Koel Bird by Elizabeth Xu

Still from Conversations With A Koel Bird, dir. Elizabeth Xu

Filmmaker Elizabeth Xu’s phone call with their brother William becomes background dialogue to informative hand drawn animations about habitat, climate and the environment, interspersed with footage of Koel birds and occasional soundbites from an urban landscape. Much like Liana’s love letter to bread-making, Elizabeth breaks down the extreme nature of Singapore’s hot or rainy weather to a science of clouds and the natural water cycle. They both endearingly attempt to sound out the word “cumulonimbus”. Away from Singapore, the filmmaker waxes poetic about the Koel’s call with their brother.

Still from Conversations With A Koel Bird, dir. Elizabeth Xu

From 2016 to 2020, NParks received an annual average of 640 complaints about the Koel (Min 2021). Protected under the Wild Animals and Birds act, the native Asian Koel bird and its uncanny “uwu” call is a defining feature of Singaporean mornings and evenings. Its call has been described to “divide” residents. The Koelian chaos does not stop there. While the Asian koel is heard more often than seen, it has a notorious parasitic reputation. In Singapore, the Asian koel lays its eggs in the nests of house crows. This inadvertently results in the population control of both species when government agencies such as NParks, National Environment Agency or the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority intervene to discourage Asian koels from roosting in residential areas (NParks, n.d.).

Still from Conversations With A Koel Bird, dir. Elizabeth Xu. Text reads: “Every morning at 5am, the Koel bird starts to call”

Despite its loud morning calls when people are trying to sleep, the filmmaker’s brother, William, expresses gratitude for the Koel song. “It makes me sleep better”. The film ends with William jesting about wanting to mute his own voice in the video.

“Just hearing my voice is cringe.”

These films produced in 2022 and 2023 are subconsciously emblematic of a post-pandemic urgency for control where there is none. While this battle for order from chaos was not birthed specifically from the pandemic, the human need for control has become hyper significant. Modern life supposedly promises order and distance from the matters we may have no control over but any hope of distancing ourselves from (our) true nature remains an illusion. Man-made will never conquer the chaos of nature until, as demonstrated in these three films, we either make peace with the chaos, stay anxious or learn to live and yearn for it.


  1. Min, Chew H. 2021. “Heard this bird? Koels’ piercing call divides residents.” CNA.
  2. n.d. “Advisory on Asian Koels.” ADVISORYONASIAN KOELS – Singapore. Accessed July 19, 2023.

About the Writer

nor’s artistic practice hopes to situate belonging and community within speculative timelines. Their works span the disciplines of photography, film, video, performance, text and spoken word poetry to engage with ideas of belonging and identity through frameworks of gender performance, ethnographic portraits and transnational histories. If you would like to see more of their work, head over to

The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of the Asian Film Archive.

About the Writer