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15 August 2012
The Substation–Seoul Art Space Mullae Project
Two artists and city lovers explore alternative ways of mapping and looking at urbanity in Singapore and Seoul. Yvonne Xu reports.
Artists Debbie Ding and Jeong Heewoo are not only drawn to the urban condition, they are keen observers of it. Since last month, they have been turning their focus to the cities of Singapore and Seoul to work jointly on one art project.
The Substation-Seoul Art Space Mullae Project is an artist exchange programme that has Ding and Jeong visiting each other’s home cities to collaborate on issues of mapping and the urban landscape. The project spans two phases: Phase 1, which took place last month, saw Jeong in Singapore where she and Ding had an open studio at The Substation. The artists both individually mapped Rowell Road (where Ding lives) and Armenian Street (where The Substation is located), exploring the places as resident and visitor.
A visual study of Armenian street in watercolour by Jeong Heewoo
Jeong did a visual study of Armenian street. In the watercolour piece, the city is flattened – buildings are painted frontally, but the roads are captured aerially, as if seen from map. The idea, Jeong explains, is to include the element of time in her work. “When we deal with a place, a resident perceives it over a long timespan; a traveller perceives it only at the moment, or a ‘slice of time’. As a traveller, I tried to be faithful to the moment: July 2012.”
Jeong's photographic study of Rowell Road, "as seen through Debbie Ding's glasses"
Painting in the form of a map is not new to the artist, who had previously painted a street called GangNamDaeRo in a similar fashion. “I measured the buildings and streets with my strides. And I went to almost all the rooftops of the buildings on that street to take pictures. It took me four years to paint the whole 4.2km stretch of the street. In those four years, GangNamDaeRo was still changing. So the first part I painted was already changed when I finished the last part ... I realised that I drew not only space but also time in my map.” Jeong also did a piece about looking through Ding’s glasses as she explored Rowell Road and the neighbourhood with Ding.
A visual study of Rowell Road by Debbie Ding
Ding did a visual study of Rowell Road, two Wi-Fi maps of Rowell Road and Armenian Street, and also two hand drawn maps comparing the differences between the pedestrian route and vehicular route between Rowell Road and Armenian Street. Her idea is that data or any record of a place is essential to the existence of a place. “I make works and psychogeographical games about maps, collect narratives about maps, or build independent archives largely because I feel that the written narratives, data and maps I make is instrumental in bringing forth the city into existence, especially in Singapore, which sometimes feels a bit lacking in ‘identity’ and a ‘national narrative’,” says Ding.
Aerial poster of a model high-rise neighborhood, studied as part of the artists' investigation of Korean flats and urban development
She shares more about her Wi-Fi-mapping exercise: “It was a simple attempt to map out the hertzian space in the area – hertzian spaces being the invisible electro-magnetic waves zones generated by our electronics. I used a stumbler programme to locate various Wi-Fi networks in the area while walking around the perimeter of the block of shophouses that comprises The Substation, and my block in Rowell Road. The result was the discovery of various network names that hinted towards the existence of more things inside the buildings. For example, I could see the digital traces of many of the networks of law firms and design companies inside the building across the road from The Substation. I could also see the digital traces of many families inside the HDB block across the road on Rowell Road.”
Ding and Jeong are now on to Phase 2 of their project where they are studying the typical Korean apartment, and comparing it to the Singaporean apartment. They will present their work at Art Space Mullae, a centre in the Arts village of Mullae, Seoul from 16 to 18 August.
Top image: Ding and Jeong's visit to the Seoul Museum of History (City Model Image Hall)