June 2008

Some of the AIR artist were at Republic Polytechnic in the week sharing their projects with the students and teachers, enhancing the shared interests of the School of Technology for the Arts, and the digital media exposition of ISEA2008. The artists present were Nate and Zach, Nigel Heyler, Jee Hyun Oh and Gon Zifroni.

The artists are being shown around by RP’s Ghaz

Zach, Nate and Nigel listen as Ghaz shares about Republic Poly’s One Day One Problem PBL teaching methods

Jee Hyun Oh

We check out RP’s amazingly equipped television studio

and virtual reality lab

Nate and Damian get ready for the presentations

Damien Lock from RP gets us away

Nate and Zach share about their project entitled “Appropriate Responses”, an intriguing new generative art project presenting communication in a highly digitized society between “old” media elements like televisions. They also shared a beautiful installation done previously entitled “Aural Ecosystem” (for more information please check the ISEA2008 main site at http://www.isea2008singapore.org)

Jee shares about her project entitled “DIY GORI”, where GORI means ‘an open hook’ in Korean

Nigel Hyler shares about his Lifeboat experiences, as well as several of his previous projects; some of which brought laughs to the audience because of their levity and humour.

Gon Zifroni shares about his Metahaven work ‘Exodus’, which proposes a new form of search engine revealing the bridges between the hubs/most popular nodes, and peripheries of web-based information

The artists engage in a lively discussion during the Q and A session after the talks.

and are treated to lunch at a lovely staff lounge in Republic Polytechnic.

For more information about the artist and project please visit the ISEA2008 main site. Keep checking this site for latest updates and developments in the buildup to the exhibition.


Today we go back to kindergarten with Japanese artist Momoyo, with the aim of gathering more smiles for her project. Bright and early was the call for the day, and we made the long trip to the far east to visit Bedok Methodist Church Kindergarten.  We were attempting to remain as inconspicuous as possible to refrain from disrupting the class; but it was fear unfounded since the teachers had their students’ undivided attention all the time. It was just incredible to see them converse with, share ideas and teach the children not just the fundamentals of language and syllabus, but also life skills like dealing with emotions, friendships and everyday situations.

An interview was conducted shortly after class with a teacher Mrs Tong, who had the warmest, most benevolent smile. She spoke about teaching from the heart, and educating with love and patience; all the qualities that were held in each and every one of the teachers at the kindergarten. It is heartwarming to see such dedication that these few people offer to our children at their most impressionable age, and speaking to her completed the beautiful picture we had experienced in the heart of Bedok this morning.

This reporter thanks, on behalf of Japanese Artist Momoyo Torimitsu and ISEA2008, Mrs Wang the principal, Mrs Tong, and other teachers and students of Bedok Methodist Church Kindergarten for their openness and hospitality.

For more information about the artist and project please visit the ISEA2008 main site. Keep checking this site for latest updates and developments in the buildup to the exhibition.

Last wednesday, we took a (long) walk up through the Macritchie Reservoir Park to get to the HSBC TreeTop Walk – a pedestrian suspension bridge perched 25m above forest area, boasting a spectacular view of Singapore’s seafront harbour as well as the mythical charm of natural flora and fauna. It was a long climb through moderate forest terrain, but we managed it in the end, and soaked in the beautiful scenary, there was an enormous sense of accomplishment all around.

Hikers present for the day trip were Jodi Rose, who was visiting the bridge for sound samples, Jodi’s two engineering interns, Momoyo and this reporter.

Hard Walking through the forested trail.

A little picnic break (say what happened to the donuts?)

Finally we made it to the top after about 2 hours of walking

Getting to Work right away with the handy recorder and the contact microphones

We made a couple of friends along the way

And learnt some from the quotes along the walking paths

It was an eventful trip, being one of the bridges that sang the clearest in the whole plethora of concrete bridges drummed upon so far. Samples of the recordings will be put up on the blog with the artist’s permission.

For more information about the artist and project please visit the ISEA2008 main site. Keep checking this site for latest updates and developments in the buildup to the exhibition.

Today we have a chat with ever cheerful Aussie bridge symphony director Jodi Rose on her upcoming project at ISEA2008 in the backdrop of the newly opened Keppel Bay bridge.

Jodi Rose’s work in Singapore has taken her to the major pedestrian bridges throughout the island including those at Boat Quay and Robertson Walk, Keppel Bay, the SAFTI link bridge, and even the newly opened bridges at Hort Park.

Q: So whats the deal about bridges anyway? What sparked off an interest (artistically and aesthetically) in focusing on bridges?

A: The idea originally came while studying sculpture at art school in Sydney in the mid-1990s. One of the lecturers for a course in public art had given us the exercise to come up with an idea for an artwork in public space which had absolutely no constraints, wasn’t limited by feasibility, practicality or any other real-world concern.

Looking up at the new Glebe Island (Anzac) Bridge as it was being built over Blackwattle Bay on my way to art school everyday, the particular mix of public sculpture, sound art, and deconstructive theory swirling in my sleepy brain led me to wonder, in an idle moment of curiosity; how would that big harp-like structure of cables and concrete sound? Could I link together bridge cables around the world as instruments in a global symphony?

The first recording I made while the Anzac Bridge was still under construction, taking a team of radio producers and sound engineers from the ABC National Radio with me to best capture the industrial yet ethereal voice of the cables.

Bridges continue to fascinate me on both an aesthetic and artistic level, as they are everywhere, and make a perfect instrument to stage a Global Symphony work. Everyone responds differently to the project, depending on their own focus and interest, and most people have a favourite bridge, or bridge story to share, and the continuing interest and creative engagement from many people, both collaborating and appreciating, keeps giving me new energy and perspectives to explore. Bridges are loaded with symbolic meaning, they speak of connection, crossing borders and cultures; they are a threshold between worlds, states of mind and consciousness, and a liminal space ‘in-between’ places.

According to Heidegger, the bridge ‘creates a location, it brings together many places, both near and far, and is a meeting point for the earth and heaven, divinities and mortals’.

Bridges are familiar, yet unknown, they are the pinnacle of engineering at their time of construction, and become monuments to the past, they are deeply local and iconic to a place, and yet also universal. They carry poetic metaphors and romantic conceptual philosophical meanings.

Q: A global bridge symphony implies a collaboration and alliance in sonic properties across geographical boundaries. How political would you consider your work to be? Any plans to record sounds of causeways?

A: In general, I don’t consider my work to be overtly political. It has a strong conceptual-aesthetic and philosophical axis, which does have an inherent political aspect in that bridges are built for a certain purpose, to be functional, and their aesthetic qualities are usually visual. They are certainly not built to be listened to, or played as ‘instruments’, and by intervening in this system of use and functionality, with a whimisical, poetic and sonic aesthetic use, I think that creates a gap in the political-economic power system that is built into bridges. Re-framing the urban environment, and a very utilitarian object in a completely different direction that it’s orginal purpose is also a kind of culture-jamming.

Bridges are not built to be listened to – but I hope in the future that they may be!

I would love to see bridge design start to incorporate the sonic qualities of the structure.

No plans for causeways at the moment, or buildings, or tunnels – I have enough bridges to stay occupied for life, and people keep building more, which is fabulous.

The economics and politics of building bridges is often controversial, but once that dies down they tend to become emblematic of their location. Power and wealth come together with poverty and homelessness, on and under the bridge, and I find that inherent politics is also played out in my life as a precarious worker and cultural nomad. The choice to live as a freelance artist is one that brings certain privileges, access to places, experiences and creative possibilities in a very fulfilling enagagement with the world, but it also carries certain stresses – economic, geographic, and ecological; where the issues of living in a sustainable manner with a distributed community are highlighted.

I believe that it is one of the functions of art, besides expression and communication, to take you to places outside the mainstream expectations of being a productive, functioning member of capitalist society, that you are not driven by the desire for wealth, status or power, and have the freedom to explore other aspects of the world, ephemeral, abstract, esoteric – although in the process of course you may produce cultural capital and cultural objects, and hopefully generate some income along the way, although there are myriad different approaches to being able to sustain life as an artist, working in different areas.
Freedom of imagination is a gift not to be taken lightly. It’s open to everyone equally, although of course it is influenced by access to knowledge, education and economic factors, but in the end, your life is expanded or limited in accord with your capacity for imagination and corresponding courage. I hope that my ongoing committment to this project single-mindedly and wholeheartedly, is inspiring, and creates a small gap in the fabric of social expectation – no dream is too crazy, if I can do this, you can do anything!!

Q: Have you encountered a silent bridge?

A: Yes, quite a few bridges have not been in the mood for singing at the time of my visit.

Some of them along the Singapore River, as we discovered, and also the My Thuan Bridge in the Mekong Delta, Vietnam; and others that I forget right now.

Part of the process is finding the resonant parts of the structure, and when there is no vibration audible through the steel or cables, I am disappointed, but it is also a very Zen reminder to accept what is there. If there is a song inside the bridge, I will listen, but if it prefers to stay quiet, then I respect that! I know I speak about bridges in a slightly anthropomorphic fashion, which comes from my belief that the sound of the cables really is the voice of the bridge. In the sense that voice = breath and vibration, this makes perfect sense, and as John Cage says, ‘There is a spirit in everything, that is released by it’s being set into vibration’. Hence the vibration of the bridge is it’s voice, and spirit.

Q: A bridge brings together two places, possibly quite different as opposite banks of a river often are. Do you see sound as art a possible medium for promoting cohesion and a collective identity?

A: The frame of mind in which interesting things germinate is often more
confused and desperate than organized and confident. (Randy Thom)

I think that sound art definitely brings people with similar interests together and it is a very dedicated and passionate worldwide community – although I wouldn’t make any claims for engendering coherence, as there are many different approaches, philosophies and niches that can all gather under the term ‘sound art’.

Q: Lastly, which bridge in your experience is most memorable and why?

A: The best bridge experiences I have had so far in terms of the actual sound are Brooklyn Bridge & Golden Gate Bridge, which both have exposed steel cables that burble and chatter and screech – and Anzac Bridge, the first one I ever recorded, and still one of the most spectacular. In terms of place, the Novy Most in Bratislava, for the exceptionally cool bar on top of the bridge – you catch a lift up in the pylon to the crazy UFO shaped bar (it’s called U.F.O!) and drink cocktails with names like velvet sarcasm, while looking out over the Danube, an upside down 14th century castle, and on the other side, blocks and blocks of 60’s concrete tower apartments.

The My Thuan Bridge over the Mekong Delta in Vietnam is still the only one where I have bought a mango and had a wild motorcycle ride down from the bridge, and the Mega Bridge in Bangkok was the most exciting experience structurally, as the engineers took us for a ride in their crane up to the top of one of the pylons – 250m high – to see the cables being installed inside. That was amazing. I’m looking forward to the quintessential singaporean bridge experience, and hope it is still possible to throw apples or oranges from the lovers bridge!

Jodi Rose’s work Global Bridge Symphony will be exhibited in the National Museum as part of the ISEA2008 main-juried exhibition. Come listen to the secret language of bridges in their sonic utterance this 25th July to the 3rd August 2008.

Jodi with Keppel Bay Bridge engineers and managers at the newly opened Keppel Bay Bridge

For more information about the artist and project please visit the ISEA2008 main site. Keep checking this site for latest updates and developments in the buildup to the exhibition.

The artists went out last Saturday to Orchard Towers to catch a glimpse of Singapore’s notorious red-light district in the heart of the city, as well as to experience a comedy act by a local after-dark entertainment veteran, Kumar, and his band of transvestite dancers at 3 Monkeys Bar. This trip was initiated by Momoyo, who was on a quest to shoot smiles for her project.

From Left: Nigel, Clea, Georg (who just arrived and got his spankin’ new phone), Philippe and Jodi.

Gon and Momoyo had left the table to do some filming

Momoyo talks to Kumar as he gets ready for the show while Gon lurks with camera

While waiting for the show to start…..

The Empty Stage

The cabaret begins

Kumar in Drag

His first set for the night

Kumar’s second stand-up set sees him dressed in a fireman-red suit delivering smoking hot jokes and rapid fire rebuttals that had us in knots

The night ends on a high with Kumar’s famous line. And the artists head off for the second part of their night.

(A great many thanks to the director of Three Monkeys Bar at Orchard Towers as well as Kumar himself, for the permission to film the performance.)

Keep checking this space for updates on the developments of artist projects for the Artists-in-Residence Main-Juried Exhibition at ISEA2008 coming up in July.

Mei Kei Lai is a Macau based researcher, designer and lecturer who is here in Singapore as part of the ISEA2008’s main juried exhibition. Her project entitled Does it make Scents to Have Fun is an ingenious pun on the use of scents/smells as the main interface for interactive design, joining a host of new media projects strategically positioned at the intersection of game design and technology, merging and maintaining the ludic spontaneity of the former while keeping close to hand the latter’s unrelenting progress.

Today we have a chat with Mei Kei Lai over melding aromas of chamomile and earl grey.

<portions of the interview have been excluded due to constraints>
Q: What got you started working on smells as the main tool for interaction?

A: Well, one of the reasons is i started on this project during my post graduate studies in London, so this exhibition is just to further this idea. Cos i don’t come from a graphic design standpoint, i think that most people just believe what they see – a kind of visualization generation, so i’m just wondering if visuals can tell you everything. It would be nice to see a picture, or a movie that had some smell! But after i started the research i realized that it wasn such a new idea! (laughs) Anyway i just started working on smell and tried to create some fun out of it. I would not consider myself a gamer, nor a game developer, i just want to make things that people can have fun with!

Q: For the exhibition this year, how does smell play a role in your installation?

A: For ISEA2008 the installation piece is a game thing- and smell is the interface. You will see I use smell as a core feature. In the past i have found a lot of models that just use smell as a reward, for instance, if you see a picture of an apple, you can smell the apple; but i find that many people do not really accept this. Most of them question “Why do you make it, does it make any sense? ” So i try to use smell as part of the core features, that the game cannot play if there is no smell. This is the way when i think about the project.

Q: Is this your first time exhibiting such a project?

A: I did two scenarios before. One involved moving towards a tree, and you had to decide what was falling out of the tree based on smells that were expelled during the installation – whether they were citrus or something like lavender. You had to discriminate the smells that were present.

The other one had a game scenario – husband and wife. The story went – husband is at a party and he gets drunk. and he has to go through a whole lot of women to find his wife by smelling them. I found that people liked this game the most. The game’s context/story was played rather than just a direct interaction. People still enjoy the first game, but the second was a lot more well-received.

There was a introduction/training into the smells in the first game. but the second game is more of a recognition cos as the start of the game, the smell was presented when the fictional protagonist kisses his wife in the initial parts – so it was more of a matching thing, essentially.

Q: So how about letting us in on how the installation would look like?

A: I’m trying to work with spray bottles, i try to avoid using air fresheners. Working in the space though, smell lingers and so i need to have a good ventilation system to prevent the smells from mixing up, maybe ill put a fan behind it. From my experience, it would probably work out, i’ve had installations where people just laughed at the smell cos it was so unexpectedly funny. There was a previous installation called Smell me, where i put two speakers out and a keyboard.  The air fresheners were put on the side while the speakers were put in front of the users, and at the beginning, the visitors were not aware of the location of the air fresheners -they thought the smell was coming from the speaker box!

But i try to move beyond this simple interaction to try to allow the user the control to decide what kind of smell is generated, instead of something i design. For example, i try to work on a game of hide and seek. there are two players involved – you have your own smell, and i have my own smell. So in a simulated city we have to find each other. Wherever you go, wherever you have been, the place will have your smell. So at each station or corner, the computer will register the smell and could be an indication of where the person is going. These are just some of the concepts that i can look into, but at ISEA2008, ill just be focusing on a desktop game, which is an installation connected to a computer indoors, with of course the spray bottles.

Q: How receptive is Macau to the emerging electronic arts scene?

A: The media arts scene is thriving in Macau, they do have exhibitions. But for most academics, for instance in the polytechnic i teach at, most media graduates become designers not artists. Most of them go to web design companies, or TV stations.

Q: I’ve never seen any Macau movies though..

A: Oh no, Just for news. (laughs) Even the people in Macau, we dont watch Macau programmes, just the news reports. We get our programmes from HongKong. The other thing is there are quite a lot of casinos there – most of them have very big screens outdoor, so some of my graduates do this kind of motion graphics for the casinos. For those interested in media arts they go into it mainly on a freelance basis. But most of the artists right now in Macau create basis installation artworks rather than interactive art. I personally am more into interactive design, as i am more interested in how the participants get involved and become part of the art work. There are also a group of people doing video art.

Mei Kei Lai’s work Does It Make Scents To Have Fun will be exhibited in the National Museum as part of the ISEA2008 main-juried exhibition. Come experience a more intense level of gaming immersion in this olfactory treat from the 25th July to the 3rd August 2008.

For more information about the artist and project please visit the ISEA2008 main site. Keep checking this site for latest updates and developments in the buildup to the exhibition.

Hydrophones in the water

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