CUBE, HAO, Community Museum Project, Really AR, Generi-City, Reclaimland and other digressions

Hello folks. This is the super-long update on recent going-ons: CUBE, HAO, Community Museum Project, Really AR, Generi-City, Reclaimland and other lovely digressions which I have encountered recently.


My work had been selected for the CUBE Open 2010 but sadly it was logistically impossible to bring my work to Manchester on such short notice. Nevertheless I am now working on a portable version of my reactable! From now onwards, where ever appropriate or feasible, portability shall be a consideration in all subsequent projects.



Last week I attended HAO, a four-day summit involving curators, art managers, and artists from Singapore and the region, organised by Audrey Wong and Khairuddin Hori and curated by Villains (well done you guys! it was one of the best things I have ever been to).




Amongst numerous other things (forgive me if I don't list every single thing down here), Mikal Telle shared with us his experience running Telle Records in Bergen and how he brought together musicians and artists (a rollercoaster story from bankruptcy to banksy! remarkable!), Margaret Chan regaled us with her research and insights on Tangki practice in the region (ritual, performance, and bicycle handles and other modern apparatus through the cheek?), Audrey Wong brought us to see her mother's Chinese Opera Teahouse on South Bridge Road (Cantonese Opera Karaoke!), and Zaki Razak also orchestrated/mediated a rather interesting dialogue-as-performance on the Lasalle Bridge (like a bridge over troubled waters?). Khairuddin Hori from SAM also took a gander at describing a "brief history of singapore contemporary art", which was pretty accurate and something which I think ought to be basic knowledge or incorporated into every single damn art school in Singapore. Everyone making art in Singapore should at least first understand the context in which art is created in Singapore even if they don't want to make work that fits into any particular tradition of the creation of art. I'm at the point where I think that the most sad thing for an artist is to make work which is completely universal and generic.

Community Museum Project

Which brings me to one of the things I saw there that completely blew me away. Howard Chen's presentation on his Community Museum Project - sheer genius. The "Street as Museum" and "Museum of Complaints" shares some commonalities with my own work, but Community Museum Project executes it so brilliantly and goes one step further by working closely with the communities and NGOs to effect changes/improvements after using their projects to uncover insights or hidden knowledge about the places.

From Community Museum Project: "Street as Museum".
Photo from Community Museum Project site.

This is constructive action, people! I want to be making works like that. Like what Raoul Vaneigem says, "people who talk about revolution and class struggle without referring explicitly to everyday life, without understanding what is subversive about love and what is positive in the refusal of constraints, such people have a corpse in their mouth." I think I would have more respect for people who go into "Opposition politics" in Singapore if they spent less time casting aspersions on PAP or inventing puerile nicknames for hot-button issues or newsmakers, and more time putting their money where their mouth is: finding out what is the real problem, and fixing these issues.

Everyone should go see the Community Museum Project site. Now.

Syndicate - DJ Nobody & Nocando (@ HOME Club)

DJ Nobody & Nocando

Anyway, HAO was so perfectly organised that it coincided with Syndicate. So we all went down to where DJ Nobody & Nocando (L.A) played, a good one for the hardcore hiphop fans who turned up that night. Also saw Kiat, Max Lane and Darren Dubwise on the decks during the night, until ridiculous o'clock...

Circuitry, Crying Catz (@ Straits Records)

crying catz

On the last night of HAO I also saw two acts play outside Straits Records - Circuitry and Crying Catz. Circuitry did an intense, punishing noise performance like the last time I saw them at Blackhole. As for Crying Catz, he makes this compellingly danceable combination of all the lovely ravey/dubby sounds. Todd-Edwards-cut-up-&-re-pitched vocals meets Zomby's-arcade-game-influenced jungle all mashed up with big wobbly bass. The metal screams make it even better! Strangely, I initially mis-remembered Crying Catz as Crazy Catz, which meant I unintentionally led me to many cat pictures and cat videos on the internet before I found the real Crying Catz. "Crying" makes more sense though, like that quote that i always remember from dj /rupture, of the "aestheticized cry" of auto-tune. But I digress...

Really AR

Last month I was invited by re:act to share my work at "Really AR 5". It ran alongside the opening of Generi-city, a photographic exhibition comparing "generic spaces" in Singapore and London. This was part of the ArchiFest 2010 fringe, and it featured photographs by Singaporean architects and architectural students/writers based in London. I forgot to write about it then, so here is a somewhat belated outpouring about that event. Johnny Gao & Pan Yichen spoke about the Generi-city project, Justin Zhuang shared with us his project, and the eminent architect William Lim gave a talk about Singlish, proving his prowess as a nimble polymath (but maybe not so convincing as a Singlish speaker). For those who are unfamiliar with his work, he is responsible for well-loved buildings such as People's Park and Golden Mile, and he also worked on the conservation of Central Market (with the Annexe behind it) and its development into a cultural, shopping food and entertainment area.


The Generi-city project was "a series of conversations between six pairs of architects and architecture students", culminating in a series of images selected to fit broad categories such as "Transit, Eating, Leisure, Retail, Living and Occupational". A curious choice of categorization, I thought. Even with fairly good knowledge of both cities, sometimes I could not always immediately discern the usage of the space from just looking at the photograph.

Photos of opening by Olivia Kwok

I find it incidental that this shot involves the two images which stood out the most for me. The small temple dwarfed by a new carpark is certainly one of the more compelling shots, especially when framed next to a picture of Shoreditch. I was excited to see a street that I recognised but hadn't visited in a long while, but the punctum for me in that shot was not what was in it, but what was not (ie: my not living in that city or walking down that exact street every single day anymore). If there is one road I remember in London, it has to be the path that a pedestrian has to take from Brick Lane to get to the bus stop on Shoreditch High St next to Tescos. This is of course, a memory that is special only to me.

But would the images have any meaning or impact on people who hadn't been to both cities before? How would one know the "use" of a space if one had not personally attempted to conduct any activities in that space before? For example, I am frequently confused about the boundaries of the proper prescribed "eating zone", like for example when I'm grabbing a small quick bite at one of those massive food halls in ION or Tangs after my Japanese classes. But couldn't anywhere be an "eating spot"? This would be simply a matter of taste, wouldn't it, in more ways than one; or would the act of eating in an unusual/unexpected place be viewed as a tasteless act by others? What about classifying spaces by number of people who depend on the building's existence, or the number of people interact with it, or how open/confined the space is?

I suppose their point was that the generic city is much more malleable - Singapore will custom-build its buildings to fit the needs of businesses; meaning that we can construct all sorts of big new spaces to specs and then stuff them full of things - whereas a place like London may have less room for maneuvering if it is to keep in the "spirit" of a grand old city; so people must retrofit old buildings or build conservatively in order to pander to urban planning approvals. A neat observation, but where then does it leads us from here? What does all this mean for the Generic (but actually flexible) city, and the Unique (but actually tidy) city? This seems to raise more questions than to provide any understanding on the issue; perhaps Johnny and team would like to explain more or expand more on this when they publish a more complete set of writing on this?

Reclaimland Street barber Lee Yoon Tong
Photo by Sam Kang Li

Justin Zhuang also shared his work at Really Ar and I really loved the project he did with three other journalism students from NTU's Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information. They trace a number of cases in which people in the community have reclaimed land for their own usage in Singapore. From stories about community-built skateparks, citizen gardens under HBD flats, hidden kampung farms near the KTM rail tracks, to the old uncle who conducts his barber business behind the shophouses in Telok Ayer, they have been investigating these issues from a journalistic viewpoint, along with brilliant photo documentation. To read more, visit the Reclaimland site at Justin also writes some really interesting stuff about design at his own site,

I think I have to stop now. How did this post get so ridiculously long...

Here is a list of all the links mentioned above. ENJOY!
Community Museum Project

Catalogue: Still on Sale!

A few more copies of my catalogue can still be purchased directly at The Substation
- and maybe other places soon as well! More details to come...


Last week I built a new site to collate links about projects which interest me:

BUILD! is a grid-style weblog about maps, art, architecture, non-places, urbanism, psychogeography, metaverses, transportation, technology, sound art, augmented reality, data visualisations, and other things which I love! This is a visual library of links to inspire one to build more things.

But then of course, I really must finish uploading the memories for Here the River Lies FIRST! I promise I will get on that before the end of November! I'm trying to get some other projects off the ground at the moment too!

Really AR 5 and other post-exhibition talks

Hello world! I'm still alive! I've been a bit of a hermit lately, working on new projects, but tomorrow I will be out in the world again - probably heading down to Barcamp first), and later in the evening I'll be sharing my work at Really AR?

Really Ar? is a sharing session where invited creatives and academics share their projects that explores various facets of the built environment. This edition of Really Ar? presents 5 exciting projects that explores the question of identity and community in our landscape through the lenses of diverse disciplines such as film, sociology, architecture, illustration and graphic design, which will conclude with a Question and Answer segment on the different perspectives that defines Our Singapore?

This Really AR? session is held in conjunction with the opening party of the 'Uniquely Singapore – Distinctively London: a GENERICITY project' exhibition at Illuma.

Featuring Debbie Ding, Justin Zhuang, Johnny Gao and Pan Yichen, and the eminent William S.W Lim!

Date: 09 October 2010
Time: 6.30pm - 9pm
Location: Illuma Bugis, Filmgarde, Level 5
201 Victoria Street

Session is moderated by Tan Szue Hann.

In other news, here are links to some other interviews I did last month:

Interview with Rajinder Singh
Interview with Superyouth

And thanks so much to Hazel & Gilles for asking me down to Lasalle to speak last week! I had a great time talking with the lovely and very lively folks from fine art there. We had a discussion about natural geographical features and one of the girls who came to my talk noted that Singapore doesn't have a culture of going out and appreciating nature since there is very little of it which is not man-made. Nobody goes "rambling" here, because a garden city is something that is immaculately pruned by human hands - a completely different experience compared to the rolling fields of say, the Cotswolds.

Gilles also mentioned that it is not that Singapore is flat by nature, but rather that reclamation and the flattening of Singapore's natural features (so it could be built on) was something that had been conducted from the very beginning, once the British arrived. Must investigate this further!

Closing of Exhibition


Goodbye Substation Gallery! Thanks once again to all those who made my first solo exhibition possible and gave me so much help and support with this - The Substation, my parents, Effendy, Annabelle, Tania, Asylum, Emily & Chris and the rest of the team at Substation, Dominic, Hongda, KK, Steve Black, Lu Jia, Ah Fu, and all my colleagues at Redworks. Thanks must also go to everyone who gave me invaluable advice along the way - Martin, Andreas, Vladimir, Yanying & Bin! And thanks to my gallery sitters for their patience in monitoring the equipiment and helping to set up the somewhat complicated map table every single morning - Vicknes, Nell, and Marc.

\\ is now packed off and rolled up, hopefully to find another venue at which to exhibit again in the near future! Thank you to all who came down to see it! If you've left memories by the riverside, be sure to check back in a few days to see if your card is online at

strike out 27 september

Two days ago, one of my fan blades spontaneously broke apart after working tirelessly for almost a full month. The thing about computer fans is that if one blade breaks then the fan is rendered completely useless as a missing blade will cause too much vibration. So I had to amputate it. Poor thing. It does take a heavy toll on all the equipment...


I'll be updating the FULL documentation of all the memories in the next day or so, along with more on the technical setup while its still fresh in my mind! I will be drawing up some models of my setup on sketchup, which I am trying to learn to use properly for once. It is good to be working from home once again.

the missing manual google sketchup



on a geeky sidenote: after spending so much time at Substation,
I became Mayor of Substation on Foursquare....
come and oust me if you dare!

In the Gallery



Yesterday Jiekai and his crew popped by to film some things at the gallery, including Debbie rambling on about Singapore River - he's working on a project about Singapore's prehistory. We were talking IP rights where historical material/maps are concerned, and he mentioned a book that sounded pretty interesting: The Makers and Keepers of Singapore History. I want to read that!

Later in the evening, I also recorded a video of some of my ex-colleagues playing with the table. Ridz, Leeyen, Jess and Michele were amongst the first people whom I asked to draw their impressions of the river - more than a year ago. Inbetween working intensively on all those flash banners and microsites, I decided to start collecting sketches from people around me. Some of my renderings were based on their sketches, so it was really interesting to see their responses to it!

\\ from Debbie Ding on Vimeo.

One full month of operating has taken its toll on the poor ancient Macbook inside, which was already slow to begin with, and now suffering a lag of a few seconds. Even Marc (who has been gallery sitting for me recently) has begun to recognise its quirks, like its habit of shutting down suddenly when its too hot. But at least it is still running!


Panoramic shot of Substation Gallery

Panorama of my exhibition

LAST FOUR DAYS of The Singapore River as a Psychogeographical Faultline
at the Substation Gallery, 45 Armenian Street, Singapore 179936
Open from 12-9pm, until Sunday

Do come by and see it if you haven't been able to yet! I'll be there on most afternoons.

About Me

My photo

Debbie Ding is a Singaporean artist / archivist / cartographer who likes mapping and visualising real, imaginary, and dream spaces.