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

Collecting Dust

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Debbie Ding, “From Dust, To Dust”
Exhibited at “Ghost on the Wire”, Bermonsey Project, London, June 2014.
Curated by Gavin Maughfling & Suzanne de Emmony with support of the National Arts Council of Singapore


The above four balls of dust are the culmination of months of me and George collecting and trading dust. Firstly this couldn’t have happened without George! <3 For the entire exercise began in earnest, while we were facing a yawning chasm of time and space between us (I never want us to be apart again for that long!) How surreal it is to be here, from a simple meeting and a funny conversation, to me sitting here in London on your carpet, rolling our dustballs together...
One reason why I haven’t been posting on this blog recently is because I’ve also been working on all this writing that was to go into the book for THIS show! And that was in addition to the unreal amount of work I’ve had at school – helping the graduating year build their show – which by the way is unbelievably awesome! Please take a look at the works from this year’s Design Interactions. I’ve been helping to compile everyone’s work for the online DI14 documentation, and building…. ants? (More on my desultory diversions into fly tying in another post..)

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To be honest, writing is a curious sport. It is nearly impossible to estimate how much time one needs to write, unlike most other tasks which can be planned for. You can only hope to produce the conditions that will allow the words to flow. Sometimes there will be inspiration and sometimes there is just none. I had a few reams of half-baked texts, but I threw out most of my drafts at the eleventh or almost the twelfth hour, and decided to rewrite most of the text in the very last weekend before I sent this off to print. I think the text turned out much better that way.

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A week before this I had attended a curious workshop at Auto Italia by Ingo Niermann, who edits the Solutions series and whose writing on Drills I had first encountered at Documenta. We had an interesting meandering dialogue, and I decided to try to write/rewrite some of the ideas I had into the form of a Drill. With a Drill, one becomes free to coerce oneself into something else, repeating an action over and over again until it becomes almost an instinct to behave as such. For a drill to work there is the necessity of repetition – and for me my feeling of a drill is that any kind of repetition also comes with resignation (assuming one is wholehearted in the execution of the drill) or, it could also come with some modicum of anxiety and futility (if one is unable to surrender oneself entirely to become the material).

I am reminded of one of my favourite films from some years ago – Brothers Quay’s Institute Benjamenta, where a man who says that he has lost all hope of becoming a useful member of society applies to attend the Institute to learn how to become a total servant. In their classes, they repeat drills and certain motions endlessly, to some unknown end, which the man finds more and more oppressive over time. Even though he has given up hope on becoming an individual in his own right, he remains unwilling to follow the drills and become the material entirely because the meaning within the repetition is hidden to him. This is what we slowly realise is the nature of becoming a servant at the Institute Benjamenta. A motion repeated on cue, producing meaning and effects not seen. There is a kind of poetry within total subservience; I do think that for an artist the ultimate is to become one with the material/work, but inherently its attraction for me is not being unquestioningly willing to give up the control, but the interesting thing for me is that dissonance one feels in trying to get closer to the meaning through a systematic repetition of seemingly pointless actions.

Here follows an excerpt from the book…
(If you like it, you can also order a copy online here.)


How to Become Homeless


From the book “From Dust, To Dust” by Debbie Ding

Begin the motions of moving to another country for a short while.

Get a very large box.

Collect all of your most important and personal items and place them in a very large box in a long-term storage facility – with the absolute belief that you will be returning for them very shortly. Throw away all other items which you deem as unimportant.

Create an inventory list of each item that you have put into the box to help you remember what is inside this box. Write out long, lovingly detailed descriptions of each item you place inside.

Allow yourself only a very short time to complete this task. In the midst of your rushed packing, convieniently misplace this inventory list by also putting it in the box, and then seal the box and place it into storage.

Quickly move to another country and allow yourself to settle into this new life over time. Slowly get more and more caught up in your other life there until you end up staying there for an additional 3 years.

Allow yourself to completely forget what you left in the box in the previous country over time.

Begin to feel a sense of mystery and curiosity about the contents of the box that was left behind. The contents of this box will gain significance, just as how forgotten scribblings in small notebooks which you have lost forever will seem like they must have been significant, genius thoughts that you desperately must recapture. Tell friends about the box you left behind, and how you have to go back for it someday. Try to imagine what you might have left in the box.

Come back after 3 years to investigate the contents of this box.

Discover that the box is mostly full of heavy, inconsequential things which have lost their emotional importance, or things can be replaced, or have already been replaced since.

Give away the contents of the box to anyone who will take them.

Begin the motions of moving to another country for a short while.


For more information visit http://dreamsyntax.org/dust

The Launch of the NewBiologist

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Early this year I began working on a project about the future of plant galls (plant tumours) – and I’ve written, edited and produced a magazine called “NewBiologist” which will be launched and shown tomorrow along with some prints from my series “Kensington Gall” – in a group show “Second Nature” at Espacio Gallery, which is at 159 Bethnal Green Road. The private view is at 6pm tomorrow. Come down if you are in London!

“Kensington Gall” is a story inspired by popular science journalism in NewScientist and creative non-fiction in the New Yorker, both of which I have been accidentally reading a lot of (because there are always new copies of it in the house thanks to George). I wrote a few other short articles, and spun these stories into a magazine I like to call the “NewBiologist”. I’ve written all of the words and made all of the images in it, and I’d love to hear people’s comments about the story. When I have more time to format it, I will release a digital copy as well, but in the meantime if you’d like to support it, please buy a copy of the magazine!

My main goal in the production of these images has been to produce something which has the unreal sheen of something computer-generated, have a high degree of photorealism, but be obviously handdrawn when observed close up. The entire image was digitally painted in Photoshop and is not a photograph.

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Plant pathogens such as the fungi Ustilago Maydis infect plants such as corn, by secreting enzymes which stimulate abnormal plant growth. The resultant “corn smut” tumours are considered an undesirable blight in the US, but in Mexico it is a coveted gourmet delicacy that is even sometimes intentionally cultivated, turning pathogen to cultigen.

What if plant tumours were to be intentionally bred and designed for ornamental purposes? In an exploration of long-form creative non-fiction style in popular science journalism today, Debbie Ding investigates these alternative plant futures.

Through the NewBiologist, Artist Debbie Ding interrogates the odd, secretive world of leisure gardeners who use synthetic biology to genetically engineer plant pathogens, which cause different plants to develop visually interesting tumours
– also known as ‘galls’

You can get a copy for £4 at Espacio Gallery or from me directly, or order it via the online cart at http://dbbd.bigcartel.com (£4 + Postage and Packing)


Espacio Gallery
Second Nature
May 22nd – June 3rd 2014

159 Bethnal Green Road
London E2 7DG
Preview Thursday May 22nd 6 – 9pm
Open daily 1-7pm including Weekends
Exhibition closes 5pm Tuesday June 3rd

Espacio Gallery and the Chelsea Fringe are pleased to present Second Nature, an exhibition that showcases exciting ideas from a group of national and international artists. Comprising works in a variety of media, the show provides a fresh look into some of the aspects related to the natural world.

ARTISTS
Tania Beaumont
Jennfier Bennett
Kanwal Dhaliwal
Debbie Ding
Ahmed Faroqui
Leigh Glover
Laura Gompertz
Ewa Goral
Sally Grumbridge
Russell Hall
Kate Nagle
Nicki Rolls
Clare Skill
Kirsty Stutter
Sandie Sutton
Maria Vesterinen
Jessica Ward

Facebook Event: https://www.facebook.com/events/1472083986361590/

Setting up “A Survey of the Singapore Psychogeographical Society” at Galerie Steph

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A Survey of the Singapore Psychogeographical Society
by Debbie Ding

Opening Reception: 6 September, Friday, 6 – 9pm
The Artist will be present

Artist Talk: 7 September, Saturday, 2.30 – 3.30pm
On till: 12 October
Galerie Steph is pleased to present A Survey of the Singapore Psychogeographical Society by the young yet perspicacious artist Debbie Ding. The solo presentation brings together five series of works that serve as visual documents on and reflections of the urban environment she has lived in and travelled through.

Debbie’s interest in psychogeography has led her to investigate urban cities and its geographical environment to explore its effects on the emotions and behaviour of individuals. She renders mundane daily encounters in the city into a playful excursion – creating an opportunity to construct her own personal narratives against the anonymity that modernity engenders.

Galerie Steph cordially invites you to tread through the often taken for granted cityscape which Debbie recreates anew for us.

For more information, see: https://www.facebook.com/events/577010445711989

Galerie Steph
Artspace@Helutrans
39 Keppel Road
Tanjong Pagar Distripark #01-05
Singapore 089065
Tel: 9176 8641
Hours: Tues-Sat, 12-7pm
closed on public holidays
www.galeriesteph.com
steph@galeriesteph.com
http://www.facebook.com/GalerieSteph

 


My solo show at Galerie Steph is opening later today at Galerie Steph – special thanks to Steph for exhibiting my work! Thanks also to Kamiliah for all her help in putting the show together, and thanks to Weilun and the Helutrans guys for setting up and hanging the work yesterday. The opening reception will be at 6pm later, and here are some images from the setup yesterday…

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All ready!
My book, Dream Syntax, is also FINALLY READY and will be dispatched soon as well. Many thanks to Alvin from First Printers for the amazing job on the printing. You can still order it online within Singapore at http://dreamsyntax.bigcartel.com, and on Monday I should be able to sit down and estimate overseas postage for those of you overseas so we can send orders overseas too!

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Obsdocu, Artsciencepocketbooth, and Ujikajirecords

One reason why I’ve wanted to go away on residency was because it was hard to break the cycle of overworking. Now I’ve taught my last class for the year, but the crazy working still continues. So here’s an update of the “fun” work done this month (I’m not even going to talk about the commercial work I’ve also been working on…):

obsdocu.sg

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A simple website for a crowdfunded documentary about one of my favorite Singaporean bands of all time, The Observatory. I’ve followed them and their various other bands for well over a decade, in the form of other bands as well, and they’ve dedicated so much time to their craft and music. I’m proud we have guys making music like this here in Singapore. The folks who are trying to produce the film are also friends of mine, and we’re seeking funding to make this documentary. Please donate generously if you would like to support this project!

Visit obsdocu.sg


 

artsciencepocketbooth.org

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A simple website for a flash interactive onsite at the ArtScience Museum, part of the children’s section of the Andy Warhol exhibition. Visitors can take pictures of their belongings and it uploads straight to this site online. Visitors can also tag the pictures with their own keywords, although so far most people seem content to be tagging it with

Visit artsciencepocketbooth.org


 

COMING SOON: BRAND NEW UJIKAJI RECORDS ONLINE SHOP!

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handdrawn chinese words for ujikaji!
I’m also rebuilding an online shop for Ujikaji Records, run by my good friend Mark “Ujikaji” Wong. Ujikaji Records is a label/distro specialising in experimental music from Singapore/South East Asia, and they’ll be releasing a number of new digital releases soon and also a compilation of experimental music from Singapore soon (AS SOON AS WE GET ALL THIS UP!). This week, after building the above two sites in record time, I suddenly discovered the magical WordPress plugin known as Jigoshop and after one evening of tinkering I already had incredible results, and I’ve realised its certainly well within my ability to BUILD AN ENTIRE ECCOMMERCE SITE IN TWO WEEKS! OH YEAH, SO THATS WHAT I’M GONNA DO.

Don’t visit ujikaji.net until next week!