Last update: 09 September 2016
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Glass Mirror

Awkward, big and odd-shaped, jutting into one another, cheaply printed into a temporary space. There are many words that you can use to describe what you see, but all of these words will be imprecise. The error does not lie with these delicately engineered and precisely calibrated devices that are reproducing these images and projecting them upon our retinas. The error is actually within us – the human audience trying to imperfectly comprehend what we see in a reproduction of an image. It is human instinct to want to see something recognisable in everything; to discern some meaning even within random matter, to see something recognisable within every picture, no matter how degraded the quality of the image is.

Here, fragments of Bukit Brown, the largest Chinese Cemetery outside of China, have been blown up and exploded into tiny, incoherent shards. These images are awkward, big and odd-shaped, jutting into one another, cheaply printed into a temporary space. Lush, rich, and detailed images have long been a thing of the past. But this is not the past; this is the future!



You could say that the display seems to have shadows, lines, or that the images and colours seem somewhat ghostly, blurry, hazy, tinted, or faded. If the images are distorted, it may be necessary to adjust the pitch or phase settings, or to cycle through various input modes until you find one that works. Wiggle the cable where it connects to the device. Check for any nearby magnetic or electrical devices in the vicinity, which might be producing unexpected electromagnetic interferences.
An Early Mockup of the work, "Glass Mirror"
The work first began as a series of predetermined rules that I had written, which would be interpreted and implemented by a collaborator.

1 - The hill is to be composed of angular and odd-shaped prints
2 - The arrangement of these prints in the space should convey the fact of its temporary placement in the room, such as by being a little awkward or inconveniently placed.
3 - The hill is to be smaller at the bottom and bigger on top. The overall effect should be vertiginous.
4 - It should look detailed from afar, but on closer inspection it should reveal itself to be pixelated and blurry.
5 - When no one is close to the installation, it emits an incessant, keening sound. When someone is close to or moves closer to the installation, it should become silent.

The error does not lie with these delicately engineered and precisely calibrated devices that are reproducing these images and projecting them upon our retinas. The error is actually within us – the human audience trying to imperfectly comprehend what we see in a reproduction of an image. It is human instinct to want to see something recognisable in everything; to discern some meaning even within random matter, to see something recognisable within every picture, no matter how degraded the quality of the image is.

But what does ‘quality’ really mean? How does one begin to quantify the ‘quality’ of an image? How does it affect our appreciation of the image, or original subject of the image? And what does quality mean when we apply it to life itself? What do people mean when they speak of “quality of life”?

“Quality of life” is commonly used as a measurement for how people feel about their lives, and thus it is potentially a subjective yardstick, but also one that helps people determine where they want to live and build their lives. As rational humans we struggle to find empirical means and procedures in which to calculate our “quality of life”, and often this is done by examining various factors such as our political, economic, social, and cultural environments.

In Mercer’s 2014 Quality of Living Survey, Singapore was ranked as having the highest quality of living in Asia. Singapore comes up tops in terms of infrastructure and having a business-friendly environment, stable political climate, and low tax regime. An island city without a countryside, Singapore has also been very keen on ‘cementing’ its position as a “garden-city”, with parks, open spaces, and nature reserves taking up over 8% of Singapore’s total land area.

Former National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan once commented, “At the end of the day, the decision to locate and where to do business is also dependent on individual, how people live, how their family lives, how do they feel here. Do they feel safe here; do they have a good quality of life here? This is where the garden and greenery play a part. They are part and parcel of the whole total lifestyle package”.

Prior to the construction of the Gardens by the Bay Project on the Marina Waterfront, Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong described the 94ha project to build a towering artificial garden on prime waterfront land as being “far more impressive and convincing than any sales pitch by a minister, or a Powerpoint presentation by EDB. A potential investor who arrives in Singapore sees the greenery on the way from the airport to the city centre. He notices not just neatly manicured areas, but also patches of thick vegetation left undisturbed to be bird sanctuaries. He senses the planning, organisation and execution that has made this happen, the social discipline and the public standards that extend to all aspects of life in Singapore”.

No stranger to comprehensive economic, social and urban planning, Singapore’s urban landscape has been completely rewritten and reinvented as a glittering, attractive hyperreal astro-turfed garden city in which its troublesome or incompletely explained geographies and histories have been intentionally concealed or convieniently erased in the name of “progress”, rewritten for an audience beyond itself; in a effect a sort of victim of its own success.

Just as an artificial nature paradise is being built on the shores of the newly reclaimed Marina Bayfront, a real nature reserve containing the graves of the forefathers of the young nation state of Singapore is being excavated in preparation for the building of a new highway that promises to cut down someone’s travelling time in the future. Archivists, university researchers, and nature and local history enthusiasts have been laborously sifting through fragments and lost records and names which haven’t been uttered for decades – now with urgency, because they are only being allotted a finite amount of time to document and contextualise each fragments that they find.

I no longer feel homesick when I find myself living abroad, I only feel a fear that I should look back one day and the country that I came from should have become completely unrecognisable. So I impulsively collect any fragments that I can get, because with fragments it is impossible to say where is the beginning or the end.

Bernard Tschumi writes that it is not the clash between contradictory fragments which counts, but the movement and dialogue between them, and in the course of collecting fragments, we also come to understand that the fragment does not constitute the ‘breaking’ of the image or the totality, but rather reveals its ‘dialectical multiplicity’. With the help of fragments, it may still possible to rearrange and rewrite the story.

As Lefebvre maintains, ‘the most important thing is to multiply the readings of the city’ and it is by observing the detritus of each individual fragment on its own that we may discover something important that we might otherwise not perceive.

Here, fragments of Bukit Brown, the largest Chinese Cemetery outside of China, have been blown up and exploded into tiny, incoherent shards. These images are awkward, big and odd-shaped, jutting into one another, cheaply printed into a temporary space. Lush, rich, and detailed images have long been a thing of the past. This is not the past; this is the future! The future is not bleak, but it is maybe slightly out of focus. What was it again that you said you see in it?


Thanks to Patrick Tantra for working with me on this project, to Annie who brought this all together, and to Philipp Aldrup for allowing me to sample extracts from his images of Bukit Brown.