Darren Soh’s photographic installation at Objectifs sets us up to see buildings and the built landscape of Singapore in new ways.
28 January, 2015
Top image: Golden Mile Complex
First conceptualised in an urban renewal plan in the 1960s, The Golden Mile is a high-rise spine built on the linear strip of land running between Nicoll Highway and Beach Road. It has some of the city’s most prominent architecture including the Golden Mile Complex and The Concourse sitting on its span. With modern redevelopment, the landscape of the area has been continuously reshaped over the years, making it a fascinating study of Singapore’s urban history. It is this incessant renewal and change that prompted photographer Darren Soh to start documenting the district.
In a gallery at Objectifs, Soh presents buildings and landscape of the area in floor-to-ceiling-sized photographic prints. The room is entirely covered in imagery. The photos of the buildings are on the walls, photos of clouds create a blue-white ‘sky’ overhead, and underfoot is a photographic collage featuring Peranakan tiles and a strip of kerbside road – enlarged so we can see the fade of patterns on the tiles and the grit of tarmac. Soh says the exhibition is a site-specific work. He shares, “The shape of the wall was the deciding factor about what kind of images went up.” Great effort was given to the placements of the prints, with Soh, the architects, and installers considering beams, doors, and other existing features on the gallery’s walls. Soh points out that the gallery’s air-conditioning units (left unconcealed) are also integrated with the images.
Surrounded above, from under and all around by prints, the experience is immersive, if a little disorientating. The scale of buildings, tiles, and roads are not what we are used to seeing. The ‘clouds’ are motionless and lifeless. The coolness of the air-conditioned gallery, the presence of the audio-visual equipment, the interior beams that run into the ‘sky’ and the images do not quite gel. All of this heightens the sense of the space, making one aware of interiority and exteriority. It is strange to be looking at buildings and landscapes in what feels like an enclosed room, but it is the strangeness that lets us see anew.
We seem to notice more. There are details to be discovered (Soh half-jokingly issued a challenge for visitors to spot an aeroplane in the sky-cloud panels). There is intimacy; buildings often looked upon as architectural icons are now inhabited spaces: we peek into homes, observe bright, florescent offices behind their glassy skins. We see paraphernalia – shoes, even underwear. It is life full frontal and up-close.
What does Soh hope for the viewer to take away? He says, “A lot of our memories are being wiped away by this constant urban redevelopment. If we can’t conserve every building then the next best thing is for us to photograph them properly.” This may be his starting point, but these pictures seem to offer more – not least is the visual emotiveness they provide. As Tamares Goh writes in the exhibition catalogue, “Urban scenes are turned into images both surprising and rewarding, which appeal to the eye and to memory.”
A second part of the show is presented on the open air rooftop of the building. Here, 25 aerial photos show top-down perspectives of the district’s landscape. Some of them were taken from high vantage points, others from a drone with a cheap camera, Soh says, revealing his interest as a documentarian, not strictly as a photographer. Interestingly, it is also from this rooftop where we see some of the photographed buildings, which, in contrast to the gallery’s depiction, in daylight seem less part of a skyline, and so much more alive with stories.
Along The Golden Mile is presented by Objectifs as part of Singapore Art Week. It runs till 18 February.
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