A coffin- Project 4: Poetics of Time


In the assignment Poetics of Time, we were tasked to explore on the theme of time and space, manipulating it as measured time, edited time, biological time or experienced time. The project was broad in terms of its allocated theme, having no limitations on the topics we can discuss, hence I decided to progress from my previous assignment on the Impossibilities of Being: Morgue. (https://oss.adm.ntu.edu.sg/bren0022/a-morgue-project-3-impossibilities-of-being/)

The reason so was that a narrative was already built up in the previous assignment revolving around time before or in the midst of mortality, and there were interesting elements of the manipulation of time involved, hence, I wanted to build on that narrative to create a stronger timeline. With this in mind, I tried to project the idea of time after mortality in this assignment, playing with edited time and experienced time.

Still from Assignment 3: Impossibilities of Being

In the brainstorming of the narrative, I was conflicted in the decision of how I wanted to portray the theme of mortality as I did not want to show a gruesome and morbid perspective, hence I wanted to show something more experimental and almost abstract. I collated a series of images I envisioned  seeing in the project and placed it onto a mood board for the submission of the installation proposal. There are a few pointers that I would definitely want to incorporate into the installation: the play of sound and light, the persona for judgement and the idea of a tiny space.


Because the intention was to progress from the previous assignment, I had to incorporate the theme of mortality within the installation. However, most artworks revolving around mortality tend to be visually jarring or brutal, almost too morbid to a certain extent. Hence, I decided to head towards the direction of an experimental portrayal of mortality, almost abstract like. This method would create an amorphous platform in scrutinising death, moving away from the conventional perspective of hell or heaven. In the theme of abstract, the portrayal would almost be a moving picture of geometric abstraction combined with surrealism, done so through lights, colours and props. Using these elements, it helps to create a space of introspection that manipulates time, which I will explain further in the final video writeup below.

Lighting, colour and props
James Turrel’s Wedgework Series 2016

An artist that I would reference t0 would be James Turrel in his exploration of light and space. Turrel’s works emphasises on the interaction between the power of a space and the light that permeates through it. He also explores greatly on the usage of light and gradient, creating a strong sense of space. In his “Wedgework Series”, the usage of black contrasted to a saturated hue of violet creates an almost visually perceivable breath of air, the air of interaction between the personification of the black and violet. The space created by the gradient also gives life to the space within the violet. This space instantly creates an idea of private introspection due to its lack of outside interference.

In my work, I wanted to play with lights as well, mainly a well assorted range of colours to create the intensity of existential introspection versus geometric abstraction. Hence, I decided to play with mounting board placed in front of a lamp shown below.

Lighting Setup

Because the mounting board itself has tiny cylindrical space within the plates, the light shone from the lamp is able to permeate the board and flash an intense burst of colour. The colour is intensified as the mounting board is a fixed and sharp rectangular shape, enhancing the idea of geometric abstraction when looked from one fixed vantage point. The mounting boards are held on by a string in place. There were three main colours used in the video, red, blue and yellow, coupled with the geometric shape, gives rise to an even stronger theme of stripping mortality down to the simplest form. Within the space, a bright light of blue is cast by the projector, creating a strong interaction between the red and yellow, trying to fight off the strong presence of blue hue.

“Plastic bag” Cellophane

Furthermore, props like a mirrored mask was made to enhance the theme of light as mirrors tend to reflect light. The mask also serves as a personification of the actor’s character as the entity that judges in the afterlife, since mirrors are the truest object to judge. “Mirrorface” is made by placing broken mirror shards onto a plastic mask, contouring the face with the mirror to create a reflection at any angle. This multiplicity of facades creates the disco light effect.

When the mirror is hit with the projector light, it instantly creates a mirrored pattern of tiny reflections all over the room, very much like disco ball.

Mirrored mask reflection
Mirrored Lights
Exposure shot of the Setup
Actor and direction

In the consideration of the direction of the video, I decided to task the acting to someone else other than myself as I wanted the intentions and portrayal to be in its truest form, and by this stage of brainstorming, my portrayal of mortality would be thwarted by the conceptualising. The character in the narrative is labelled as “Mirrorface”, an entity that judges in the aftermath of life, playing around in the space where every soul goes to after mortality. I decided to play the song “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” during the video shoot, making the actor interpret his own actions according to the song. The only instructions given were to move according to the speed of the song: with the fast paced chorus accompanied with the twirling of the umbrella and the slow paced hook accompanied with the confrontational focus of the mask.

“Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” was chosen due to its inherent meaning about a journey to an unknown fantasy land. In John Lennon’s explanation of the song’s meaning, he explained his love for Alice in Wonderland and paralleled this song to Alice’s journey. This song was also widely criticised for its relations to Lysergic acid diethylamide drugs, also known as LSD, which are the initials to the song’s title. It is said that the Beatles wrote this song while high on LSD, therefore creating the trippy and unorthodox rhythm and style of the song. This song related well to the theme of the video, being a trippy journey into the space after death, and being bombarded with colours and light.

The actor was then instructed on the intentions of the video, thereafter given different cues such as coming into focus of the camera or twirling the umbrella with greater intensity. Other than these, the entire video was up to the interpretation of the actor regarding an abstract form of a space after mortality, all shot with one take only and edited accordingly.

Actor Bryan Leow
Fast chorus- Focus of camera
Slow hook- twirling of umbrella
Editing and vantage point

After the usage of the song “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” in the production of the video, I decided to play the song in concurrent with the video to instil the same environment achieved during the video shoot in the video itself. Hence, I edited the video according to the song, playing with the rhythm and beats of the chords. I decided to play with the song in terms of building a sound narrative, letting the song play out normally until the middle, where I started to play with the imageries and building the tension from there.

Midpoint glitches shown in peaked soundwave

The midpoint where the imageries are altered with begins with the glitching of the music, which are actually natural glitches found in the sound file. I decided to play with the glitch by making sharp transitions of colours on the visuals, coinciding with the glitch sound to create a surrealistic imagery. I also applied the same technique in the strong beats further down in the song, visualising the chord beat. The switch of colours are done so through cutting segments of videos and changing the colour piece by piece.

Strong beats
Sharp transition from colours to black-and-white
Sharp transition from colours to black-and-white (2)

In the attempt of portraying tension in the video, I culminated the imageries with increasingly saturated scenes and increasingly desaturated scenes, creating visually jarring and calming conditions at the same time. Despite having multiple light sources, the lights are angled at one direction, casting over the shoulders with a theatrical tint.

Black and white for end of chorus

I also played with the song file as well, cutting out abrupt stops in the chorus to play with the build-up of the tension. The abrupt stop destroys the psychological tension the audience had build up.

Abrupt stop

I also layered the chorus to create a psychedelic effect of echoing voices.

Layering of chorus


This installation features the aftermath of the events that took place in the Impossibilities of Being: The Morgue. It speaks about the theme of mortality in an unconventional manner, without depicting any trace to the concept of Heaven or Hell. The installation comprises of a video playing within a coffin-like structure, depicting a video of a character dancing to the song “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”. It features a play of tempo and light, creating a space that has altered time. The play of colours and geometric shapes creates a sense of geometric abstraction within the video, stripping down the theme of death into its most basic elements.

Setup of Installation

The moment the audience enters the room, the video from the previous assignment would be played in the background to reiterate the relations of timeline between both projects, inciting a link that the audience would be able to relate to. They would then look at the next video through the obelisk-like coffin.

Since this work is a progression from the previous video assignment, I decided to follow the narrative and create an obelisk-like coffin where the video will be played through. The installation would be placed in the same room the video is shot, as if the video is a memory that the obelisk is trying to project through its peephole.

The obelisk-like coffin is an essential prop to the entire installation, hence it was difficult in producing it. There were a total of three attempts in creating the obelisk since I initially wanted to create a collapsible structure that could be brought around. The project started with dexterous calculation of length and breadth of the mounting boards, as well as arduous attempts of spray painting. The first attempt was using knobs and ridges to create a collapsible panel of boxes to form the coffin, which would have worked if not for the unstable knobs that flew out of place easily due to its material. The second attempt was using strings that tied the boxes together to create the layering of the boxes from a height. This failed because of the strong gravity pulling the boxes apart slowly, and also how the aesthetics of the coffin was ruined by the strings. The last attempt negated the collapsible element, where I built the coffin structure straightaway, but limiting myself to light materials that makes it portable.

Final Obelisk
Failed deconstructable version 1
Failed deconstructable version 2
Moving knobs


A timed research- Project 4

As we venture into the last assignment under 4D, we begin our investigation with time and space. This trait opens up the arena of art-making onto installations, kinetic sculptures and even performance art. We applied what we learnt from the previous lecture held by Lei and sieved out a few artworks that we enjoyed, paralleling its pros and cons.

Lintels- Gabriel Orozco, 2001

Gabriel Orozco is a Mexican artist who is fond of a wide genres of art, ranging from installations to photography to sculptures. He is a Conceptualist, juxtaposing the artistic traditions of his birth place to values he learnt from found object artists like Marcel Duchamp. In doing so, he extract everyday objects from their supposed environment and focuses on the fragile relationship it has to society. This can be seen in many works, such as Cinco Problemas (Five Problems) 1992, where he placed five potatoes on five different notebooks in a stationery store.

Cinco Problemas (Five Problems), Gabriel Orozco 1992

Orozco’s work may seem banal at first glance, but it always requires a second look or more. It harps on the idea that the audience would need to look at the work for an extended period of time, and gradually realising the intentions of the work. It is the simplicity of the aesthetics that creates a dramatic realisation of the themes, which can extend to ideas like mortality and the human existence. In Lintels 2001, Orozco hung up dried and torn lintels from the laundromat after the events of the September 11 terrorist attack. This work shows the tiniest strands of human hair and dust, hinting to the audience the idea of mortality in a subtle way. The audience question the origin of the torn fabric, whether the owners survived the attack or they are left because the owners have bought new clothes. The fragility of human lives is shown without the actual depiction of human blood, becoming a silent yet morbid approach. Furthermore, Orozco’s work dwell on the simplicity, telling the audience that introspection does not require a heavy aesthetics, even the simplest composition can produce the same effects.

Piece of lintel from Lintel, 2001
Lintels, Gabriel Orozco 2001
+ and –  Mona Hatoum, 1994- 2004 (Recreation)

Mona Hatoum is a Palestinian artist who explores greatly with video and installation art. She is known to explore on themes of war and immigration given her exile from her home country. She is a Conceptualist who dwells on the fine line between visual and meaning, often using the visual characteristics of found object to intensify the meaning of her works. In works like Daybed, Hatoum uses the jarring visuals of a cheese grater and juxtapose these traits onto a bed, and created the eerie sculpture of the Daybed. It is inviting in a sense where it resembles a bench or a bed, drawing in audience to want to lie on it. However, as audience comes closer, the grating holes are apparent and it repels the audience thinking of the impending dangers of touching it.

Daybed, Mona Hatoum 2008

In + and -, Hatoum used a toothed metal arm and rotated it on a circular bed of sand, with exception that one side of the radius is covered with teeth while the other has a clean line. In doing so, one semicircle will have thin lines drawn on it as the metal arm moved while the other side gets constantly covered as the clean metal arm wipes over it, shown in the video below.

This artworks talks about the idea of displacement, a strong commentary by Hatoum since she was exiled from her home. The perpetual loop of making marks and cleaning it up speaks heavily of the problem from the displacement of war. It speaks of how war destroys the life of many people even as the try to rebuild said life, destruction happens all over again.

Time as an element

In both works, time is an important feature as it affects the outcome of the understanding by the audience.

In Lintels, the aspect of time is in the literal present, where the audience will have the take time in the specific space to understand the meaning of the artwork. They may be shunned from the work initially due to its banality and therefore misinterpret the artwork. The time aspect stems from the linear timeline that begins once the audience walk into the installation. Hence, as time progresses, the understanding and introspection of the artwork would set in, be it right or wrong.

In + and -, the aspect of time is metaphorical, where the audience will have to reference the kinetic sculpture’s perpeptual loop of time to Hatoum’s commentary of displaced war refugees. The sculpture loops continuously, meaning an infinite loop where one cannot get out of, such as the disasters of war that refugees are stuck in. The time aspect is circular in nature, a harsh commentary of a problem by depicting it as never ending.

Furthermore in both artworks, the aspect of time could be similarly interpreted in the way where it is symbolic in nature. This refers to the events that the work serve to remind and pay homage to. In Lintels, it represents the event of September 11, whereas in + and -, it is the event of Hatoum being displaced from her home country.

All in all, time is a versatile measure that can be depicted in a variety of manner, be it in a linear form, edited form or circular form. It is a psychological understanding towards the changing environment, and if utilised correctly, could change the meaning of an artwork completely.



A clock time

In preparation of the next project revolving around time, we experimented with clock time as a technique of our work. Clock time, also known as objective or actual time, is time quantitively measured by regularly recurring events of intervals. This stems out into both linear and circular time, shown by my short video below.

My idea stems from the penrose stairs, which is an infinite illusion of a staircase. I got the inspiration from the definition of circular time, which was an infinite cycle of a repetitive scene. The narrative goes along with a VR perspective of someone walking down the staircase, but the staircase keeps repeating itself as you descend it.