Kindred issues

Personally, my issue is with the Gifted Education Programme in Singapore. As a recipient of the GEP in primary school, in early Secondary school and the combined School-Based gifted education (replacing the full GEP in 2008), there has been many issues both in education pedagogy and emphasis on non-traditional education, while still being forced to streamline education as per MOE requirements.


Many of the GEP courses emphasise heavily on Sciences rather than the arts, and many students, me included, did not do well in spite of our giftedness and how ‘spending money on you is to ensure that results are achieved’, as spoken by an MOE education officer.


As such, many of my course mates did not proceed on to the usual A-level and subsequent University path, as the GEP programme, in spite of being supposed to put our intellectual ability to the best, has actually failed.


In secondary school, 3 of my classmates transferred out to the O Level class (instead of the usual direct A-Level through train programme), and were considered failures. One of them eventually dropped out of secondary school. After A Levels, one of the brightest pupils who have went through the GEP with me, opted out of getting a university education and instead went to do an apprenticeship as a chef. He is now a sous chef at a Two Michelin-starred restaurant. Another went to be a chef in Facebook Singapore’s kitchen. Yet another is now an animator. None of whom actually had the chance to take part in the arts, or in their hobby.


We did not do well, and were looked down on. Even our tutors said that there is no way that we could make it big, or make it to university even.


Is giftedness truly our Achilles’ heel?


My kindred issue locally would be conservation of our urban heritage in Singapore, or more succinctly, lack of conservation. In Singapore, since its colonisation in 1819, growth of the colony has attracted traders, laborers and migrants from all over the region, and Singapore eventually developed multi-ethnic neighbourhoods in several regions.


Ever since independence in 1965, Singapore has demolished many buildings with historic significance to make way for more utilitarian structures. Traditional Chinese shophouses were demolished to make way for residential housing, and even the oldest school in Singapore, the original Raffles Institution built circa. 1840, was demolished and replaced by Raffles City in the 1980s.


According to the priorities of Singapore during the transition period, the important matters were unemployment, poverty and poor infrastructure, and heritage was not a pressing matter then. As Singapore has developed, the government realised that heritage was necessary to preserve our past identity and culture.


However, the government’s conservation reeks of monetary concern; artifacts from the past becoming something that is just meant to impress and serves no other purpose, with most of their identity and culture lost.


Knowing Singapore’s government, where they cannot seem to overcome the important need of money, there is much that we can do regarding conservation, and to send the right message. It pains us to see that many of the places where the older generation grew up fondly in, schools and markets, houses and parks, are now just disjointed fragments of memory. In years, not even decades, we will face this issue as well, especially where our government selectively preserves structures based on their whim and fancy.


Personally, I have witnessed the demolition and rebuilding of my primary school (Kong Hwa School), removal of my haunt at Queenstown, my part-time job office at Funan, and my grandmother’s house at Bendemeer. In the future, would my memory of these places be as colourful and clear than if they were preserved?


My global issue would be on the prevention of unnecessary avian deaths as both a direct and indirect result on human activity.


Since the beginning of time, birds have their migratory abilities passed down through their lineages, either via mental maps, celestial bodies, or the length of the day. As human beings have developed technology and physical territory borders, there is massive international effort required for the protection of such species especially during migration. The longest known migratory path is that of the Arctic Tern, which migrates from the North Pole to Antarctica.


Some issues directly affecting migratory birds include hunting, use of pesticides, habitat loss for stopover areas, as a by-catch (Related more for seabirds), collision with man-made objects and disorientation due to light pollution at night. Climate change (due to gas emissions and deforestation) affects them indirectly as well.


On what an artist could do is possibly limited to a local level, as there is lots of geopolitical red tape to maneuver, and limited resources to do so with.


Perhaps the easiest way one could make a statement is via activism; though on which extent is yet to be determined.



Mid-term project: Clipped


Involves the arrangement of a series of artwork in a grid pattern to simulate a window, which is the most common cause of bird deaths in Singapore.


Visited the lab at NUS to document relatively fresh carcasses, with the assistance of researcher David Tan of NUS and photographer Jasvic Lye, an undergraduate from NTU ADM.


The six birds documented are as follows:


Banded Bay Cuckoo

Blue-tailed bee-eater

Asian glossy starling

Spotted dove

Oriental pied hornbill

Zebra dove


Most of them are local species, with the bee-eater being a common migratory species which appear often in Singapore. All are of least concern in the IUCN red list.


Singapore has around 300 native species of birds, the sample size is relatively large (5%). The asian glossy starling and the spotted dove are two of the most common species found in Singapore (DECADAL CHANGES IN URBAN BIRD ABUNDANCE IN SINGAPORE, Chong et al., 2012, p 191) though the zebra dove was excluded as it was not included in surveys conducted earlier for a fair comparison.

Table retrieved from Chong’s study, page 193.


Currently thinking of using matte prints in terms of material. Could be expanded to glass to signify the fragility of the birds and how they die due to window collisions, but it is blunt and cliche.


Printing on glass would be interesting but out of my means at the moment.


Collaboration with David in the remaining time of the semester seems impossible due to his commitments elsewhere.


Artist influences


In addition to Basia Irland and Criss Jordan as mentioned in class, there are a few other artists that have influenced my work and my style to a certain extent.


They include Benjamin von Wong, Andy Goldsworthy, Agnes Denes, Charles Ross and Nancy Holt.


This post includes some thoughts about my final project, how I could expand on it, and my artist statement.


Final Project for DP3006


Artist Statement:


Clipped (2018)


Inkjet Prints on Matte Paper, Inkjet Print on Rice Paper, Silver Mirror fragments, Laserjet Transfer on Wood


Varying Dimensions


Singapore is one of the stopping points of migratory birds flying along the East Asian-Australasian flyway. Being a densely populated urban city state, bird deaths are relatively common, with a primary issue being collisions with buildings with large glass windows. However, we often overlook the native species which are important in maintaining the ecological balance of the environment. The artwork shows 6 different species of birds responsible for different roles in local ecology, with one major thing in common; they are categorised as being of least concern in the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List. As such, deaths of their species are usually overlooked in spite of their importance and role in our native environment.


The artwork represents a combination of both issues. The matte paper prints are arranged in a grid to resemble a window grille, and to remind the viewers of the main cause of deaths of the birds in Singapore. The creases and wrinkles of the rice paper print hints at the fragility of these birds, and how they seem to wither in front of one’s eyes. By looking at the mirror fragments in the artwork, the viewer sees the frailty of these majestic creatures, yet also see themselves being potentially responsible for their deaths.


Images of installation

Side note: an Oriental Pied Hornbill was spotted in ADM vicinity at 6.30pm, 4th May 2018. (Same species shown in prints on the bottom left corner and third from bottom left corner)


Explanation of choice of material


Rice paper was chosen to be the material for the large print due to multiple reasons. Firstly, the rice paper that I had used was without any inkjet coating, meaning that the paper was as close to the naturally occurring state as possible. The fragility of the rice paper was also an important point in my project, mirroring the fragility of the birds themselves. The translucency also paid a part, allowing light to shine through, making the blue colour of the bee-eater seem like the pastel blue of the midday sky.


Explanation of why the damaged rice paper print was not fixed after damage


Though in fine art printing we learn how to treat our print with utmost care, I believe that the same is necessary, but not totally required for my rice paper print. Creases, folds and tears will make my message clearer, with the finished print having a hint of Japanese kintsugi, which is a form of pottery repair with lacquer, usually with gold or silver. The rice paper was also printed against the grain to make the horizontal feather tips pop out of the image. Some creases were intentionally made surrounding the edge of the blue feathers.


Future considerations


As the rice paper prints definitely had more impact in terms of size and tone, there were a few considerations that I have thought of after completing this part of the project.


  1. Expansion on rice paper prints and other usage

The rice paper prints could be made larger and used to cover the external glass windows of ADM from the inside, while markings could be done on the other side of the rice paper (facing outside ADM), which could dissuade birds from crashing into our windows. This is evidenced by the University of Chicago painting spray patterns on some glass windows to do so.


  1. Impact of mirror and mirror fragments

The mirror was too small, and hanging mirror fragments off prints felt a little off putting. Perhaps a single layer consisting of mirror shards and cut prints may work better, and feel a bit less gimmicky.


  1.   Laserjet transfer on wood

I felt that it was totally out of place, and eventually removed it from the second time I set up the installation.



  1.     Studio vs outdoors

I felt that layering the prints on the glass windows felt more natural, with sunlight filtering through and lighting up the prints from behind. The effect of the shattered mirror on the glass is also amplified. The colour and temperature of the rice paper print can also vary with the time of the day. Though by the same factor, the prints will look darker and less contrasty when the sun is angled too high, or sets behind ADM.


Additional research notes


The asian glossy starling is the most common in the 6 documented birds, and arguably the most noisy. They usually fly in an annoying loud flock at dusk.


There are two areas where collisions of residential and migratory birds overlap; in Clementi area near NUS and in the Central Business district. Whether is this due to light pollution or not is yet to be determined.


From 1998 to 2016, there were 157 fatalities out of 237 bird collisions detected. From November 2013 to October 2017, 104 out of 362 bird carcasses retrieved by NUS researchers likely died due to collisions. Retrieved from Anthropogenic Sources of Non-Migratory Avian Mortalities In Singapore, David J.X. Tan et al.


Juvenile asian glossy starlings consist of 81% of collision deaths, pp.19


Lights in buildings pose a large risk to birds, especially at night. UV reflective glass may be more bird friendly. Retrievd from Low, B.W. et al., 2017, Migratory bird collisions with man-made structures in South-East Asia : a case study from Singapore.

Leftmost row represents deaths directly due to building collisions, pp.21-23 Figure from Low, B.W. et al., 2017, Migratory bird collisions with man-made structures in South-East Asia : a case study from Singapore.

Old and new documentary

Old documentary artists

Ken Domon

Domon learnt his ropes at Kotaro Miyauchi Photo Studio in 1933 after getting expelled from law school due to his involvement in radical politics. He is known for documenting post-World War 2 Japan, focusing on the people and society. His works revolve chiefly around three groups of people; the (mainly children of) coal miners of Kyushu, children of Tokyo, and survivors of the Hiroshima atomic bombing. He is a proponent of realism in his photography, where it is quoted by him as “an absolute snapshot that is absolutely not dramatic.” In the same book where he made the aforementioned quote, he has also said that his goal was to make a direct connection between the camera and the motif.

Images retrieved from

Jacob Riis

Riis was Danish by birth, he migrated to the United States in 1870 and began work as a reporter and photographer much later after doing a series of odd jobs. Riis began shooting the slums of New York city at night in 1887, being one of the pioneers of flash photography in America. His wish was to let the middle and upper classes learn of the squalor of the slums. He is also known to have been friends with Theodore Roosevelt when the latter was the New York City police commissioner. Riis was also known to have improved the quality of public water works via his photo documentation of how towns directly sewered waste water into the New Croton Reservoir.

Images retrieved from

New documentary artist

Chris Jordan

Jordan was known to have worked with composites of garbage in his work, but is more renowned for his ongoing series on the Laysan albatrosses in the Midway region, where parents feed the young hatchlings plastic pieces that were mistaken for food. Jordan wants to show the carcasses of the albatrosses as a macabre reflection of what human consumption has done, and similar to the albatrosses, humans could not differ what is harmful from what is necessary.

The first image below is from Jordan’s work Intolerable Beauty: Portraits of American Mass Consumption (2003-2005), and the others from Midway: Message from the Gyre (2009-current)

Difference in new documentary

In my definition of new documentary, I find that the line between narrative work and documentary has been blurred significantly, with the advancement of portable photographic and audio recording technology. There has also been more ‘breaking of the fourth wall’, where artists of new documentary include way more social interaction and attempt to leverage more upon social issues.

Documentary photography vs photojournalism

I believe that photojournalism has more bias over documentary photography due to agencies that have a certain motive or political bias (like Fox News) and Straits Times (where for some reason, opponents of the ruling party are always photographed looking like hobos). Duration-wise, documentary photography involves projects that span across a long time period versus the immediacy of photojournalism.

Swamp stuff

Some random stuff

Toa Payoh means big swamp, and similarly, paya lebar (paya for swamp).

Map dated 1906 has a large swamp to the northeastern area of Toa Payoh (now Braddell), which encroaches near Shuang Lin monastery (which still stands today)

Grave hill is near where pioneer Seah Eu Chin was buried.

1842 map shows some plantation area (where swamp is cleared), and a larger Toa Payoh area, which stretches from bishan to novena from north to south.

Four 300 metre hills were levelled in 1963 and had their material shifted to fill in the kallang basin. Toa Payoh could formerly be a possible watershed area?

Jurong was a swampland before JTC came in, and Kallang used to have swamps near the mouth of the kallang river along the kallang basin (kolam ayer, near current geylang and kallang bahru)

Thoughts on Vestiges by Zen Teh

I had the amazing opportunity to visit Zen’s exhibition at the Alliance Francaise a week ago, and was given the chance to observe her work up close.

As I am not too familiar with one set of her works, The Imperative Landscape, I will focus most of my thoughts on the Garden State Palimpsest instead. I am impressed with the effort Zen her collaborators took to interview the locals and reconstruct images from those memories, and the time required to dig through Singaporean policies, which is to be honest, quite a mess.

Just a small issue with the sculpture work itself. I understand that the materials chosen may be for the carvings and images to stand out, but it may have more impact should it be from the location itself. Having experience in the Tanjong Katong area archaeological dig, I would say that materials locally available such as clay, granite, gabbro and sandstone would have a much larger impact since Zen has mentioned that it was to integrate the memories with the future. Sandstone and clay are easily carved or etched, while granite could be used as a frame or for sculptural purposes. As I recall, the glass that was used (correct me if I’m wrong), is not natively found in Singapore as we do not have a volcanic landscape nor were we hit by meteorites from space. Fulgurite from lightning strikes on beaches are rare.

Another thought is that would this theme of nostalgia be cliched? As we can observe from recent events such as the closure of the Sungei Road market, the theme of nostalgia has been overused to the point that it is stagnant. Though, I have to applaud the effort of the artist who does not use it as the main crux of her work, but rather, includes it in a larger scale.

Sonic Sea

Artist Response:



Umi no oto

(The sound of the ocean)


Heiwa to aoi ya

(Peaceful and blue)



(Cannot bear/last)

Scientist response:

This film barely scratches the surface of the impact of sound on ocean life. There are many points mentioned, but not followed up on, such as how sonar will affect the fishing industry. The visualisation of the sound effects and sonar is a plus, but it feels haphazard, and reeks of being a film with too little budget to get proper expertise on the subject.

There is significant thought on mitigation factors, such as clean energy/ships, or that larger ships can reduce significant amount of noise, and how oil mapping is one of the major causes of this noise. Though sadly, too much information has been simplified for the general viewer.

Week 2 Art and Ecology

5 days 5 walks

I began my series of walks related to the elements given, and walked to/from a different location each day from my house.


Day 1:


Time: 6pm 24th Aug

Location: Sand deposits (maybe for landfill), Bedok Reservoir area

Non-human life forms: Quite a lot of millipedes. One rhino beetle.

Primarily decomposers? I don’t see much else.

Walk duration: 1hr 15 mins. Distance: 5.9km

Day 2:


Time: 10pm 25th Aug

Location: Neighbourhood parks, Chai Chee area.

Non-human life forms:

Plants: Cannonball, durian, rambutan, mango, frangipani, rain tree, coconut palm.

Animals: Centipede, snail, unknown beetle, fruit bat, stray cats, squirrel, rats

Large amount of primary and secondary consumers, some scavengers and decomposers.

Duration: 45 mins. Approx 1-2km in distance.

Rough map of the area near my place, and the two parks mentioned above.

There used to be a pack of civet cats that nested at my neighbour’s rooftop and along some pipes, but they haven’t been sighted in a month or so. There’s also a white cockatoo (probably escaped) that roosts nearby. Fruit bats are aplenty, and when lucky, one can hear hoots from owls at the factory area. The owl(s) do not appear often; the last time i have seen one personally was almost 1 year ago.

Day 3:


Time: 7am 26th Aug

Location: East Coast park

Non-human life forms: Sea apple, coconut palm, mudskipper, unknown fish, stray cats, ants, earthworm, crab, sandflies, crows, heron(?)

Spotted a heron in a nearby storm drain leading to the sea.

Quite an amount of decomposers, probably due to the waves at the shore bringing in lots of dead stuff.

Duration: 3 hours. Approx 12-15km.

Day 4:


Time: 2pm 27th Aug

Location: Bedok Industrial park

Non-human life forms: random plants, rain tree, single mango tree, crows, mynahs, blue-ish kingfisher, green parrot, noisy yellow bird

Lots of flying creatures and lack of other animals, probably due to the heavily built up area. Really dusty as well. No idea why the kingfisher was there as there were no ready source of fish in the area.

Duration: 1hr 10mins. Approx 3-4km.

Day 5:


Time: 3pm 28th Aug

Location: Disused area, probably left over when the original building was razed. Near Eunos.

Non-human life forms: various type of grasses. eagle(?) flying overhead. some lizards, random insects.

Not surprised to see an assortment of life forms in this area. Though it is particularly dry. No birds in the area apart from the eagle.

Duration: 45 mins. Approx 2km.

My chosen element is fire, mainly because of how it can create life and destroy life. Some plants require heat or fire to spread their seeds, or resist fire. Specifically the Cistus species, which can tolerate hardy conditions and heat. In a paper written by James Olsen in the 1960s, it is stated that the plants could have emitted chemicals or oils that could cause it to self immolate in the proper circumstance.

Fire, in another sense also represents the sun, which is necessary to create and support life via photosynthesis subsequent consumption and transfer of energy of the producers to the primary consumers, and so forth.