Thursday, 9 August 2018

Saigon Skydeck: Closeup from Afar


No visit to a new country for me is complete without an attempt to visit a Very High Viewpoint! Last weekend (was it only last week?) when I went to Ho Chi Minh City I went to the Saigon Skydeck where unlike many Very High Points use of the high power BINOCULARS ARE FREEE! (More on the binoculars in a bit...)


Ah! Look at these gentle carefree holidaymakers sitting outside this touristic viewpoint spot. This picture at the foot of the tower makes it look like going to this tower would be like going to visit other skydecks around the world where you're next to shopping malls and starbucks and all the other regular, humdrum accoutrements of modern life - but don't be fooled! This was nothing like the other skydecks I had visited in recent times (the walkie talkie in london, or melbourne skydeck88, or singapore's 1-altitude). Most skydecks are located in the CBD of the city, and most CBDs are full of futuristic skyscrapers which look the same whether you are in Singapore or in Europe. Ho Chi Minh is no different, but then THE ROADS; THE ROADS, THEY ARE DIFFERENT.

I'm not sure whether I am pleased to find that it wasn't like just walking through a generic urban CBD to the Skydeck. Is it good for everyday tasks like crossing the roads to feel like massive challenges? I guess this is Life for a lot of people. For me (as a visitor to Ho Chi Minh on a very short first time visit), the walk to Bitexco Financial Tower involved lots of defensive jazz-hands at the nonstop onslaught of motorbikes and a couple of near-death experiences (because if you horn at me my instinct is to stop or even walk backwards - very confusing to drivers and very bad form in Ho Chi Minh I know). And that makes going to the roof a bit different; to be gleefully plucked away from the mess and terror of the roads.





One great thing about the Saigon Skydeck is that the binoculars are FREE! I spent a very long time playing with it. Here are some of the shots taken through the viewpoint of the binoculars:


Here you can see how all the houses in Saigon are stacked on top of one another, all higgledy-piggledy. I'm not sure if there is an explanation for this but this viewpoint gives me the impression that a lot of development here is all random piecemeal bits stuck together at different times.


I saw two men standing in the middle of a deserted construction site. One of them crouched on the ground for a long time and I watched him eventually stand up but he did not do anything. Two men who don't know I've been staring intently at them with a giant telescope from the top of Saigon Skydeck. I must have watched them for over 5 minutes but they just didn't walk around or do anything. They were probably talking but I don't have a sonic telescope.


Distant ribbon barriers on an incomplete high rise building, fluttering in the wind...


Floating pontoons and machinery slowly moving in the distance...


Nonstop traffic in the middle of busy intersection... imagining whether the people below know that someone is spying closely on them from far away...


I'll end here with a picture of Nguyen Hue from above...

Friday, 3 August 2018

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


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

Left: Space Geodes at Singaplural 2016. Right: Space Geodes at Objectifs in 2017.


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)


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 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)


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.


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!


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.

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.

Thursday, 2 August 2018

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:















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...




Sunday, 22 July 2018

"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:


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?...


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.