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…This is home truly
where I know I must be
where my dreams wait for me
where that river always flows…
Kit Chan, Home


The Singapore river may feature prominently in the nation’s history and our daily lives, but will you be able to sketch out its shape? This was the struggle that led artist Debbie Ding to embark on \\: The Singapore River As A Pscyhogeographical Faultline, a month-long exhibition that is running at The Substation till 26 September 2010.

More than just the place to party in town or once the heart of Singapore’s economy, Debbie’s project looks at the river as a psychogeographical faultline, a site where our personal memories interact, merging and coming apart with time. She attempts to bring these out with two interactive installations in the exhibition.


Just as cartographers often leave an imaginary element on the maps they draw so that they will be able to identify its as theirs, Debbie has created a board game around this idea. People who come to the exhibition are invited to leave a recollection of the area around the Singapore river on cards and mark them on top of a 1.5 metre x 3.75 metre hand drawn map of the area. This could be a personal memory or entirely fictional, and it is left to others to assess whether they believe it or not by pasting stickers on your card. Since the exhibition started, Debbie has also begun documenting the recollections left on this website.


Debbie, who is also an interactive designer, has also created a map installation. Unfortunately, it was not working when I visited. I was told that it is a map of the Singapore river that changes shape according to how you move some circular pieces over it. I’ll definitely go back to see it again. If you’re interested in the mechanics and how it was created, see Debbie’s site. She is quite a geek.


Finally, the catalogue for this exhibition is a little flipbook that contains Debbie’s illustrations of how the Singapore River has changed over the years and her impression of its future. Inside this limited edition catalogue designed by Asylum is also Debbie’s write-up on the project. You will also find an essay by Tania De Rozario that succintly explores the place of the Singapore River in our art scene and the significance of Debbie’s work.

In a city like Singapore that changes so fast, the aptly titled documentary, Old Places, is a pill of relief for the nostalgia-stricken people who have grew up here. This documentary by Royston Tan, Victric Thng and Eva Tang recently debuted on okto channel to celebrate Singapore’s 45th birthday, and it was so popular that it was re-run today.

Shot over 10 days, the film features just under 50 locations in Singapore that have been around for some time. These include, old cinemas, kopitiams, playgrounds, shops and even a bus stop! More importantly, these places meant something to a Singaporean. They were picked from a list contributed by Singaporeans who listed their favourite spaces and stories about why it mattered to them. So, even though many of the locations were run-down and even closed, one is still captivated by how these places transcended their physical form to be a memory box for a Singaporean.

In an interview with Civic Life, Royston said: “Singaporeans still love Singapore in their own special personal ways. Maybe not in the big picture, but everyone has their own favourite little haunt, their own little space. And because we have so little space, it matters so much more to them.”

While Singapore prides itself on building a city of great physical infrastructure, we often take up the space for personal memories too. Yet, it is these memories that make a city ours — a feeling one gets while watching Old Places. In the film, one never gets to see the famous Singapore skyline that frames our corporate brochures and tourist postcards, yet one can can recognise it to be Singapore.

This is the power of a city built with your memories, it is truly Your Singapore.

Posted on: 28 June, 2010 | No Comments | Tagged as: ,

I was recently asked to contribute a blog post to Civic Life, a project that is documenting Tiong Bahru estate in a film and website. Read my post on my dream to live in this charming little neighbourhood one day.

Posted on: 05 June, 2010 | No Comments | Tagged as: ,

This project had a category of “reclaiming” that we had planned for, but never explored — virtual reclamation. We saw that many Singaporeans were creating spaces online to do things that were harder to do in the physical Singapore. For instance, having forums to discuss very niche interests and blogs to broadcast alternative perspectives. It’s easier to do these virtually because it is cheaper (often, free) and hassle-free (no need to apply licence or find suitable location).

Looking back today, there seems to be two stages of development in how virtual space has been reclaimed. At first, it was just about creating spaces that could not be created in the physical world. Now, it’s about recreating extra dimensions of the physical world, like its past, online. Here are three examples:

i is a National Library initiative that attempts to document historical events and changes on to Singapore maps of past and present. It looks a little overwhelming at first, but play around you’ll find it is actually quite impressive to be able to compare physical changes side by side.

Civic Life: Tiong Bahru is documenting a unique residential district in Singapore. Tiong Bahru houses a unique neighbourhood that were built by the British administration instead of the present day public housing authorities. The project is also partnering with two UK film makers Joe Lawlor and Christine Molloy to create a community film about the area. The pair have done several such films where they invite local residents to take part in the process of making a film about their community, including acting in it as well!

A Map Of Our Own — Kwun Tong Culture and Histories is  a Hong Kong example, but it is very relevant to Singapore. The site is archiving this district in Hong Kong that is undergoing a massive urban renewal through images, sounds and videos. In Singapore, the city changes so fast that perhaps we should seriously consider something similar. Maybe, the Urban Redevelopment Authority can consider doing a project like this everytime a space is undergoing massive change.

Posted on: 30 March, 2010 | No Comments | Tagged as: ,

Above is a designer’s take of a advertisement flyer found along the streets of America. The original one looked like this:

This is just one of the twenty flyers CarbonCopy redesigned as part of a mission to over power “their message with a new visual language”. It got me thinking, what if the street advertisements and flyers that are the bane of so many Singaporeans’ living spaces were actually well-designed? Would they still be seen, at best an inconvenient necessity, but mostly plain annoying?

It’s something street advertisers should think about. This way of promotion is cheap and effective, but it can be beautiful too! And maybe, it’ll also earn them the respect for how creative street advertising actually is.

Posted on: 07 March, 2010 | No Comments | Tagged as: ,

In a global city like Singapore, can we find local spaces? This essay by Brenda Yeoh for Lucas Jodogne’s photobook, Singapore: Views on the Urban Landscape, is hopeful of how everyday life keeps such local spaces alive against  the “homogenising” forces of state and commerce that dominate this land.

In each and every one of the landscapes mentioned — heritage sites, foreigner enclaves and Singaporean heartlands — it is clear that homogenising forces in the form of commercial moves or planned forces are at work. Equally clear, however, local forces are present to confront and oppose, with varying degrees of success, the anonymous, rational, progressive and universalising tendencies of globalisation.

Landscapes And The Diversity Of Meaning In A Global City

Some of Jodogne’s photos can be seen here together with a curator’s write-up of this body of work. They were taken in a project that spanned between 1994 to 1998 and as noted by one of our readers, the photos show the “violent and sometimes surreal juxtapositions present in Singapore’s built environment”.

What happens when a generation of Singaporeans used to communal living in kampungs are relocated into modern public HDB housing estates? Sidewalk Easement is an on-going photography project by Song Nian in a search for the ‘kampung’ spirit in the HDB environment.

In these initial seven photos, he documented households that had placed their personal belongings in the common corridor outside their apartments that is a public area. This, he said, highlighted the blurring of personal spaces in the communal area of public housings.

“This series started off as a study on the relationship between people and their surroundings, and through our intervention on our immediate spaces, the affect that we impose on landscapes and vice versa,” said the photographer who is currently pursuing a degree in photography at the University of the Arts, London.

Through his explorations for this series, Song Nian has seen how little interventions by households have changed their modern living environment. “A lot of these households have actually made these spaces into an inviting communal area that encourages interaction between neighbours and others who’re staying in the vicinity,” he said.

In his images of sidewalks stacked with religious artifacts, plants and furniture, Song Nian also hopes the invite viewers to question the background and story of each family. “This is especially important to me when I’m making my work because i believe that art should be throwing questions, and not providing answers.”

Posted on: 16 June, 2009 | 2 Comments | Tagged as: ,

“It is pure intention: If there is chaos, it is authored chaos; if it is ugly, it is designed ugliness; if it is absurd, it is willed absurdity.”

This was how architect Rem Koolhaas described Singapore in his book S, M, L, XL (1997), a city that was completely regulated and planned by the state. While we have taken a more optimistic reading of this city in Reclaim Land, we like to encourage you to attend his free public lecture, “OMA*AMO; What Architecture Can Do”, at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy this Friday. Details are as such:

19 June 2009, Friday
5:45 – 7:00 PM
Auditorium, Level 3
Block B, Faculty of Law, NUS Bukit Timah Campus
469G Bukit Timah Road, Singapore 259772
Do indicate your interest at

Speaking about optimism, here is party you should check out. Party of Tomorrow is the final-year project exhibition of the first batch of visual communication graduates from  NTU’s School of Art, Design & Media and two of them in particular present intriguing re-imaginations of living in a city

Concrete Euphoria by Mintio looks at the city through the lens of a large-format camera with multiple exposures while Stockpiles in Singapore by Chan Poh Ling recreates scenic landscapes in urban Singapore through photographs of the very raw materials used to built it.

The exhibition is on at 2902 Gallery @ Old School and will last till 21 June 2009.

Posted on: 03 June, 2009 | No Comments | Tagged as:


Things We Forget is a project by “The Post-It Guy” that started in January this year. Professing to be a compulsive doodler and optimist, he wanted to cheer himself and people up amidst all the doom and gloom of the recession.

It usually begins with a note that is drawn in about 20 minutes. The hard part is finding a location to place the note for “the most meaning and impact” and give whoever that spots it an “aha moment”, he says.

And if you’re wondering how effective Post-It notes are, he claims they stick for about four days barring wet weather. Besides, “I don’t want to leave permanent messages,” he say. “What is true today for me might not be so tomorrow.”

Posted on: 06 April, 2009 | No Comments | Tagged as: , ,

It seems that smokers have “reclaimed” new spaces to light up a cigarette based on this sighting posted at STOMP. “Yellow boxes”, a way to demarcate where smoking is allowed in Singapore, have been spotted in strange places. No one can confirm if these boxes are set up by the authorities but they sure remind me of, Yellow Puff, a piece of conceptual work from local designer Larry Peh.

Posted on: 01 April, 2009 | No Comments | Tagged as: ,


“What happened to old Singapore?” travel writer David Lamb once asked Tommy Koh, chairman of the National Heritage Board.

The professor, aged 72, replied, “We destroyed a lot of it. You have to remember that in the 1960s, we were a very poor country.”

That conversation took place in an interview two years ago for an article in the Smithsonian magazine, and Lamb might be a little too late for this, but a small museum here is now trying to revive old Singapore – if not in its physical sense, then at least through memory. 

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