Bukit Brown Index #132: Triptych of the Unseen

Bukit Brown Index #132: Triptych of the Unseen was exhibited at Gillman as part of Singapore Biennale 2019. It is a large scale installation consisting of a stage, a three part video performance and an archival collection covering the uproar around the redevelopment and destruction of Bukit Brown Cemetery back in 2011 to 2014.

The set up was a familiar sight, adopted from traditional Chinese Street opera often performed during the Hungry Ghost Festival. The significance of it is that it is a common space where the dead and living meet to enjoy, in this case, as the writing on the red banner connotes, the nostalgic or tragic saga of Bukit Brown. It is a place of tribute and offering to the visiting dead; perfect choice in setting.

Actual Chinese Street opera Stage

I think Post Museum, the creators of this artwork, has achieved their aim “to encourage and support a thinking and pro-active community in this piece.” In an interview from OnCurating, they were asked about where they think they stand between the centre(state) and the periphery(independent). Their answer spoke about who public space belongs to? Saying that Singapore adopted a place management strategy to inject ‘heart and soul’ into the city. The strategy had been used by other cities such as New York and Paris and is referred to as “placemaking”. It is directed to developing participatory communal places and improving quality of life for its residents. It is after this point that their response really raised questions for me. Post Museum raised a point that placemaking should not be exclusive to urban planners and the government, it should be a shared decision. Because we are all enagaged with said space, thus are always participating in the placemaking process. Post museum may be referring to their artistic practice but I find it prevalent in this project.

I picked to write about this work because it is closely related to my idea for FYP; revolving around culture, heritage and identity. Why heritage should be preserve and how it ties to belonging? Bukit Brown cemetery may house many graves of pioneers such as Tan Lark Sye (1897-1975), entrepreneur and co-founder of Nanyang University and Chew Joo Chiat (Joo Chiat estate) but why is it important to conserved them? What reasons is there to be upset other than the fact that digging graves is disrespectful? Triptych of the Unseen first featured at Substation in 2018 and the artistic director then spoke of heritage as a form of control. He said “heritage really largely is not just about the past, but the way you define the past also determines your present and future.” It is a deceivingly harmless topic for one so political. (at least in Singapore) I wish to go into more detail in my next post about my FYP ideas so the discussion shall end here.

The title refers to the database of Bukit Brown. There is a nostalgic/tragic connotation in the writing on the red banner.

The meat of the story is literally in the content of the work. The three part video performance, taking on the perspectives of the ‘Ghost,’ ‘Activist’ and ‘Bureaucrat’. It depicts the struggle of space in Singapore through moral contradictions of the three characters and their relationship with each other. The choice for implementing the virtual reality setting was to “trap the spectators and performers within this ‘unseen’ tragicomedy where they ‘are condemned’ to watch and perform this act endlessly.” When you enter the virtual space, you are sat in within an ‘ghost’ audience as everyone is wearing a opera mask. “Unknowingly we all become victims to the priorities embedded in the grammar of the city.”

 

Reference:

https://www.singaporebiennale.org/art/post-museum

https://sgmagazine.com/arts-things-to-do/news/substations-next-exhibition-explores-weird-tug-war-behind-conserving

https://post-museum.org/root/2018/09/15/1492/

https://www.on-curating.org/issue-41-reader/interview-with-the-founders-of-post-museum-jennifer-teo-and-woon-tien-wei.html

https://remembersingapore.org/bukit-brown-cemetery/

Biomimicry

Eastgate Centre in Zimbabwe

This is an example of biomimicry in the field of architecture, borrowing the natural interior structure of African termite nests to create sustainable buildings. The Eastgate centre has managed to achieve 10% less energy consumption compared to other conventional buildings its size. That is an impressive feat to be able to regulate temperature of a mid-rise building without air-conditioning or heating.

So how do these self-cooling mounds work?

Cooling Vents!

African termites feed on a fungus that they farm in their mounds and these fungus can only grow at 87 degrees F. Since the climate in Africa ranges from 35 degrees F at night to 104 degrees F during the day, the termites invented a series of cooling vents to maintain the interior temperature of the mound.

Through constant opening and closing of these vents, the termites are able to suck in air at the lower parts of the mound, through the tunnels and up to the peak. These vents are also always under construction as new ones are constantly being built and old ones are plugged up. It is a brilliant way to regulate temperature naturally considering that hot air rises up and cool air sinks.

Despite that, it should be noted that the series of vents are regulating the temperature and not exclusive to cooling. The system also works with other materials as the Eastgate Centre is made out of concrete. The outside air that is drawn in can be warmed or cooled by the building mass depending on which is warmer. Similar to the termite mounds, the air is through the multi-storeys and offices before exiting out the chimneys at the top.

The energy sustainable building not only benefits the environment but also the people. The owners of the Eastgate centre saved $3.5 million for air-conditioning that was omited from the design and this helped the tenants with 20% lower rents than it neighbours. Both an climate and economic solution.

Reference:

https://biomimicry.org/biomimicry-examples/

https://inhabitat.com/building-modelled-on-termites-eastgate-centre-in-zimbabwe/

https://asknature.org/strategy/mound-facilitates-gas-exchange/#.VB52Ry5dUa0

TréPhonos by Project Row Houses

The Third Ward is a predominantly African American community that persevered through many difficult times to sustain their home. For example, the area is known to be poor as after world war II, they received a large group of migrants and were unable to get non-menial jobs. Then in the 1970s, their population dropped when America implemented racial integration. In addition to the fact that many of the children from the third ward graduated from Universities and have moved out for better jobs, the Third Ward was neglected and lost economic traffic.

The project TréPhonos pays tribute to the history of the Third Ward with three payphones, reprogrammed to become audio time capsules. The project was inspired by a series of hangouts in the neighbourhood and one of the collaborating Artist – Jeanette Degollado says “We have managed to create a feedback loop, where community self-determination, artist, activist, and Third Ward residents are both the input and output, informing each other, creating synergy.”

She describes the payphone to be a “symbol of public and private space”; an intersection between the two. It was a place that held people’s “connections, distance, emotions, infrastructure?, and socialization.” Therefore, people exists where payphones are.

The three booths…

1. TréMixTape

  • Features musicians from the neighborhood, including various genres and generations of local music.
  • can also be play externally when the coin release lever is held down, for multiple people to listen together.

2. TréSonic

  • ambient noise of the neighborhood

3. TréSankofa

  • voices and stories of Third Ward residents.

Is this Social Practice Art?

To be considered Social Practice Art, the project has to tick two boxes – human interaction and social discourse. I do have to take that definition with a pinch of salt as it was from Wikipedia. But it does gives more meaning and reason to the project without it being created for the sake of art.

Its goal is primarily in strengthening the community as a whole, uniting the Third Ward to engage with the stories with one another. While TréPhonos level of human engagement is high, the discourse here is a little fuzzy.

 

Reference

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Third_Ward,_Houston

https://www.houstonpublicmedia.org/articles/shows/arts-insight/2018/10/23/304186/watch-pay-phones-re-appear-as-third-ward-time-capsules/

Research Critique 1: Wearable Technology

Ying Gao is a Montreal based fashion designer and professor at University of Quebec whose interactive work features a lot of animated textiles. Her recent project – FLOWING WATER, STANDING TIME capture the ever-changing persona of Jimmie G from the novel, The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat. He is a middle age man who thinks himself to be still a youth at 19 years old, and he jumps between these two mental age which Ying Gao describes as a metamorphosis.

A Rasberry Pi

According to Dezeen, “The garment reacts to the chromatic spectrum using colour, light sensors and tiny cameras that are connected using a rasberry PI computer, to gather information about their environment. This data then activates a series of actuators and magnets interlaced with silicone to cause the fabrics to move.” It is interesting to note that besides silicone, the fabric also includes glass elements created in studio. These combination of materials, helped Ying Gao to achieve the shifting hues in the “chameleon-like” autonomous dress.

As far as my knowledge goes, Raspberry Pi is another version of an Arduino, they are both open source technology that are sustained by the creative digital community.  Tutorials and project ideas are quite abundant online and there are even ways to help find nearby Raspberry buddies to get creative together. The true benefit of open source technology is that it is firstly, free knowledge. Secondly, the amount of projects available for reference is infinite, the number will always be growing as people feed off ideas of others to make their own.

I have played around with a Circuit Playground before, it is a cousin of the Raspberry Pi. So references and forums I have searched online were a learning process to aid my production process. I think as I am a designer, I do not know what their difference is technically, only that they have a different shape. In this case, we designers need  the engineers for their in dept understanding of the electronics. The designers come up with ambitious ideas that cannot be fulfilled themselves and Ying Gao has experienced this with this project. She says “Technically and technologically speaking, this project is different from the previous ones because the clothes have a much greater autonomy,”

Reference

http://yinggao.ca/

https://www.dezeen.com/2019/10/28/flowing-water-standing-time-ying-gao-chameleon-autonomous-dress-fashion/

Creating Human-centered Products and Services

This reading is all about the business and management side of a designer’s job; mostly a guide to project planning, when and what to convey to the other collaborators e.g. engineers and stakeholders. In the design process, the protagonist is not the designer but the client and there are many supporting roles that participate in the process. Therefore it is important to have project planning, to provide an estimate overview of the procedure and expected result for the other collaborators. Communication is important in these multi-participation because people of different fields have separate priorities and that may risk the project veering off the wrong direction if not under the supervision of the designer.

The reading starts off with the basic definition of design and its different types. The writer made an interesting point about experience design, that human-centered design is not experience design and it was presumptuous that we could experience like others would.

We can design every aspect of the environment to encourage an optimal experience, but since each person brings their own attitudes, behaviours and perceptions to any situation, no designer can determine exactly what experience someone has.

He also discussed how beneficial data can be in design under Goal-Directed design, where software inventor Alan Cooper and designer Wayne Greenwood created multiple personas as references for implementing design guidelines; “making conversations about product design and functionality much easier than before”. One of the good advices in the reading is Principles, which I understood as something similar to rules or parameters. It is one of the factors of Goal-directed design and it helps to steer ones process to good solutions. It is important to ask two questions when settling upon the principles of the project.

Does it help your users accomplish their goal? Will it help users minimize their work? 

This is a personal throwback for me as I have done less design projects as compared to my polytechnics days. Which makes me wonder, during the time while I strive to make my work more substantial, have I lost sight of its purpose to visualize concrete solutions? I do suppose I stand on the border between design and art as I gear towards function and yet rejects restrictions by exploring creative expression.

Social Practice Art

A critique of social practice art

This article was my introduction to Social Practice art and I confess, the notion of activism as an art form is rather difficult to grasp. It is like the article describes “indistinguishable from simple museum outreach, or any other vaguely progressive type of work with some creative connection”; the definition of Social Practice art was never clearly specified and is unlike any other.  Originally, I thought it might be something similar to Art Therapy, maybe using art as a catalyst to drive a “social practice”, whichever it may be. However, further research proves that may not the case.

The way I see it, Social Practice art is simply social work with an addition of art used to promote their cause – http://adcglobal.org/tanisa-sharif-vessel/

There is little to no integration between the two. Nevertheless, that may be what sets them aside from regular social campaigns, these “Social Practices” led by reputable artists whom bring along their existing supporters and publicity to the problem at hand.

In contrast, Project Row Houses (PRH) have done a better job at welding the two together. Seeing their documentation of TrePhonos was closer to my expectations to Social Practice art.

Though at one point, the article argues that Project Row Houses did nothing to improve the situation that they were building towards, despite building several affordable housing, the statistics of those living in “extremely poor neighborhoods” still doubled over the past decade. Despite this failure, the PRH is still applauded as a success and I think it is because the core of Social Practice art is naturally the social aspect; the social sculpture as Joseph Beuys says. I can see why it works well with activism since their purpose is to rally supporters. Rirkrit Tiravanija’s 1992 artwork helped me that understand it best.

https://www.moma.org/explore/inside_out/2012/02/03/rirkrit-tiravanija-cooking-up-an-art-experience/

Strands of Time

Strand of Time was an animated media piece made for Elbphilharmonie’s media wall in Hamburg. Under the theme of Silk Road, I delved into the history of dyes and textiles during the time when its reputation was at its peak. The main idea was to restore an ancient fabric and reveal its timelessness.

Strands of Time at Elbphilharmonie Hamburg

The chosen source image was a Chinese embroidery piece predicted to be from the Yuan or Mind Dynasty around the 14th-15th Century. It may be in tatters but is still beautiful in the traditional way.

Original Scan from Threads of imagination Central Asian and Chinese Silk from 12th to the 19th Century

The poem featured in ancient chinese text is a poem about time by tang poet, Wei Zhuang (韦庄).

槐陌蝉声柳市风,驿楼高倚夕阳东。
往来千里路长在,聚散十年人不同。
但见时光流似箭,岂知天道曲如弓。
平生志业匡尧舜,又拟沧浪学钓翁。

(Poem Translation tbc)

Process link: https://oss.adm.ntu.edu.sg/ytan149/silk-road-process-part-2/