Singapore Art Week 2021: Where to see Debbie’s Works

For those in Singapore at the moment, I have a couple shows ongoing/upcoming during and beyond Singapore Art Week. I’m showing them as digital works and video works, so technically your location won’t matter once I have properly uploaded all the works later in the year…!


1. VOID

Void is a small game that’s available for download on itch.io (Mac currently / Win coming soon) and you could say it is a translation of my current reality into game form. Since I work full-time but also have a toddler who doesn’t quite go to daycare, I spend my days shuttling between void decks, waiting for taxis to take me between my own house, my parents’ house, and the office. There’s usually anywhere between 5 to 12 minutes of waiting where I don’t know what to do and for the fun of it I began scanning the various spaces in a very ad-hoc fashion. I rather liked the bad scans more than the good scans, and I ended up using this material to make an interactive experience in which you’re a little boat drifting between ruins, with the pillars looking a bit like the pali da casada (the poles that stick out of the water in front of buildings) in Venice.

If you’re in Singapore, its also in an awesome CAVE for just 4 days only at Gillman Barracks (9 Lock Road, #03-21, in the former unit of Arndnt), made by the amazing team from DUDE.SG. What this means is that you can navigate through the otherworlds inside it by raising a hand, squatting, flapping your hands wildly in front of you, and swiping. The entire show is a labour of love by INSTINC and altermodernists and all the artists involved, and the CAVE experience is truly seamless. Go and see it!

Otherworlds: non/digital realities

Organised by Instinc @instinc_space

Co-organised by @altermodernist

Curated by @hilda_hiukwan

Opening Hours: 28 Jan 2021 – 7 to 10pm 29, 30 Jan 2021 – 12nn to 10pm 31 Jan 2021 – 12nn to 7pm

Venue Gillman Barracks Block 9 Lock Road, #03-21

FREE ADMISSION

8 artists 2 cities

Digital and physical works

Facebook Event Link: https://www.facebook.com/events/302803607957276

Debbie’s “Void” on Itch: https://dbbd.itch.io/void


2. THE LEGEND OF DEBBIE

My vision for this work was to mine myself for material and create a gallery in which all my artworks were magical wormholes into alternate realities where I would tell you ridiculous stories that were both believeable and unbelievable and you would see various crazy visual representations and reinterpretations of my old work. We always talk about digitisation lately especially during covid – but are we really and truly exploring all the possibilities in a new interactive format like a 3d video game? I had some pretty tight time constraints (only working on this on weekends when I’m off work – I mean I do have a full-time job too), and being a one-woman developer team reined in my wild ambitions for this work (initially wanted to make a crazy ragdoll puppet of myself, which I scrapped due to having difficulties with ragdoll physics and rigging and lipsyncing, none of which is my speciality). I definitely feel this work is not even close to its final form and I imagine slowly improving it over time…

State of Motion: https://stateofmotion.sg/

Curated by Syaheedah Iskandar & Thong Kay Wee

Marina One

20 Jan – 21 Feb 2021

Exhibition open 12pm — 8pm daily (Except Public Holidays)

7 Straits View, Singapore 018936


3. MOTHER

In the basement of the National Gallery Singapore, I have a project called MOTHER. Try to visit it on Thurs-Sunday when there are helpful little elves to guide you through using the kinect-based interaction. Visually speaking this work is indeed a departure from what I usually make – i guess because of the involvement of form axioms’ dev team and my own limitations in Unreal (specifically: having tried to make my part of it on my own without any experience with Blueprints or having watched a proper tutorial or course on it – woops! Yes as it turns out one cannot transfer skills of one game engine to another haha). The background environment for MOTHER was also contributed by the development team; I described it and they translated it in their own way into what you see there. I suppose I imagined in my head something more brutalist and weird and oddball – but what came out was a bit more scifi alien in the end, a bit like walking into a basement lan cafe and you’re deafened by the ambient sound of nonstop clicking and shooting. So… yeah, not entirely what I expected, in case anyone is confused how this strange thing is a “Debbie Ding” work. Nevertheless I do feel like I learnt a lot from the progress of making it, especially experimenting with vocaloids.


4. RULES FOR THE EXPRESSION OF ARCHITECTURAL DESIRES

I guess this was my first video work, which I shot in Berlin over a summer, and made foley sound for in the dark scary basement of the ZKU building. The writing that accompanies the work was written about an anonymous city but there are glimmers of other very real cities in it. I’m just showing the video work for this exhibition at SEED space and it opens this weekend Saturday – and I am humbled to be showing alongside the amazing video work by Martha Atienza, Charles Lim, Lim Sokchanlina, Perception 3, Christina Quisumbing Ramilo, and Tromarama.

Images above from when I showed the work in Maison Salvan in Toulouse. Will update the pic of the show in SEED space when I can get a better picture!


Documentation for the works coming soon!

New motherhood is like a trip to a foreign country: Flatlands

Here’s a recent visual experiment that I made in the stolen moments of Beano’s naps. The setting is the 3-room rental flat we used to stay in, a very mundane 3-room “New Generation” (slab block) default template HDB flat built back in the 70s and 80s. And I think I’ve finally found a way to explain this thing that I’ve tried to explain many times before (but struggle to explain, similar to how its hard to explain my experience of taste-shape and mirror-touch synthesthesia).

For me, at any one time I always feel other superimpositions or juxtapositions of other places that feel a bit like memory palaces where I can store facts, thoughts, and memories of another time. Its hard to explain, but it is like when you have a work phone call, you might start doodling nonsense on a piece of paper. But in my case, when I start to daydream or let the mind wander (also: this happens when I am extremely focused on an urgent task and everything else zones out), I always end up recalling a visual memory of a place I’ve visited in the past. I am imagining tracing out its contours, I am imagining what the details must be like, what the lighting must be like. Honestly, I can’t really explain why certain views for me just keep popping up as the ‘memory palace’, as some of the locations are pretty inconsequential and emotionally insignificant to me. Yet! My mind returns to them for further rumination. To what end? I do not know.

I began writing the following some time back when Beano was a much smaller baby. But now that we are all locked down at home for the corona, and I haven’t left the house and its vicinity in days, fleeting memories of parks I’ve walked in come to mind. I found myself scrubbing through these albums trying to find the name of a particular memory that may as well be a dream. There was something oddly compelling about these images I had taken of my walks and frustratingly I COULD NOT FIND THAT ONE IMAGE OF THAT ONE WALK IN MY MIND. And turns out some of these images are pretty weird. Why are there no people in them?

It was always in the back of my mind to do something with this huge lot of photographs, so…. now they have ended up in this visual experiment. I actually think it looks better than I expected it; so I think I might even make more of them soon…


New motherhood is like a trip to a foreign country. Firstly, the middle of the night feedings are conducted in near-darkness, with the endless droning of the white noise machine in the background, and some random show on Netflix playing to sustain your consciousness beyond all normal hours lest you fall asleep on the sofa and baby accidentally rolls off; not unlike when one takes a plane and night-time is arbitrarily enforced upon you, the sound of the engines whirring is ubiquitous, and all you’ve got to watch are some random blockbusters or episodes of Big Bang Theory on the inflight.

When Beano was very very small, I found myself trying to claw back a sense of mobility through a series of ever increasingly longer walks with Beano strapped to me. In some ways, this strategy reminds of me of the Capital Ring walk I did in 2017. Living in Greater London makes one feel crushed by one’s own insignificance in a big city that is too vast to know by foot, so I thought I’d try to complete a ring around the city.

Once upon a time I was going to do a detailed expository blog post for each leg but AINT NOBODY GOT TIME FOR THAT so here are quite simply the photo albums for each leg of the walk…

Debbie’s 2017 Capital Ring Walk!

The source material for “Flatlands”

“I decided to walk the supposedly 78 mile Capital Ring over 6 consecutive days. I say “supposedly”, for Debbie does not go “as the crow flies” but rather haphazardly in a squiggly line all over the map, and according to other mapping devices it seems I may have walked more than 150 miles in total. Rather than starting with the traditional route as listed in TFL’s maps and David Sharp’s guide book to the Capital Ring, I decided to start and end my journey at Stoke Newington’s Rochester Castle.”

14 March 2017: CAPITAL RING Stoke Newington to Woolwich

Day 1: Stoke Newington to Hackney Wick
Day 1: Hackney Wick to Beckton District Park
Day 1: Beckton District Park to Woolwich Foot Tunnel

15 March: CAPITAL RING

Day 2: Woolwich Foot Tunnel to Falconwood
Day 2: Falconwood to Grove Park

16 March 2017: CAPITAL RING

Day 3: Grove Park to Crystal Palace
Day 3: Crystal Palace to Streatham Common

17 March 2017: CAPITAL RING

Day 4: Streatham Common to Wimbledon Park
Day 4: Wimbledon Park to Richmond

18 March 2017: Capital Ring

Day 5: Richmond to Osterley Lock
Day 5: Osterley Lock to Greenford
Day 5: Greenford to South Kenton

19 March 2017: CAPITAL RING

Day 6: South Kenton to Hendon Park
Day 6: Hendon Park to Highgate
Day 6: Highgate to Stoke Newington

Anodised Aesthetic and Cutting aluminium profiles at home with a small hacksaw

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Can you cut small aluminium profiles / Maker Beams at home using simple tools? The answer is YES YOU CAN! I actually have never cut metal for a project previously and it sounds a bit intimidating but I decided it was high time to build with aluminium – and to use it to build the frame for my own sand turning cctv contraption.


Apple’s Anodized Product Design Aesthetic

Why aluminium? It has excellent strength and resistance for its weight and is corrosion resistant even in moist conditions. Its super light yet solid and would be totally solid even if I had motors turning a 600g box inside it. Possibly you could say I was influenced by the finishing of all the products that I’m touching on a daily basis… I spend hours each day touching the anodised aluminium of the macbook or tablets with similar finishes. So many products use anodised aluminium as a functional and aesthetic finish. So why not use extruded aluminium profiles to construct the exterior rig – surely that would be solidly functional and aesthetic.

I bought the Makerbeam XL kit (S$219) and a bunch of 100cm Makerbeam XL rods (S$15.50 each from SGbotic) and I needed to cut a few more down to my custom sizes. Previously I had built some things with much cheaper aluminum profiles but not all of them had this perfect finish, the corner cubes, and this slimness (15mm) suited the work well. The pre-cut pieces made it super fast to build a first prototype, and the longer pieces provided flexibility to cut and add on custom lengths of support.

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All you need is a small hand saw, clamps, some lubricant and your kitchen table. And yes, even for those of you of ridiculously weak muscular strength, I promise that your cut rods will be of an acceptable standard. (I have zero arm muscle btw. I can’t even do a single pull up.)

All that you’ll need for this endeavour is:
A small hacksaw with a blade
A clamp
Spare bit of wood (for clamping)
File
Can of Lubricant

And some tissues to clean up the puddle of grease and aluminium powder you’re about to splatter on your kitchen floor, you dirty animal!

Hacksaws are basically those C-shaped frames which hold a blade using tension. You can get a cheapie (but solid) Lenox one for like $12.60, and the blades for about $2. There are plastic ones that go for even less! The blades come with a number, something like 18TPI or 24TPI (also written on blades as 18T or 24T). This stands for Teeth per inch. I happened to use the 24TPI one that was already in this random hacksaw I found. The logic behind this is that the lower TPI should be used for thicker and heavier metal. There’s apparently a whole science behind the thickness of material vs the TPI that you can read up on here. But obviously in all these cases its not just any random metal, but any kind of machinable metal (such as aluminium)

With a little sawing, the metal will bend to your will and you will have your profile lengths customised for your project! All you need now is to tap screw threads into the ends and you’ve got a perfectly usable part. If you are using the Makerbeam cubes they will very easily hide any rough cuts, or simply sand off the edges if they are going to be exposed.

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You can see this work in motion at the President’s Young Talents 2018 show!

8Q @ Singapore Art Museum
8 Queen St, Singapore 188535
Gallery 3.12 (Level 3)
4 Oct 2018 – 27 Jan 2019

Using Paint and Plastics to Make Realistic Fake Cow Grass

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A few years ago I wrote a series of short stories, one of which was about a social contract in which people were allowed to remain in an area if they totally blended in by wearing a camouflage suit. It was based on this story that I decided to make these red-soil-with-cow-grass ghillie suits:

A HOME WITHOUT A SHELTER

In this city, all private land parcels exceeding the specified size must allocate at least 10% of green spaces on their land as a “permitted camouflage zone”. People who wish to use parts of these private gardens for their own leisure are legally permitted to do so, so long as they are in camouflage. Special camouflage suits are manufactured and sold to suit every type of urban space. Members of the public blend seamlessly into the private gardens, private landowners are unable to see the public in their parks — the suits rendering them invisible on first glance.

Some entrepreneurial individuals have been trawling through the streets collecting soil and plant material, sewing the organic material into suits for would-be park goers. In particular, homeless people have been taking the most advantage of this scheme, devising the most ingenious ways of producing a camouflage suit at almost no cost, and becoming virtually invisible within some of these parks. Many people in this city have mastered the fine art of blending in and remaining unseen whilst still in plain view.

It turns out that a clod of recently deposited soil isn’t really a realistic clod of soil unless there is a bit of grass poking out of it. The mound of soil must have grass because soil is the surface through which things intersect (light, buildings erupt from its surface, shards of greenery, etc), and without the eruption of grass from the surface it is hard to appreciate the continuity of the surface.

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Like this…

So it turned out that my attempts to make a landscape work soon became a totally ridiculous painstaking endeavour to produce the most realistic cow grass by hand in artisanal small batches……

When I began conceptualising this new work, I originally intended to digitally print everything, but then as things turned out, I wasn’t quite satisfied with the quality of the digital colour once it was printed on fabric. Often digital print on textile has the odd, dullened sheen of ink deposited on the surface, dependent very much on the base that it is printed on. Mainly the fabric texture getting in the way. But colour is so important in this. As someone who has done a fair bit of digital painting, I consider myself quite knowledgeable about how digital colour or colour on screen works, but paint has always been a whole other territory. I don’t know so much about all the different mediums, or why there are so many different types of whites available in the shops, or why I should buy one brand of paint over another. So it wasn’t my first choice to work directly with colour or paint… its not a medium which I’m 100% comfortable with…

Fortunately, what I found is that one’s understanding of digital colour addition can be easily translated into real-life paint colour addition. And as it turns out – boy oh boy do I enjoy painting! I didn’t even think I would enjoy it so much! I don’t want to just paint abstract or random things, but I want to gain total mastery over the medium. To me, if I haven’t become good or precise enough to paint something ultra photorealistic at the snap of a finger, then I don’t think I could allow myself to generate any ol’ random paintings just yet. After this project is done, I think i’d like to try to master photorealistic painting. You know, obsessively painting images of thin-film interference or iridescence or something totally ridiculous like that. (But since I’m working towards a deadline, I’ll leave my idle dreams of painting images of tempered metal for another time…)

To the left, the paint, and to the right, the colour sample (some actual soil collected from outside)
It was easy to obtain an accurate colour sample for the red soil I wanted because I just kept a bowl of soil in the house for reference. However, I realised that the red of the soil was not necessarily recognisable as a familiar sight to Singaporeans – unless accompanied by a sparse smattering of grass, in particular, the grass known as “Axonopus compressus” or “cow grass”. But since grass is living material and not mineral, keeping a colour sample was harder.

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Here was the grass in situ… (on a grassy mound in Buangkok)

First attempts at making a colour reference failed because I am a monster and I actually tried to laminate the fresh green grass to preserve. Not a great idea because grass obviously changes colour when COOKED, like any other plant or vegetable.

I iteratively improved the colour until it was as close as possible to the real thing. I don’t really like painting on paper. But I really LOVE painting on a transparent plastic medium. The ease of painting on smooth plastic, the way you can overlay it onto other things. I’ve tried cellulose acetate (aka OHP transparency) but that is a medium known to be vulnerable to yellowing and warping over time, breaking down into acetic acid or the plasticisers migrating outwards to the surface leaving a weird white powdery deposit. Now I’m trying Dura-Lar film which is supposed to be a mix between Acetate and Mylar – supposedly archival grade material which is partly made out of the resin Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET).

Finally, here is the colour reference I made for the plastic grass that I seem to be making in a very tedious fashion BECAUSE I HAVE TO DO THINGS THE HARD WAY.

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I ended up putting some of the grass (that I hadn’t inadvertently cooked through lamination) into a dish of water and now it appears I am also growing grass at home. Maybe I will put it in the snail tank, so the snails can feed on it, and then the cycle will be complete?…

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My basket of realistic fake cow grass


You can come to see the grass on the work I produced for the President’s Young Talents 2018 show!

8Q @ Singapore Art Museum
8 Queen St, Singapore 188535
Gallery 3.12 (Level 3)
4 Oct 2018 – 27 Jan 2019

Space Geodes at Ota Fine Arts Singapore (4 August 2018 – 15 September 2018)

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The show at Ota Fine Arts is all set up, with many thanks to Jodi for inviting me to show the work. I’ve shown this work two times but this is the first time I had the option of REAL PLINTHS. I previously used all acrylic casings as plinths. At the time it was a practical decision as I was using whatever unwanted ‘plinth’-like items I could find and The Substation was getting rid of these old casings – but also it was a consistent material to the rest of the work. Plastic upon more plastic!

[PS you can read more of my writing about the work here as well:]
Space Geodes: On the 3D Printed prototype as Digital Fossil
Space Geodes at Singaplural 2016
Public Service Notice about Geodes

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Left: Space Geodes at Singaplural 2016. Right: Space Geodes at Objectifs in 2017.
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Space Geodes at Ota Fine Arts in 2018
Given free choice over the colour that I would want the plinth to be, I’d always choose Grey as a neutral base over White or Black. We chuckled over the names given to the colours and I have to admit I was almost tempted to choose a colour simply because it was named “GRANITE ROCK” or “SLATE GRAY”. (Ultimately if the names given to the colours by savvy paint companies were totally ignored, the choice would have been very clear to me anyway; it was always going to be a specific warm mid-range sort of grey for which I don’t have a name but can always pick out of a lineup)

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I did give the arrangement more thought this time around. Recently I’ve been enjoying laser cutting a lot because I now have access to a lasercutter in the NYP Makerspace which is literally a 5 minute walk from where I am staying at the moment (and its under-utilised!) so as a simple experiment I tried to make an acrylic base/riser which would also light the work from beneath.

Geode

Geode with base

The only reason I haven’t gone with this lighting option is the fact that there is a little colour discrepancy in the “white” when it is lit. My lights and acrylics are too “laser white”, whereas the work glows with a warm white. Weirdly enough, some of the works looked more yellow when lit, as if they differed in thickness, which I couldn’t understand to be the case since they were designed as hollow shells of the same thickness for the SLS process (to save on material cost)

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The answer as to why there was a discrepancy in thickness and lighting became clearer later. As I was arranging the works yesterday, POWDER STARTED COMING OUT OF SOME OF THE WORKS. The powder had been thicker in some portions so that was why the lighting was not consistent. Having shown the works two times before, I was surprised that powder was draining out now when I’d have expected any excess powder to come out of the work in the previous round. Perhaps it was all the transportation and vigorous moving about that dislodged the excess powder hiding inside the print, for the white nylon powder began issuing forth from the escape holes I had designed for the works.

Perhaps on previous viewings we had treated the works so very softly and cautiously as if we were handling live explosives – but this time around I put them in a basket for rocks and slung them over my shoulder as I carried them to the gallery.

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For those unfamiliar with the Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) process, it is an additive manufacturing process in which the laser sinters the powder into a solid material, but because the material itself is quite costly, designers often design the part as a hollow part with some escape holes so the excess powder can be shaken out. I would have thought that all the powder from before had been shaken out by now!

Its a bit funny as come to think of it the white powder flowing out visually resembles a weathering process in which the rocks break down into smaller particles. Earlier in the day I was also just building a prototype for a new work in which one can see material flowing in a similar way. When something breaks down into particles that small, the dust is literally blown into the wind. There’s no “trying to collect it in a cup and sticking it back together”. Its just gone, blown away, it ceases to be an identifiable part of the thing it was once part of.

Prototype for a new work
The private view for the group show is tonight – please come down to see if it you’re in town!

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The exhibition will be on view from August 4 through September 15, 2018 at Ota Fine Arts, 7 Lock Road, #02-13 Gillman Barracks, Singapore 108935.


SPACES
Kray Chen | Sheryl Chua | Debbie Ding | Hilmi Johandi | Tristan Lim | Ian Tee
4 August – 15 September 2018

Opening Reception in the presence of the artists:
Friday, 3 Aug 2018, 6.30 – 8.30 pm

Ota Fine Arts Singapore is delighted to present SPACES, a group exhibition featuring 6 artists from Singapore: Kray Chen, Sheryl Chua, Debbie Ding, Hilmi Johandi, Tristan Lim and Ian Tee. This exhibition showcases each artist’s reaction to the spaces and structures in contemporary society, as well as a more formal focus on pictorial space. From painting to photography, video, 3D print and textile work, diverse expressions by the artists discuss relations between the virtual/imaginary and actual spaces.

Ho Chi Minh: Dates in the Pavement

I hate crossing the road in Ho Chi Minh. Ho Chi Minh was not made for pedestrians. Turns out that when it comes to the bottom line, I am actually extremely risk-adverse as a pedestrian. Or maybe I am a soft and flabby urbanite. Or maybe I just don’t have a death wish?

Perhaps it was the law-abiding Singaporean in me who was extremely averse to crossing the road if the bikes and cars did not stop first. Unfortunately, the traffic NEVER DIED DOWN, so on at least 2 occasions I was frustratingly stranded on the wrong side of the road for up to 20 minutes. (Mom, if you’re reading this, you probably never want to visit HCM, because if you already hate crossing a 4 lane road in Singapore, then you’re going to HATE having to cross an eight-lane road in HCM where the traffic WILL NEVER STOP. Oh my word just thinking about it…)

I don’t normally talk about my neuroses and latent anxieties on this blog but that time I was in Jatinegara in Jakarta and people were sitting near a live train track and everyone seemed cool with it? NOPE…. Live train tracks and DANGER OF INSTANT DEATH are still inextricably linked in my mind. Or that other time when I was walking along the North Circular Road in London next to high speed traffic on the motorways? Yeah even though I’m safely on the pavement which is well away from the main bulk of the speeding cars, and even though London’s motorways are supposed to be one of the slowest yadda yadda, if there are vehicles speeding next to me then I’m still fully at HIGH ALERT. Because speeding metal boxes whizzing past me still translate as DANGER OF INSTANT DEATH.

I mean… I’ll still walk around places which feel risky (because I don’t want to let fear to keep me from doing what I feel like doing) but it doesn’t change the fact that its actually still anxiety-inducing for me.

I was attending a wedding in Ho Chi Minh last week and on the first day I arrived I immediately had two near-collisions. (TOP TIP: DO NOT SUDDENLY WALK BACKWARDS!!! BUT OBVIOUSLY DUH NO ONE EXPECTS PEDESTRIANS TO WALK BACKWARDS IF YOU SHOCK THEM BY BEEPING YOUR DEAFENING HORN AT THEM.) I developed a tension headache almost immediately. I even began plotting routes which would minimise my need to cross the road. I was like, Goodbye Family Mart across the road I will never know you because you are on the wrong side of the road and I will never get there. Welp, guess I won’t get to the Independence Palace because I can’t cross the tiny road in front of it. (Two days later I finally managed to cross that road).

I was chagrined to have been told by Rich that the street I was on (Phạm Ngọc Thạch) was in his opinion a great road to walk down with old trees lining it and the turtle roundabout at one end. YEAH I KNOW IT IS TOTALLY LEAFY AND NICE BUT I STILL CAN’T CROSS THE ROAD!

Anyway, despite my instant hatred for crossing roads in Ho Chi Minh City, I eventually found a good reason to get me walking about even though I was fearful of the roads. As it turns out, in Ho Chi Minh City you’ll find a lot of dates stamped into the pavements, on the telecomm network and drainage system covers. The words on the pavements indicate that the dates were left by Vietnam Posts and Telecommunications Group (VNTP) and Ho Chi Minh City Urban Drainage (Cong ty Thoat Nuoc Do Thi). I’ve only seen this in one other city (Paris) where I also spent a lot of time photographing these dates and mapping them out.

Here is a selection of dates inscribed into the pavements of Ho Chi Minh:

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This is not an exhaustive list of photos I took but it seems the earliest one I saw was dated from 1998. My favourites are the hand-made dates. What’s pretty interesting as well as is that sometimes the manhole and the cover for the manhole have a different date! Never seen that before in any other city.

More Ho Chi Minh posts coming up…

Snails of the Soil

If you have ever shopped at Poundland, you’ll know those bags of soil which they always start selling in the summertime. They also sell those tiny plant pot kits with tiny portions of soil of unknown provenance, all of which look a bit like crushed mica and is often very terrible at holding water. I’ve always wondered where on earth the bits of soil came from, and where they had travelled from. But of course the answer is probably something very mundane, not at all the reveal of a big soil secret, and more the result of a logistical business decision: what is the most expedient way to run a business selling a discount bag of soil for a pound?

Over here in Singapore the only pot of soil that had been in my house for some time was actually the remains of a plant that Han had given to me (SORRY FOR THE BAD NEWS, HAN). Whilst I’ve liked keeping potted plants for many years I also know that introducing new plants to a collection of potted plants can result in you introducing new plant diseases or bugs in that will wipe out all your other plants. I think every single attempt of mine to start a high-rise garden has ended this way. I also have a problem of underwatering and overwatering my plants, despite knowing full well that the key to keeping the plants alive is finding the right level of water and nutrient for the plant. I looked into gaining more control over the feed through hydroponics, or something like rock wool, but I currently lack the space and equipment to do more.

Anyway I had the feeling that the soil I had in the pot from Han did not seem to be the optimum potting medium for the plant, because it kept drying out more quickly than I could water it (within a day). Perhaps because I kept the pot on the scorching windowsill here where the temperatures were insane.

When it dried out, the soil turned light brown instead of the black-brown peaty colour it used to have, almost with little white flecked crystals on top. I began rehydrating this pot of soil recently and upon being wetted it instantly went back to being black-brown in colour like this:

Strangely, this rehydration of a dried pot of soil appeared to have triggered something.

A day later I was looking at my pots of soil when I noticed that something was moving on top of it.

Five little snails had crawled to the surface of the barren pot…

THE HORRORS!

LIFE? JUST ADD WATER™

REMINDER TO ALL WOULD-BE SOIL SAMPLERS: SOIL IS ALSO A MEDIUM FOR TRANSPORTING TINY ORGANIC LIFEFORMS SUCH AS SNAILS!

“Tanah Goreng”: Residual granite soil sample

This weekend I wanted to conduct an extremely controlled and orderly soil sieving and drying process to obtain the raw material for the work that I’m currently building. (I mention orderly and controlled, but as you will see, it was anything but orderly in the end…)

You see, earlier this year I decided that I would build a work about soil. Long has soil been a material used in art as pigment, or in the production of clay and sculpture. It is depicted in landscapes as the all important horizon line, it is so ubiquitous that it is almost invisible, and for some reason we hardly have any reason to handle soil directly today. Everything is about sand sand sand. No one talks about the soil. So I wanted to study more about soil.

So I read up on the process for the wet preparation of soil samples. Got all the gear ready, collected and measured a cup of residual granite soil (ie: that ubiquitous red soil which you see everywhere in Singapore), added clean water to it, and sieved the material through a food sieve into a stainless steel bowl (which was somewhat disturbingly similar to the same type of stainless steel bowl I used to eat my food). After that, I heated it on an infrared cooker which I placed at the end of the “yard”.


I used a food sieve although I had spent quite some time researching on test sieves – I really wanted to use a set of sieves of different sizes to enable me to determine the particle size within the residual granite soil I had collected and I had even gone as far as investigating whether I could build my own sieve shaker rig with a stepper motor. But then I fell off my chair when I looked at the prices of scientific grade test sieve sets. Perhaps I was looking to the most expensive brands (eg: Endecotts) but I hadn’t realised how pricey the equipment would be. I know they are important for determining the size of particles, and that the type of weave and small details about how it is made and tested are also reasons for it retailing at a very ‘specialist’ price – but can accuracy of sieve size truly justify the over-tenfold increase of the price of a single scientific grade test sieve as compared to a domestic flour sieve/food masher? I mean, is the test sieve made of gold??

Anyway, as an approximation – here I have used a discount flour sieve I bought from the humble AMK Fairprice. In any case, my main purpose here was to sieve out large rocks and other organic material from the collected soil, in order to obtain a fine dry sifted soil material.

Aaaand after I mentioned that I was reverting to using kitchen equipment in lieu of lab equipment… Zaki joked that it sounded like I was making “Tanah Goreng”. WELL THEN FOLKS, HERE IS RESIPI TANAH GORENG:

TANAH GORENG

287g Tanah (soil)
500ml Air (water)

Add water and agitate with a spoon to loosen smaller sediment from larger sediment.
Strain different sized sediments into different pans.
Cook separate pans over low heat until completely dried.

Soil mixed with water forms a liquid which has a high viscosity meaning that when the water underneath reaches boiling point, the steam pressure begins to build up. First the steam pressure begins like a murmur on the surface, like a fluttering heartbeat; the soil slowly showing signs of life on the surface.

For quite some time the muddy soil soup simply sort of quivered in the pan, as if it were a blob of congealing Teh C in giant custard pudding form. Thoughts such as “AW, HOW PRECIOUS” and “Should I be photographing its first moments of life?” came to mind. But because it was taking so long to come to a boil I lost interest in watching it. I was not about to spend all evening watching a pot come to a boil. So I went away.

Next thing I knew, it had progressed to a whole new other level of horror…

What the…

What is this, splatter gore horror?…

LESSON #1: SOIL PLUS WATER EQUALS MUD. WHEN HEATED IN A SMALL PAN, MUD SPLATTERS
Certainly a key lesson to be learnt from this is either to use a deeper or bigger pan – or boil a smaller quantity of mud if you do not wish to return to a red splattered scene like this (and a lot of cleaning work to be done).

The wild mud cook out continued the next morning, this time in more manageable smaller batches.

The soil was heated until it was dry and could be collected in large flakes.

A miniature martian landscape naturally emerged on the surface of each dry pan of soil.

For a moment I imagined that maybe Mars had also secretly boiled over when we weren’t looking at it, in order to get all these craters.

About 175g of material was recovered from an original 287g of collected raw material.

MORE EXPERIMENTS WITH SOIL COMING SOON

Singaporean Landscapes: Cut-and-paste greenery

With the opening of After The Fall at National Museum of Singapore in a few days time, I thought I should post up a series of entries about the design process of the holograms that I’ve been working on.

When I began thinking of my desired aesthetics for an imagined “Singaporean landscape”, I can’t think of anything more apt than clean textures and hard cut lines in the 3D models; that impression of some master designer’s wildly clicking Ctrl-V all over the landscape. Bizarrely hard contrasts between forms – such as this example of the generic industrial property constructed within a hair’s width of the highly decorative chinese temple:


View from the Bedok Park Connector: Taoist Federation Building meets Industrial Carpark on Bedok North Ave 4
(Photo: Debbie Ding)

Or another example is this pristine specimen of a concrete and metal crash barrier that I encountered the other day whilst out walking around Bedok – so blindingly white and perfectly new that it may as well have been a 3D render:

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ITS REAL

For efficiency, the top tip would be to cut away any faces/vertices that do not ever appear within the camera view so no processing power will be wasted on that information that you will never get to see within the final render. So for a very tall tree, you can simply cut off the tree’s crown as long as you won’t see it and you won’t need the shadow of the leaves to impact on the overall scene.

If you did it right, you’ll be able to dramatically reduce overall file size and render time. But the visual outcome is in the file you’ll also see a lot of hard cuts in the virtual greenery… And whilst I was working in the isolation of my flat in London a few months ago when this project first began I was actually worried that I might have overdid things with my.. er… overzealous cutting-and-pasting. But I need not have worried! For upon returning to Singapore, I was gratified to see countless examples of this highly efficient cut-and-paste greenery at work:

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Recently the trees around Bedok Reservoir seem to have been subjected to a round of very fastidious tree pruning which look like a model picture of the cut-and-paste public greenery that was in my head. A cutting exercise facilitated no doubt by what they describe as more cutting-edge tree monitoring tech

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DBBD Does Documentation: Now on Youtube!

A new development over the last month! I’ve rather belatedly discovered the joy of doing lots of video documentation! For a person who seems to have struggled inexplicably with slow internet or intermittent wifi/internet for years now (damn you telcos and inconvenient travelling plans!) it does take me more time to edit and upload these morsels, but I think the effort is well worth it!

Here is what my time in Australia looked like – featuring: Australian War Memorial, Anzac Day, Last Post, Changi Quilt, Science Museums, Natural History Museums, dioramas, holograms, magic lanterns, pepper’s ghost, parallax barrier grid, lenticular prints, vr goggles, aerial views, optical illusions, transparent OLED touchscreens and other projections and reflective things. And also lots of bugs and birds (because I like bugs and I like birds). Maybe it makes no sense to others (George thought it was “exhausting”??) but surely that short-attention-span 2-second-jump-cut format is still recognisable to all who use instagram/vine/fb?

It was only halfway through my visit that I realised that using video made a lot more sense than using photos to collect visual references (I kinda regret not doing it throughout my entire trip!). So I have to admit that the selection of clips here shows a rather random slice of my time there that just so happened to be caught on video, rather than being representative of my whole time in Canberra/Sydney/Melbourne…

In addition to discovering the joys of video documentation, I decided to make a new youtube channel! But since the channel looked really sad and boring when it only had one video on it, I decided to re-upload a bunch of old videos I’ve made, and then one thing led to another, and now I’ve given them some ALL NEW AND HILARIOUS DESCRIPTIONS!…. (please read descriptions before watching)

 

THE DBBD YOUTUBE CHANNEL

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCynhKJ773XGc5gqvis0ZaRg

BLENDER SPEED MODELLING

“Hi Everyone. Here is me speed modelling the MBK-12 a few years ago, also known as the B.E.A.R. You might have seen something like it in Battlefield 5. I made my own changes to it, and I have released this as a game asset which is available for free download on the Unity game store. Quite happy with this one, but admittedly its really not my best work considering the evolution of my 3D skills since then.”

 

CG ANIMATION EXPERIMENT

“Hi guys, here’s an experiment in crowd dynamics made with Miarmy for Maya, which I made as a previs for this personal CG animated short film that I’m trying to finish in my free time. It’s going to be a thrilling Post-apocalyptic Zombie-Alien-Invasion-meets-Counter-Historical-Fantasy science fiction thriller with lots of drama and emotion, and mental acrobatics. You can probably see where I’m going with this example.”

 

DIY SLIME TUTORIAL

“HI EVERYONE! TODAY’S VIDEO IS A DIY SLIME RECIPE TUTORIAL, ITS SUPER EASY AND FUN. SORRY ABOUT MY VOICE, MY MIC IS A BIT OLD SO ITS NOT PICKING UP EVERYTHING, I’M JUST TURNING 12 AND MY MOM WON’T GET ME A NEW ONE TILL CHRISTMAS THIS YEAR. THANKS FOR WATCHING! ITS GONNA BE AWESOME! LOVE U GUYS”

IF YOU ENJOYED THIS PLZ SUBSCRIBE TO THE DBBD CHANNEL FOR MORE:
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCynhKJ773XGc5gqvis0ZaRg

(Sorry my channel is only 1 day old / not yet 30 days old / so it can’t have a custom URL yet)
Clearly I’ve watched too many youtube / slime videos / speed modelling videos / cg experiment videos…