Thursday, December 22, 2011

||| Movement (Public Art Installation with Performance), Stamford Green, Singapore, 2011

||| Movement is a public art installation created in collaboration with architecture collective atelier | small and sound artist Zai Tang for Hub-to-Hub Singapore 2011 (, an affiliated event of Archifest'2011. For more details, pls visit
We call our team Team Aural.

Have you slowed down and listened?
Can you hear the waves of urban transformation, sounds of our dependency on energy to fuel economic developments, hyper-commercialisation …?

These are the two questions which our team poses to the audience viewing our installation. Through our work’s intervention of the landscape and soundscape of the chosen site (Stamford Green, a transitory space near the National Museum of Singapore and the escalators leading to Fort Canning Hill), we wish to encourage the public to slow down, stop and contemplate on the perpetual cycle of urban transformation through the act of listening. In addition, we hope to provoke thoughts not only on public spaces, but also
on the issues of lifestyle, culture, sustainability and climate change.
Our work explores the cycle of construction, deconstruction and renewal within the city. It comprises three zones―remembering, transforming and contemplating―reminiscent of three movements in a single musical composition.
The Remembering zone made up of these three walls here is about looking back at our past, while the Transforming zone is this tall wall that faces Stamford Road. It represents the continual developments in the city―the construc4ons, demoli4ons and renewal. The Contemplating zone which is this long seat serves to invite the public to sit down, look at the surroundings and perhaps at the sky that is just before and above them, to contemplate upon urban living and life.
One interesting point to mention is that our initial proposal was formerly titled The Aural Sanctuary is not at this current site. It was a forgotten and disregarded space near Plaza By the Park (PBP), an interesting plot of land sandwiched between the PBP Carpark and Kopitiam, a food court. We were intrigued by the space not only because of its nature, but also there were ready materials (gravels) on-site suitable for short period of installation. Our proposal then involves the construction of a wall containing these gravels as in-fill. The wall was supposed to act as a sonic filter, and we intended to return the materials back to the site after the exhibition is over. However, due to developments of the downtown line, we were displaced and had to move to the current site. Despite the change of site, the idea to create an aural-spatial experience and to use recycled materials is still carried over to the new site.

Sound Component
Acoustic Ecology
One of our main influences is acoustic ecology, an area of study which explores the effects of the acoustic environment or SOUNDSCAPE on the physical responses or behavioural characteristics of creatures living within it. The approach of acoustic ecologists is to conceive of the soundscape as a musical composition, which should strive towards balance and clarity between all its elements.
The transformation of our acoustic environment is rarely considered within the process of urban development. This is unfortunate, since a more integrated approach would benefit our experience of the cities we inhabit.

The Three Zones
The seeds of our concept began to germinate when we considered the history of the site which is a transitory space where the Old National Library Building (NLB) once stood. Much lamenting and heart-felt criticism has been expressed since its demolition in March 2004, so we felt we did not want to dwell on the past too much and repeat what others have rightly said already. So, instead we began to conceive of the Old NLB's demise as a starting point to reflect upon the endless cycle of transformation within the city; this national icon's unfortunate end being a single chapter within a book about Singapore's development, as it spirals
further into urbanity. As well as highlighting the theme of disappearance of local heritage, we wanted to tell other stories surrounding urbanisation too―the gradual decline of nature within the city, the loss of clarity within the urban soundscape, and the wider need to find sustainable approaches to our modern way of living.
The soundscape composition for the Remembering zone creates the impression of exploring an imaginary library with one's ears, as the listener sits between the shelf-like structures. The composition weaves its way through a series of recordings made at different libraries across Singapore, guiding the listener through the unique aural qualities and ambiances of places typically defined by their quietness or 'silence'. The
listener moves through these libraries searching for different books: The books open, the pages turn and the listener's ears are momentarily plunged into imaginary sound worlds―some natural and contemplative, others mechanised and abrasive.
Zai conceived of the composition for the Contemplating zone as a platform for the sounds that often get drowned out, or even disappear, as a result of increasing urbanisation―those belonging to nature. He used a selection of recordings of different elements of Singapore's natural environments to encourage a moment of stillness within the listener: An internal space where they can contemplate their relationship to such sounds and reflect upon the lack of balance between natural and human-made sounds within the urban environment.
In contrast, the piece within the Transforming zone reflects the dominant elements of Singapore's urban soundscape. It comprises a series of short compositions derived from various recordings of construction site machinery, vehicles, and other typically urban sounds in Singapore. The forms of the sounds in these compositions exist in a constant state of morphology, twisting and mutating towards an uncertain future.
Singapore's soundscape, like most cities, is characterised by its high density; multiple layers of sound compete with one another to be heard by the listener as they pass through public spaces.
In thinking about his approach to the compositions Zai asked himself this: In such a dense and intense sound environment would it be appropriate to introduce a continuous stream of new sounds? A better approach would be to utilise silence within the work, as a means of encouraging the audience to listen to the real soundscape that surrounds them and wake up to the important role hearing plays in how we perceive and interpret our environment. Between the Transforming and Contemplating zones, there is an equal amount of
silence as there is composed audio, whilst within the Remembering zone there is a total of 2 minutes silence for every cycle of the composition. This specific duration is linked to the notion of observing two minutes of silence out of respect for the Old National Library Building. Before each segment of silence the listener hears a short, sharp "sshhh!", which marks the sudden shift in their aural focus from the composed to the real.
There is perhaps an interesting parallel between the use of silence and the fact that our team were asked to remove any reference to the Old NLB within the official write up for our work, so as not to step on any toes. Isn't it apt that our site-specific proposal provoked a site-specific form of censorship? The rather forceful sounding "sshhh!" assumes a different kind of relevance from this angle.

Architectural Component
Spatial arrangement
The installation consists of a series of structures, arranged along the perimeter of the site. The height and space created relates to the human scale creating a more intimate spatial experience, encouraging people to pause and to reflect upon the artwork and the environment. Separated into the three zones, the walls and seat each aligns to specific directions.
The Remembering walls resembling shelves, is positioned to face the remnants of the old National Library. The Transforming wall aligns to the built-up environment and the seat in the Contemplating zone faces the natural landscape of Fort Canning Hill.

As for the construction of the structures, instead of utilising new materials, we have a sustainable agenda by using reclaimed and salvaged materials. Initially when our site was behind the Plaza by the Park space, the intention was to use materials on site which was the gravel on the ground. However, when we changed site,
along with several other restrictions, this no longer proved feasible. We had to source for other materials.
Our eventual solution involves sourcing wood from two different local contractors. One of them was involved in constructing the temporary structures for the recent Nike run which Yong Shen of atelier | small participated. Yong Shen talked to the contractor who gladly agreed to the recycling of the wood pieces after the Nike event. The other contractor was involved in reclaiming used wooden components, whom atelier | small met, by chance, after meeting the first contractor.
Keeping close to the agenda, atelier | small intends to re-use the materials further, for another of their project. Thus, the timber pieces were designed to be easily removable and not excessively processed. Therefore we have the design decision to slot the timber joists into the steel frame. In a very simple way, this project is designed for disassembly.

This integrative treatment of the visual, aural and architectonic materiality therefore highlights the physical articulation of our collaborative proposal for this public art installation as an urban intervention.

Do stop and listen at the site and also take a walk around Bras Basah.Bugis.

A performance titled ||| Movement (Shuffle) was presented as well:

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