63 floors up in the sky and on the rooftop of One Raffles Place is 1-Altitude. Naturally, with my love for cities, I am attracted to the view from the top of skyscrapers. Before 1-Altitude existed, the highest urban spot you could plausibly go to in Singapore (with a spectacular view) was New Asia Bar / City Space, at the top of the Swissotel at Raffles City.
It is funny because I just recalled that I first became well-acquainted with the New Asia Bar quite some years ago while, at the time, I had been going out with someone who had been attempting to work as a “Private Investigator” at the time. I say “attempting” because now when I look back on it, his choice of working as a Private Investigator seemed more to fulfill his pipe dream of being a detective rather than a sensible career move. Without any prior police background or surveillance training (he had originally been an English teacher and studied Middle English), he approached his work assignments in a desultory, do-it-yourself fashion with self-invented decoys and covers, with methods found on the internet such as newspapers with slits in them, and holes cut in bags for cameras to peek out of.
I suppose one would say that becoming a Private Investigator was a job that one would have done for passion – but yet for all the ingenuity required, I’m sad to say that it was not an extremely lucrative or financially sustainable profession for the person on the ground who was doing all the tedious legwork. The hours were long and the work was very hard. He eventually quit and went back to teaching English (in any case we are no longer in contact anymore today).
Back then, for some reason, one of his assignments at that time also necessitated him periodically taking aerial shots of a certain construction site that could be observed from New Asia’s expansive aerial view. I’d tag along in the mid-afternoon and we’d go to New Asia, have a lemonade or fruit schnapp, and look out at the open patches of construction and deep excavation sites close to the foot of the building.
While honestly I don’t feel as if this directly influenced me or my current work in any way, I do find it to be a pretty uncanny coincidence, considering that I somehow ended up developing my personal work and writings along the lines of cities being repositories of clues – of a bigger mystery to be solved. Like the “ruins in reverse” as described by Robert Smithson, I find that I look to construction sites for ghosts and phantoms of the future, of the realities not yet realised.
To extend the thought a bit more, what this means is that through my work I would rather like to create “semiotic ghosts” (William Gibson). “Semiotic ghosts” refer to things which exist in people’s minds as actual OBJECTS and THINGS that could exist and might be built one day, but at the present moment have not actually been built. In having given it a name and imagined its possible existence in the world, they exist because we can talk about it like it really exists, and we can also write about it in essays and in fiction as if it really does exist. Sometimes that is all you need in order for the thing to exist.
So it exists conceptually and on that count one cannot deny that it “exists”. Yet at the same time it also does not really exist…
Or on the flipside, maybe one would say I’m just simply trying to make the best of this modern, boring, generic construction site that is Singapore; just trying to find me some metaphorical fossils while I’m here, since I’ve got no real rocks or fossils to dig up…