A hammer- Project 2: The Subverted Object

“The utility of any artefact presumably depends on how well it performs a specific function. Apart from its utility, it may be emblematic of a way of life involving powerful emotional commitments.” -Project Brief


In the investigation of objects and subverting its meaning, I was assigned the hammer. The hammer was a convenient tool being a hand held tool, purchasing it was easy as well, priced at $6.95. In my research, I found out many details regarding its origin and historical value, mostly its value as an emblem for the Soviet Union, presumably due to its labour-esque origins. I characterised the hammer as a tool that fixes items by using nails, also a tool that can destroy due to its heavy and strong exterior. I chose to investigate the latter for a dynamic approach and narration.

The below sketches are some exercises assigned to explore on some ways we can expand our vision of the objects, such as personifying the hammer in different situations.

Personifying the Hammer
Removal, Replacement and Redefinition

We also had a take on the removal, replacement and redefinition techniques, where we (quite literally) removed, replaced and redefined parts of the hammer.

The sketches below are a few concepts I envisioned in investigating the traits of the hammer under Task 1:Denotation. I wanted to investigate the duality of the hammer as previously stated, how it is both a fixer and a destroyer. In the sketches below, I wanted to highlight the contrast between the hammer’s heaviness with paper’s lightness. Also, how the hammer is a sturdy object compared to the items it fixes.

Artist References

In the process of brainstorming for Task 2: Connotation, I wanted to approach it with a performance element due to the dynamism of the Hammer. The element of movement with the hammer is inborn and cannot be replaced. As stated, I wanted to investigate the idea of healing and the first artist I thought of with both elements would be Joseph Beuys. In Beuys’s work, he takes on a shamanistic role as he “performs” a healing ritual for the audience. In “How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare”, he uses objects like honey and felt, items symbolically linked to healing, and interacts with a dead hare. This process hints of resurrection and communication with a spiritual side of Beuys. The ludicrous attempt of talking to the dead hare is as ridiculous as a hammer being a healing tool and that references to the Dada artists we researched for under this project brief. In Beuys’s work, he attempts to talk to the dead hare and even teaches the hare, creating a ridiculous narrative that builds up a fantastical meaning for the objects (Felt and Honey).

How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare 1965

After consultation, I decided to eliminate the mysticism side that is inherent in Beuys’s work as there is a gap in the conceptualisation between the object and its subverted meaning. I decided to explore on the idea of the hammer being an actual healing tool by enhancing its medical effects, such as it being a plaster cast. This subverts the hammers meaning as the hammer is inherently a tool to fix wooden or inanimate objects, and not human beings. The subversion is the change of the subject matter that it interacts with. Under this, I decided to explore on Damien Hirst’s Pharmacy, an installation work that features a clinical pharmacy that takes on the theme of mortality, healing and consumerism (a little bit on mysticism).

Pharmacy 1992

Referencing to Hirst’s works, I wanted to recreate the clinical environment to enhance the meaning of my object, in his case- medicines. In Hirst’s Pharmacy, he investigates mortality as the flies fly into the bug zapper and dies, in an apparent healing environment (pharmacy). He uses the conical flask filled with coloured water to represent mystical elements, redirected by the almighty entity (bug zapper), looking over the pharmacy of healing powers. There is an overall hint of sound element due to the visual implications that come with a bug zapper, a characteristic I want to achieve in my work with the hammer.

Clinic Sketch
Clinic Sketch


Task 1: Denotation

In Task 1, I wanted to feature the visual symbolism of the hammer. This meant that I wanted to bring out the physical qualities inherent with the hammer through the pictorial narration, e.g. weight, sturdiness, metallic exterior. For example in shot 1, I contrasted the heaviness associated with the hammer by placing it in a wide shot of flying paper. As you look down the series, the photographs become less apparent in movements, a trait apparent in a moving hammer (action to static).

Shot 1: Heavy-Light

In shot 2, I wanted to represent the power of a moving hammer compared to a still subject, hence I chose this image. The shot also links up to Task 2: Connotation through a unspoken narrative of the model’s legs being healed by the hammer.

Shot 2: Action-Static

In shot 3, I wanted to play with the audience’s visual symbolism of the hammer. In common understanding, we all know that a hammer is a relatively heavy object to hold. I played with this concept by taking a shot of the hammer “floating” with balloons. This references to Magritte’s work in Treachery of Images where the object’s visual quality hints of its supposed presence, how a curved wooden object in the shape of a pipe is or isn’t a pipe, as represented in Magritte’s work. In my work, I wanted the audience to know the hammer’s quality just by looking at it and understanding that paradox of quality, heaviness versus light-weight. However, by tilting the photograph in different orientation, the quality and focus changes. The first photograph highlights the lightness of the balloon as “floating” is its inherent background, then the audience’s visual focus moves to the hammer, and then questions why the hammer is floating. In the second shot, the hammer and balloons are facing down, this environment belongs to the hammer as the objects are pulled down by gravity, hinting of weight. The visual focus stands with the hammer due to its stronger visual weight.

Shot 3: Heaviness-Light-weight
Change of orientation


Task 2: Connotation

In task 2: Connotation, I wanted to create a narrative of healing, as referenced in Beuy’s work. In shot 1, I chose to represent a motion of the model jumping of the chair, playing to the duality of sturdiness versus vulnerability; the idea of the chair breaking off easily yet it is strong enough to hold a human’s weight. The hammer in this case is used to fixed the broken chair by its wooden handle, a function that it is not supposed to do. This photograph references a plot in comparison to the second shot.

Shot 1: Broken Chair

In the second shot, the hammer is once again used to heal, but this time it is placed on a human being. The narrative becomes more ludicrous as the hammer is not conventionally used to fix a broken bone like a plaster cast. There is an implied paradox as pointed out by Lei during critique as I wanted to reference to Magritte’s style of satire on an object’s identity. The paradox exists between the idea of a hammer healing wood and the hammer being a nursing tool, both of which heals. As pointed out by some of my classmates during critique, the idea of subversion in this theme of woodwork and nursing is questionable. However, the initial plan was to create a silent paradox that is apparent in Magritte’s works that audience will be led to believe because of how similar yet contrasting its functions are. For example in Magritte’s Human Condition, the similar square features of the object allows the audience to question if the subject matter is a window or a canvas, therefore questioning its intentions. In my work, I wanted to use the “healing” tool of inanimate objects (hammer) and juxtapose it into a clinical environment that doesn’t make functional sense.

Shot 2: Healing with a Hammer
The Human Condition 1933

In the last photograph, I wanted to achieve a unity to the series of the healing hammer, therefore I chose a wide shot of the patient-model in the waiting area of the clinic. The wide shot provides a visual culmination to the plot of the healing hammer, the conclusion of the patient being healed. In this photograph, there is an interaction between the patient and the outside world. The lady in camouflaged outfit stares at the patient intently as she tries to stand up. The idea of ridiculousness stands apparent as the woman in camouflage is not exposed to the idea of a healing hammer, and yet this fantastical function only exists within the realms of the patient-model.

Shot 3: Waiting Area


Task 3: Image and Text
Task 3: Text and Image

In my final task, I chose the shot 2 of Task 2 to represent the idea of the healing hammer. This task is inherently an extraction of the reality within the photograph into real life as a pop up sale. The text I chose was the price tag of the supposed healing hammers, sold in the context of plaster cast which are sold by its weight. In the final work, I presented the text in the pairings of red-white and yellow-grey to play with the composition of the photograph. With the price tag of the healing hammer placed on the photograph, there is an assurance in the reality of the photograph, whereby the audience can actually purchase the hammer if they want to, questioning the realism or surrealism of the context. ($6.95 was the actual price of the hammer)


Test Shots
Hammer hitting a wooden plank
Wide shot of Patient in Clinic
Movement of Patient


Patient staring at screen implies time within composition
Patient sitting on a red sofa
Patient waiting to be called

Juxtaposing a heavy hammer to a doctor’s table
Play on voyeurism
Patient interacting with an unknown character
Close up shot of hammer and legs. *would have chosen this shot if not for too many close ups in these series


Learning Point

In this project, I have found difficulty in achieving a balance between an adaptable function and a subverted function as the line of difference is really thin. There are however, many reference artists who provided good pointers to note, such as Duchamp and Magritte’s work.


I also encountered problems in achieving a unity in the narrative since this project only allowed three photographs per series, thus choosing the right photograph was also an important decision that we cannot underestimate.

A narrative: Project 1: Picture Story- Curating Self

To tell a story is to convey a narrative, making the audience see your story.

In this assignment, i was intrigued with the idea of the different roles i could pick up as an artist: the photographer, the narrator and also the character. I am the photographer when i designate my vantage point and envision how want my shots to be, effectively telling my story. I am the narrator when i formulate the ideas of the photographs, as well as curating the series into a effective plot. I am the character when i play out a persona to convey the story, the craftsman of the constructed reality.



In task 1, we were assigned to introduce ourselves using only three photographs, at which when placed together, leads audience into a constructed reality. I was doubtful of the task initially, not because of the objective, but the ideation. As a coming-to-age adult, expression of self identity is a common issue for most people, where most of the population never finding out who they truly are as real, introspecting human beings.

I believe that there is never a true unchangeable form of myself as an interactive human being. I can be bubbly with the company of people that I enjoy, but also apathetic when i need time to consolidate the introvert within myself. I can be hot-headed and grouchy when I have had a bad day, but also patient enough on certain days that you can hit me with a bus and I wouldn’t even flinch emotionally. This was an emotionally confusing task to me, as I struggled to introduce such a complicated subject using only three photographs.

In the end, I decided to sum up three basic versions of myself to introduce, using the three specified photographs- who I am as an entity of the universe, who I am as an individual of society and who I believe I am as a person.

I chose the same vantage point for all three photographs- a close up shot of my body squeezed into a  tight space, as if the audience voyeurs into my personal space. However, instead of running away, I decide to confront the camera and “perform” for it as different personas. I also made use of only one light source shining directly on me, giving it a heavy vignette and play of chiaroscuro, creating a  theatrically intense backdrop. The common white uniform and vantage point creates a unity to the photographs, as if it is viewed by an audience sitting at one fixed position.
Task 1: Universe

This is who I am as seen by the Universe. As a child growing up, I have always pondered the necessity of a single human in the broad works of the Universe. It is the aged old question philosophers ask regarding the existential reason of human beings, how a single rock has a stronger impact on the Universe since it has been in existence since the Big Bang. In the long lifespan of the Universe itself, human lives’ are  a measly nano second in its ratio. Hence, I decided to portray myself as a meat robot, wearing an aluminium foil over my head as a symbolism of machinery and the idea of homogeneous introspection.

I am seen trying to balance while sitting down, a literal portrayal of me trying to hold my place in the world. The fast movement of me rocking my crouched body creates a blurred photograph, producing a visually dynamic photograph with a tensed narrative of why.

Task 1: Barcodes

This is who I am in the eyes of the society. In a fast paced country like Singapore, I am nothing but a bar code unless I make a name for myself. As most of the population, as we turn 16 or get our citizenship, we will receive our NRIC number, and on that card is a stretch of black and white lines we are categorized to. As difficult as it sounds, that is what we are in the works of society, a convenient stretch of numbers and codes we will use throughout our lives- getting the groceries with our debit cards, visiting the doctors with our medical cards, etc.

In this photo, I backed up into the corner as I stare straight into the camera, inviting the audience to a conversation. If the audience move their visual perspective down to the white focus, they will see that I have drawn  a  series of bar codes on my arms, signifying that the bar code is tattooed into my live. I chose to cut off my legs in the photograph as the proximity towards me gives off the idea of a private conversation, as though the audience is just a whisper away.

Task 1: The real identity

This is who I am as seen by myself, an amorphous identity. I chose to portray myself with a cloth covering my head,  as mentioned above, I do not believe anyone has a  true self to their identity. I covered my head with a cloth to provide a narrative, with only an opening for my mouth to be seen breathing. The opening creates a tension that tells the audience that I am indeed communicating with them, instead of covering my head completely that instigates an idea of suffocation, which I am not. Compared to the other two photographs, I am in a slightly more comfortable position. The direct light source visually parallels to a police confession, as if I am being confronted by the audience to tell them about myself.


In task 2, we were tasked to explore on a significant object, and how we interact with the object. In choosing a significant object, reading the Sherry Turkes “The Things That Matter” helped to understood the idea of object fetishism, how people place symbolic value in different object, to an extent of religious/ supernatural power. I have always loved coffee, and it has been a part of my life since I was around 7. Coffee is also an object of symbolic spiritualism, often a controversial subject in many religions. We were tasked to try out various vantage points, at which I chose the above three for a stronger narrative.


Andy Warhol eating a Whopper

In this task, I chose to reference my work to Andy Warhol with his “performance” of eating a whopper for Burger King. It was a work that was beyond his time. The link provided (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ejr9KBQzQPM) is a low resolution video of Andy Warhol eating a burger. Warhol explored on the idea of Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR) videos way before the Internet was even a thing, exploring on the idea of sound and touch in the process of eating as a performance art. In his explorative nature, I decided to expand the ways I can enjoy a cup of coffee.



In this task, I decided to use only one cup of coffee for the task to integrate the significance of the object. This provides a time based element to the work. In the above photograph, I chose to leave the cold coffee in the warm environment, creating an opportunity for the coffee to interact with the air as it condenses. The time element becomes significant as it progresses through the series.

In the brainstorming of the idea of consuming, I decided to spit out my coffee in the air. This process allows me to smell, taste, feel, see and hear the coffee, as compared to the conventional way of drinking the coffee. I smell the coffee as it flies out into the air, or as it falls onto my shirt and hair. I taste the coffee as I swirl it within my mouth. I feel the coffee as it drops onto my body and hair, or the cold coffee dripping down the white shirt. I see the coffee fly into the air and dripping down my head. I hear the coffee as it spits out into vapor. The unconventional way of consuming the coffee transcends the object’s identity into something more spiritually significant.

As mentioned before, the time element is important in Task 2 as it is a series of events that takes place within a designated timeline. I decided to zoom out of the vantage point from the photographs, further and further to provide a cinematic vibe, as if the audience is looking at a short film, much like Andy Warhol’s whopper. I also played with the shutter speed to enhance the dynamics of the spitting of the coffee. In the exploration of both Task 2 and 3, I referenced to Jeff Wall for cinematic shots that include a sufficient usage of props and movements.

Mimic 1982- Jeff Wall

In this particular work, Jeff Wall used the idea of movement to create a stronger narrative. He took a photograph of three individuals interacting in their own ways. The Asian man walking with his hands in his pockets, staring at the Caucasian man through the corner of his eyes, while the Caucasian man gestures at the Asian man with ill-intended finger gestures. During this interaction, the woman is seen at the back holding the hands of the Caucasian man, seemingly apathetic of the situation. The inclusion of the actions enhances the tension and dynamics of the narrative, instead of having a character that just sits around and not do anything.


In this task, we are suppose to capture a sense of an environment and how we interact with the place. In this task, I take on different personas to tell the narrative.

I chose West Coast Park because it was an environment where my consciousness of life and death as a child awoke, and it is a significant place of my childhood. In my first few times going to West Coast, it was a seemingly enjoyable place as it was joyful to explore such a vibrant place with so many amenities. However, as human beings we respond to the environment accordingly and perspectives change. I experienced the idea of death as I  dug up a dead bird in the sand, as well as the time I nearly drowned since not knowing how to swim. Hence, I created the above narrative using the chosen photographs to showcase the significance of the environment.
Down the Rabbit Hole

As mentioned, the consciousness of death as a kid awoke in me because of two events, finding a dead bird and nearly drowning. I chose to reformat the identity of a bird as a rabbit as I found that it had a stronger persona and caricature-like character. Hence, I sewed a pair of ears to a grey hoodie to personify a rabbit. Rabbits are also classically fantastical creatures that transcend dimensions and fantasies, such as the rabbit in Alice in Wonderland. They represent the idea of life forms turning to death, falling down a black hole. I chose a frontal vantage point to enhance the dark and emptiness of the slide, foreshortening my body to provide the idea of vulnerability. I found the design of the ropes and high element visually stunning, creating an idea of danger as well.


Throughout this narrative, I picked up different personas to tell the story, this one being Death. I used semiotics to enhance the underlying details. In the Beatles’s album Abbey Road, denim was representative of the undertaker, hence I am seen holding a denim piece, sitting in front of a white bouquet- both symbolic to the idea of death. I chose a wide shot as I tried to get a shot of me throwing my shoe into the air, symbolic of how one would take off their shoes before entering the ocean.

Rubber Ducky

In my attempts of using props to deliver a message, I chose rubber ducks that are painted white to represent my childhood. In capturing this photograph, I waited for the rubber ducks to be overturned by the waves to capture a more dynamic shot. The sole focus of the duck against a receding wave provides a cinematic shot, with a question of an ongoing narrative.


Last but not least, I zoomed out of the overturned rubber duck to a wide full body shot of me donned in white. The wide shot allows the vast ocean to be seen, compared to the sandy environment in the “Death”. The white uniform represents the idea of Life. I wave to the camera as I hold a stack of rubber ducks painted white. This being the last photograph of the series, the intentional action of waving represents the uncertain perspective I have of the ocean. It is up to the audience to interpret it as a “Hello”, representative of my acceptance of the water, while “Bye” meaning the distance I would place myself against the ocean.

Test shots that played with different vantage points and movements: