Scott McQuire

The Media City: Media, Architecture and Urban Space

Performing Public Space

Here I will be writing down some of my notes and observations I made while reading this chapter. I felt that whatever written resonated quite a bit with my experiences as a digital consumer and user, especially in today’s age. Written in 2008, it is interesting to see that some of the discussions are still relevant, and how some of their speculations about the future (i.e. now) came true.

The definition of a public domain is described as radically changing. Right now, I think that it has changed, and is still changing – it does not have clear boundaries. With digital media becoming ever more pervasive, the public domain no longer needs to be bound to any physical space, and it exists everywhere.

In the 1980s television screens morphed from a domestic, small-scale appliance, to a large-scale screen. Once in the homes of the people, it has moved also into the cityscape, becoming “one of the most visible and influential tendencies of contemporary urbanism“.

The development of the global network has eroded geographical boundaries. It has also diminished a clear distinction between private and public space.

“… media space subsumed more and more of the roles once reserved for public space”.

Public venues and piazzas, congregation spaces have been overshadowed by the screen. Electronic displays are everywhere. Not just big screens on the streets or on buildings, think something closer to yourself: the one in your hand – yes, your phones! The third space, a.k.a. the internet, while digital and has no physical manifestation, is in itself a public space, no? It is accessible by everyone and it is a place where people, strangers or not, interact with each other. This came as a realisation to me – it has been sitting in the back of my mind.

With public screens all over the streets and mobile media devices in everyone’s hands, with these plastered all over our existence, we have transformed into consuming media 24/7. How will this pervasiveness alter the dynamics of the public space?

The reading goes on to describe how this has significantly changed human interaction – one that becomes very dependent on media, screens and the internet. Simmel wrote that “the characteristic experience of the modern city is living among strangers who remain strangers“. In the modern city, a common social condition is mutual anonymity, where there is civil indifference, a getting by with your own business kind of living.

This I found exceptionally true in our present time. Everyone is interconnected through the network, yes, but at the same time everyone is disconnected. Always on our devices, we are staying connected with people over the third space, but int he first space? We now rarely interact with people on the streets – we get on with our own lives.

In an Asian context, or at least in my personal experience, especially, I feel that there is this culture of not interacting with strangers, for the potential dangers that it may bring. “… expression was relegated to the private sphere of family life. Silence and uniform behaviour emerged as defensive mechanisms for appearing in public. The result was a public culture privileging looking over talking, detachment over engagement.

While there are significant differences between the analyses of public space proposed by Sennett, Berman and Benjamin, all three writers share a sense of the importance of a public culture in which people interact, not as voyeurs, consumers or commodities, but as active agents able to understand, and thereby alter, their own social situationIn their analyses the street constitutes a vital theatre for the formation of a specifically modern consciousness.

Is there a need to systemise the street’s benefits and pacify its dangers? Will we succeed in taming the street?

The great towns have become too dense for the security of their inhabitants and yet they are not sufficiently dense to meet the new need of ‘modern business’

In a world where speed is integral and efficiency is valued over most things, what have we forfeited in our attempt to achieve more and more?

Antoine Geiger – SUR-FAKE https://www.antoinegeiger.com/sur-fake

More on the media space becoming also a public space accessible for everyone, Virilio summed it up: “The screen abruptly became the city square“.

Alternative means for virtual participation in a collective social life is presented by our devices. Social life is increasingly becoming a retreat to the private, rather than the public. It is a paradox at its best.

Other than that, the line between private and public also blurs in the sense that the more we are engaged in the digital public space, even if within the confines of our own home, there is still the emergence of a ‘surveillance society‘. As the private space merges with the public space, there is still a need for privacy, for security. Questions on trust are raised – “social interaction becomes increasingly dependent upon the collection and checking of large volumes of information about individuals.” At the same time, however, “surveillance sometimes becomes a mirror for experimental constructions of the self.

It was interesting – I have always thought that surveillance had a slightly more negative connotation, but I never thought that it could be a medium for self-reflection. When we are alone, we release our true selves. When we are being watched, we tend to put on a mask, we speak differently, act differently, move differently. When we don’t know that we are being watched, our true selves show up and that’s when we can watch ourselves objectively and be critical of ourselves.

Some urban interventions have the purpose of alerting people to their imprisonment by urban routine.

As Hegel demonstrated long ago, there is a fine line between the master and the slave. The technological environment needs to know what we like, or at least what we do , in order to anticipate our needs. But at what point does ‘anticipation’ become a neo-Weberian ‘iron cage’ for shaping behaviour?

How scary is it that everyone is consciously, willingly, letting their lives into the complete grasp of technology? Even after saying this, it’s not likely I will do anything about it – any consequences do not seem very real. It’s convenient, it’s a part of my life. I embrace it and am a passive consumer.


I have visions of techno-hipsters with bluetooth headsets jammed in their ears, capturing 15-second video clips of the urban ‘condition’ on their phones and texting knowing messages to their hipster-doppelganger pals in line behind them on the flaneuric boulevard of derives. (Beaudry 2006)

Chills. This was written in 2006. This is the truth of our society now. We are more and more becoming like androids, inseparable from technology.

The next part talks about the role of new media art in public space, which is to provide an alternative to showcasing art strictly in art galleries, in too carefully curated spaces, with a notion of highbrow exclusiveness that intimidates the layman. There might be audiences who might never cross that threshold, and new media art in public spaces can intervene in that: if people won’t come to art, bring the art out to them.

New media art in public spaces can then become an integral part of the construction of social relationships.

As Sennett and others have emphasises, public sociability is not natural; it needs to be learned, nurtured and practised. In an era in which public space is dominated by spectacular ‘brandscapes’ and pacified by the distributed technology of surveillance, new forms of public interaction facilitating qualities such as collective participation and unpredictable collaboration hold increasing social importance. In this context, the role of artists using new media to construct experimental interfaces in public space can assume strategic value.

In Lozano-Hemmer’s works, he tries to “introduce interactivity to transform intimidation into intimacy“. I really liked the way he put it, and I feel that this is a great mantra to keep in mind when creating for public spaces.

Let’s be real, people are scared to interact with other people. I’m scared. Public artworks have to challenge this animosity between strangers in order to bring them together, to enjoy the work and the space together.

“To create a delicate balance between personal participation and collective interaction, between active engagement and reflective contemplation.

Overall, this reading has made me think about the ways to approach creating works for public spaces, about media, architecture and the urban space. There are many considerations to creating work this way, and I hope that eventually I would be able to reach my own understanding of this particular form of art-making, and my position as an artist with the potential of redefining the urban space.

 

Hand In Hand: The People Who Built NTU

C O N C E P T

The Chinese Heritage Garden is an important piece of architecture to not only NTU, but also the Chinese community in Singapore and Southeast Asia. It was a key administrative building when Nanyang University was first built, and have been preserved in its original grandeur even to this day.

Once a library, a student hub, a bustling building, now the CHC sits calmly, serving as an exhibition gallery, museum and library.

The first thing that struck out to me was the groundswell of community support in the fundraising process. It felt very heartwarming, and there is a huge sense of togetherness, of unity and strength in each other. I can’t help but think that they play a huge part into making what we have now possible, and that they are truly a huge part of NTU’s foundation.

As students now, we do not have that sense of connection to NTU’s past and how it was built. We only care about the now. Through this projection mapping project, hopefully I can bring to light that people – just like us – normal people, were involved in building NTU, and I hope to feature these people and give them the recognition they weren’t able to receive.

I decided to make people the main focus especially after watching Agnes Varda and JR’s documentary film, Faces Places. There is a personal connection to stories of the people and the spaces they were in, and in this context I think that the people are a huge part of CHC itself as an architecture, and likewise was CHC an important part of these people’s lives.

 

R E S E A R C H

My main reference for the occupations of the people involved in the fundraising is from (this book). It is astounding how there were no borders as to the demographics of the contributors. High or low income, high or low social status. Merchants, business owners, taxi drivers, labourers, associates, people from various organisations, and even the entertainment industry – yes, nightclubs!

I want to showcase the variety, and I want to showcase that while they are so different, they came together, bound by their Chinese heritage, for a common goal of improving Chinese education out of China, which ultimately led to the building of NTU.

After reading up on the history of NTU, I am not so sure whether it could be said that NTU is a continuation of Nanyang University, which in 1980 was merged with the University of Singapore to make the National University of Singapore (NUS). NTU itself was an upgrade from Nanyang Technological Institute, a leg of the NUS. However, I still do feel that irregardless, their histories are interconnected and are still a huge part of what made NTU today.

To get a better understanding of the time period in which CHC was built, and the architecture’s importance, I read up about 1950s Singapore and China. Just after the Second World War, China went through a short period of Communist Revolution, and Singapore was not even independent yet. It was a weird period – which left me very appreciative of their efforts. I feel that we get to enjoy the good stuff, and I feel thankful that I live in an age where everything is more open, and there is progress on all kinds of field. Education is one of them, and I am grateful that I am able to pursue higher education.

This would not have been possible without Tan Lark Sye’s initiative, and without the support from the people at that time.

Another aspect that I researched on was the Chinese culture itself. What was it like in China, and what was it like in Singapore, in Southeast Asia? What were the Chinese people like?

In one of the publications I read, “Changing Identities of the Southeast Asian Chinese Since World War II”, I understood that after the intensity of WWII, with changes in the Chinese mainland government and with the gradual independence of Malaya and Singapore (former British colonies), Chinese residents were forces to choose whether to return to the communist mainland or to stay as Southeast Asian citizens.

With this, and with lacking support from the government in Singapore at the time, the Chinese were running out of options because they could not work for not having higher qualifications. This was a basis as to why they came together to build an overseas Chinese university – which I find must have been a pretty crazy feat! The more I find out about them, the more I gain an appreciation of my environment now, and the more respect I have for the people back then who helped make it happen.

 

S T O R Y B O A R D

 

C O N T E N T

Video

The alumni reminisce about their days in the CHC, how it used to be a library and how they would head over to the nearby canteen to have breakfast together. As the main administrative building of the university, student life here was bustling. They even had their graduation ceremony there.

These were screenshots taken from the video. I can use these photos and add effects to make it seem like they are film rolls too, so that it would go together with the old film footage style.

It was interesting to see this student’s analysis on the architectural features of the Chinese Heritage Center. It gave me a better understanding of the building itself and inspired me to take the separate elements to use in the projection mapping, such as the octagon.

Video Footage

Music

At first I was also looking at using percussion for the soundtrack, since the beats are really useful for making an impact in how the projection plays out and corresponds with the audio. I wanted to merge it with the song 买糖歌 (Mai Tang Ge) to add a little bit of variety. I realised that the beats were off, so they didn’t go well together. I have not succeeded in finding one with beats that go along with each other, so I think just using one song is okay for now, but I also wish to add sound effects to describe the 1950s atmosphere better.

买糖歌 (Mai Tang Ge) was a popular song that was originally from a 1943 movie called Eternity, a controversial Chinese film that was made in Shanghai, which was occupied by the Japanese in World War II. It is a style characteristic to the time, glamorous in the entertainment districts, and I feel that it is an apt accompaniment to the projection. Some of the people from the 1950s might be able to recognise this song and feel a greater connection with the projection.

These entertainment districts in Geylang, with Happy World Amusement Park at its core, were also involved in the fundraising for the university. The money gathered from the performances, in one of which Mai Tang Ge was performed, were donated to the funds for construction.

I was thinking that it would be fun/interesting to have the lyrics or translation on the roofs like subtitles you see in karaoke, but I wasn’t sure if they would be significant or contribute to my concept in any way.

 

R E F L E C T I O N 

I am really glad to have taken this module, as it was out of my comfort zone. I wanted to force myself to learn something new, since I am someone who works best with external motivation. Through this module, I learnt a lot about projection mapping, and got myself to learn After Effects too.

The readings opened my mind about how interactions work, how screens can be used. I was never a good reader of non-fiction, but by learning to do this, I have found that there is a whole other world of knowledge that I was missing out on. I might not be as scholarly, and I might not fully understand the complexities and the concepts in depth, but at the very least now I have a better idea of the medium that I deal with, and the potential that it has.

I now know better how to navigate around this practice of art-making, how to be thoughtful (a reading from another class), how to make things that are not just superficial.

For the project itself, I wish that I spent more time working on the prototype. I got a little stuck just reading up about the Chinese communities at the time, China’s Cultural Revolution, the impact it had on education both in China and outside. I strayed a little too far from my main concept about featuring the people who helped build NTU, and the people who benefitted from it (the students and staff). Although I felt that it was good to know, but that was it, good to know. It did not really help to provide any content for the projection since it was not in the scope that I was planning for. In the end, I do not regret reading up on them, but I felt that I could have managed my time better and prioritised better.

If I were to bring this project further, I hope to maybe conduct my own interviews with alumni so they can tell me what days in the CHC were like. I also hope to be able to source for more authentic footage of Nanyang University at the time, of the opening ceremony or just life there. So far I have not succeeded in doing that, and have only found several footage of the general 1950s Singapore.

I could maybe add another element to this project – which is about the present day. Since I am focusing on people, maybe I could feature the people who built it, the people who used it in the past (peak) and the people who use it now (decline and rest). However, maybe just focusing on the timeline of the past would keep it more aesthetically coherent.

 

R E F E R E N C E S 

Bartels, Deanna T., and Felicia C. Eppley. “Education in Mainland China.” Social Education 59, no. 1 (1995): 31-37. http://www.socialstudies.org/sites/default/files/publications/se/5901/590109.html.

“Chinese Community.” https://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/music/Media/PDFs/Article/e5105f6e-0371-4b57-94e9-933158c09cc4.pdf.

Carstens, Sharon A. “Chinese Publications and the Transformation of Chinese Culture in Singapore and Malaysia.” In Changing Identities of the Southeast Asian Chinese Since World War II, by Jennifer W. Cushman and Wang Gungwu, 75-78. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 1988. https://books.google.com.sg/books?hl=en&lr=&id=USbxAQAAQBAJ&oi=fnd&pg=PA75&dq=chinese culture in singapore in 1950&ots=XpFR3Mt9E8&sig=HoWc1I8qDYzL86wD2tdfhhs3dzE#v=onepage&q=chinese culture in singapore in 1950&f=false.

Ker, Sin Tze. “Let the Nantah Spirit and Name Live on in NTU.” The Straits Times. January 21, 2016. https://www.straitstimes.com/opinion/let-the-nantah-spirit-and-name-live-on-in-ntu.

Gu, Jiafeng. “Harmonious Expansion of China’s Higher Education: A New Growth Pattern.” Higher Education 63, no. 4 (2012): 513-28. http://www.jstor.org.ezlibproxy1.ntu.edu.sg/stable/41429096.

Kusolpalin, Pattarin. “Nanyang Technological University.” Infopedia. March 09, 2016. http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/infopedia/articles/SIP_2016-03-09_132926.html.

Martin, Mayo. “From Gay World to Pop Yeh Yeh: When Geylang Rocked the ’60s.” CNA. March 13, 2017. https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/lifestyle/from-gay-world-to-pop-yeh-yeh-when-geylang-rocked-the–60s-7980364.

Wang, Gungwu. “The Study of Chinese Identities in Southeast Asia.” In Changing Identities of the Southeast Asian Chinese Since World War II, by Jennifer W. Cushman and Wang Gungwu, 1-22. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 1988. https://books.google.com.sg/books?hl=en&lr=&id=USbxAQAAQBAJ&oi=fnd&pg=PA75&dq=chinese culture in singapore in 1950&ots=XpFR3Mt9E8&sig=HoWc1I8qDYzL86wD2tdfhhs3dzE#v=onepage&q=chinese culture in singapore in 1950&f=false.

MOCAP with Biju

This was an unexpectedly eye-opening session. I came with no expectations, and left with a new insight on greater possibilities of projection mapping and interactive design.

I appreciated how Prof Biju started out with the very basics by disassembling a camera, to understand how an image is created. After this, he moved on to talking about projectors, and how the function is reversed, hence the further away the screen, the larger the image a projector produces.

He showed this by projecting a donut on a board, and moving it back and forth. As the board moves, we can see the donut changing shape and location (on the board).

The next thing he showed us shocked me. As the board moved, the donut stayed the same shape and size, and stayed in the same position on the board. W   H   A   T     I   S     H   A   P   P   E   N   I   N   G ???? And then I immediately thought, OH so that’s what the trackers are for! They track the position of the board in the 3D space, and the software live alters the digital image so that the projected result would stay the same. This output seems simple, but it is so cool to see the image changing in the software according to how we position the board.

Basically, if the board is further away, the image projected would be larger. To counteract this so that the image would stay the same size, the software scales the image down, so the resulting projected image would be smaller and hence would appear to be static. The same goes with position. If the board goes left, then the image would adjust accordingly, with the projection staying the same as if nothing changed.

This made me think of how this could be used in performance and projection mapping, in which objects or people are the subjects, and they can be moving around while the projection on them adjusts to their position automatically, improving efficiency in production.

Of course, in our day and age, it is not surprising to see that this technology had already been implemented.

These remind me of moving sets, and I feel that the incorporation of this technology helps to improve accuracy and minimises mistakes since the humans move organically, and there is no longer a need to completely match a pre-recorded projection and match the exact locations, as now the projection would adjust accordingly.

Another example is the usage in dance performances. This had been done many times before, but they were rehearsed to get the timing and position right. This technology again eliminates the need for that precision, as through live motion tracking, the projection would be able to adjust to the performer.

Lastly, I found this exploration interesting. They mentioned the many different ways in which dynamic projection mapping could be implemented.

 

Faces Places – Visages Villages

I am not one who usually watches documentaries, as I am more able to appreciate fiction. However, this was one documentary that I could sit through and enjoy, empathise and relate to the people and story shown.

Perhaps it was the music, the stories of the people captured in the photographs, the friendships and relationship formed throughout the film. I have always felt an affinity to works that were personal, as I find it fascinating how they reflect the artists themselves. In this case, I was offered a peek into Agnes Varda and JR’s relationship, and a little bit more about their personal selves, and not just as artists.

JR is fulfilling my greatest desire. To meet new faces and photograph them, so they don’t fall down the holes in my memory.

I might say that I was a little emotionally biased from the start of watching this movie, having known that Varda had passed on just not more than a month ago. I was already emotionally invested in Varda as a character, who in her age was still exuberant, still passionate about her art.

There is a certain feeling invoked in me, that made me think about aging and death, and how I want to go about living my life. I am still young, but time flies by really quickly. What would I be doing at 90, if I ever lived up to that age? What would I have done, experienced, accomplished?

Each face has a story

Everyone lives their lives differently, and have experiences that are exclusive to themselves. But sometimes these experiences are shared, and that is something that I saw in the film that moved me. I saw personal stories, but I also saw how these stories were connected, how there was also the story of the communities, and how sometimes the people are brought together through JR’s Inside Out Project.

You see, these people aren’t celebrities, but they were brought into attention through these works, and are no longer invisible. They were given a sort of recognition through these, and strangers are brought together in heartwarming ways. There is a correlation between JR’s fascination towards street art, as the world is taken as one big art gallery, and Varda’s looking at different faces, who populate the areas, who write the stories of the place.

I am myself drawn towards people and portraits, and how everyone has their own stories, are the lead actors of their own film, and hence I could relate to their intentions in these works, how they wanted to train the camera onto the marginalised people or forgotten citizens of France, and bring their stories into significance.

A farmer onto his own barn.

The wives of dock workers on a background of arranged containers several stories high.

Miners on a building where they once lived.

In the same neighbourhood, Jeanine is the last person to survive the residential area. She is the last link to preserve the houses as a link to the mining community back then. There is a strength in her eyes, and it was very moving to see her expression during the reveal. The mural tells people, she is here.

In another part of the film, they encounter a structure sticking out in the middle of a beach, which supposedly fell off the cliff. They discussed on what image they wanted to put up. They made hurried measurements to escape the tide. Eventually they settled on this picture of a model Varda often worked with. He sits nonchalantly in the cradle of the structure.

In just within a day, the image disappeared along with the tide. There is a bittersweetness to the ephemerality of the mural, and there is a reminder that sometimes, things just aren’t permanent, just as life itself is.

A big takeaway from the documentary, other than a reflection on life, is the technical aspects of putting up murals, street art, and photography. Throughout the film as they were shooting people and putting up the photographs on the walls, we are invited to see how they discussed on choosing the right wall. Many factors were considered, like the material of the wall, the scale they wanted to use, what kind of picture is it? How does the photo correlate to the wall or façade it is installed on?

For example, below you can see how the texture of the window blinds were used for the paper held by the postman, by carving out a negative space.

Chance is one of my best assistants

There is beauty in irregularity, in chaos. This is something I agree with, although sometimes I do feel like a control freak, but this is exactly why. Sometimes, we just have to let things go their own way, and follow the ride. You never know the journey you’d be taken on.

JR is known for wearing his hat and sunglasses, and his real identity isn’t revealed. They joke that Varda cannot see for her vision is failing, and JR cannot see because it is dark with his sunglasses. Varda convinces JR throughout the film to take off his sunglasses so she could look at his eyes.

The film ends with the possibility that he did, after consoling her encounter with an old friend.

I held back my tears as I felt so much for Varda, something incomprehensible.

Night to Light Festival: Art Skins and Monuments

I haven’t seen much from the Night to Light Festival other than the projection mapped works and the two works outside of ACM (which I originally thought was part of iLight), but I feel that the festival is a getting a little overshadowed as it is held simultaneously with iLight, which is relatively more established and well-known. On top of that, their locations intersect, and they both involve works using light and darkness. It is only expected that a layman is less likely to notice the difference between works participating in iLight or Night to Light.

Nevertheless, it was as exciting, because it was the first time I could actually properly observe projection mapped works on architecture.

However, I have to admit that I was a little underwhelmed, partly because I had way too high expectations from seeing works that appealed to me over the internet. To be fair, I also did not spend sufficient time to understand the works better.

I think that this is one of the more interesting facades, as the segments were used either in symmetry or to display different images. The eyes were particularly… eye-catching. They really were! The placement and sheer size made it noticeable, and was was interesting was how I felt that the eyes almost humanised the building. I felt that the building was personified in a way, and this establishes a connection between the viewer and the building.

This was one of the more disappointing ones, I feel, but it is hard to say because there are so many factors involved that made the experience not as enjoyable as the rest of the projection works.

I am pretty sure a lot of consideration has been put in to making this work, but this is my personal biased take.

The features of the building itself made it challenging to show any clear elements. There is no wide, clear plane, and I felt that the images were projected on anyways, making it hard to focus on them, and I felt that the features weren’t used well. They did have that short segment with the sand filling up the pillars, but that was pretty much it… I became uninterested in the story they were trying to tell because there was too much distraction. The trees were also a hindrance, and blocked the projection.

Is there a better way to use this building for projection mapping? I myself am not sure what would be effective in this case.

This was really interesting because I viewed this work with previous knowledge of the subject matter – I recently did a presentation on William Farquhar and his collection of natural history drawings. I enjoyed watching the drawings transform into a kaleidoscopic animation. I felt that the elements were used well, and the colours worked well too.

However, I do feel that the location was not the best, and that the wall was simply used as a screen. You can easily have this projection showcased anywhere else. There was nothing of it that contributed to the architecture, and there was nothing of the architecture that contributed to the projection.

Unfortunately, I didn’t see this work!

This is one of the works which I enjoyed more! Even though the scale is smaller, I feel that it was still impactful. The message is clearer in this work, and I enjoyed the narrative that it told. I liked how the features of the architecture was used, for example how the workers were projected on to the pillars, likening the two, and effectively illustrating that these workers were the foundation to Singapore. There are also great parts of the building that allowed for space for text, which instead of being disruptive, helps to convey the narrative better.

This work was also fun. I thought that the architectural features were aptly used, since the main focus could clearly be pointed out. The characters shown on the tower stood out, and the animations surrounding it enhanced the storytelling without being too distracting. Moreover, there is an actual space for the audience to lounge around while watching the work. It was much better and more intimate compared to the experience trying to view the ones on National Gallery, since they were so big and there wasn’t enough distance from where we stood to view the work.

They were really fun animations. The colours and patterns definitely catch people’s attention. It reminds me of The Resident as there are kaleidoscopic elements too. Overall, it didn’t stand out as much for me.