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Here the River Lies

The Singapore River is a kind of “psychogeographical faultline” - a site constantly in construction and motion, where the spaces of our memories and dreams interact, merge, or drift apart - like a series of tectonic plates.

The river is a site of significant historical, economic, and social importance - yet despite its centrality, it seems that many Singaporeans do not know its history, its exact location or even its appearance.


In October 2006, the online mapping company Virtual Maps Pte Ltd was embroiled in a civil lawsuit with Singapore Land Authority for the copyright infringement of vector map data that was originally provided by SLA to Virtual Maps in 2004. This was proved with the SLA revealing that they had inserted some imaginary features into their maps - such as a fake temple, fake buildings, and a fictional dead-end street. It was argued that the addition of these fake features were not meant to mislead regular users of the map, but served as “fingerprints” which would help identify it to the owner of the map.
- a non-existent building labeled “TP” (Temple) besides Block 891A Woodlands
- a non-existent dead-end street extending from Jurong West Street 23
- a non-existent building numbered “92” at the Junction of Pitt Street and Jalan Besar
- a non-existent building numbered “6” along Edgedale Plains opposite Block 131CP
- the distinctive and idiosyncratic representation of Fort Gate,
  which was SLA’s surveyor’s own rendering but rather inaccurate to life

Left: VM Website / Right: SLA

I’ve been fascinated by the idea of a map that could only be officially identified as being the true “artistic work” of its author by being disputably “inaccurate”. The speed at which Singapore develops and changes all the time also means that our maps are always in the process of becoming outdated and inaccurate; as roads and places that were once real cease to exist in reality although they remain in our memory.

I wanted to make an interactive map installation of the Singapore River that would require the participation of the audience to complete the work. The audience is invited to contribute their memories of the Singapore River to a large hand-drawn map of the Singapore River, regardless of whether the memories are real, partially real, or imaginary.

"Here the River Lies" exhibited at The Substation, 2010

"Here the River Lies" exhibited at The Substation, 2010

"Here the River Lies" exhibited at The Substation, 2010

All of the stories were then documented on its online archive, without any distinction between which were real or fictional stories. This map would thus become each visitor’s very own, as they would be the only person who would be able to recognise whether their memory was real or a confabulation. This would become a map that derives its identity as an artistic work from opening itself up to becoming idiosyncratically real and imaginary at the same time.
"Here the River Lies" exhibited at Singapore Art Museum in “Unearthed”, 2013

"Here the River Lies" exhibited at Singapore Art Museum in “Unearthed”, 2013

"Here the River Lies" exhibited at Maison Salvan (Toulouse, France) in "Je De Cartes", 2015

"Here the River Lies" exhibited at Maison Salvan (Toulouse, France) in "Je De Cartes", 2015

After several exhibitions, over 1500 memories have been collected and scanned. It is unlike other historical archives and ‘memory projects’ in that it includes a huge range of memories which may be real but may also have been completely made up. However, through the articulations of these stories, there is also a hope for some of these stories to slip into our reality and to become part of the mythology of the Singapore River.
2016 version commissioned by the Culture Academy, National Heritage Board.

This work has been previously exhibited at The Substation (2010), Galerie Steph (2013), Singapore Art Museum (2014) and Maison Salvan (2015; Toulouse, France). A new version of the work was later specially adapted for the Culture Academy, National Heritage Board and exhibited during "The Digital in Cultural Spaces" Conference, 7 - 8 December 2016.