Monthly Archives: May 2009

Home Dream Home by Terence Lin

Singapore Dreaming, albeit small scale

Home Dream Home by Terence Lin. Images with the kind permission of the artist

A pun on “Home Sweet Home”, the exhibition title suggests that everyone is entitled to at least a dream about their ideal dwelling. The recent exhibition by Terence Lin, also seen at 8Q presenting a wall of fragmented painted panels, is a leap of faith, expanding his fascination with concepts of Housing Development Board Buildings last witnessed as two-dimensional blockish forms in his painterly works. Here, we see 3 parts: The 8 sets of drawings, the 8 make-shift objects in acrylic casings, and a curious catalogue that accompanies the work. The drawings cased in acrylic, and the objects too in heavy custom built cases, appear to suggest the fragility, or futility of ‘dreaming’. These drawings, done in ink hover between architectural plan drawings, and outright illustrations to accompany fictions. The clean drawn lines, torn paper edges reflect their intention to resemble clouds, hence linking them to the central idea. The airy, outlined stenciled fonts do add an element of grace, and almost stencil-grafitti-like defiance of how plan drawings, interior illustrations should look like.

The exhibition in pun, appears more like an exercise, an extension of streams of discussions the artist had picked to illustrate his wonderment of how Singaporean artists, friends and relatives would envisage their dream home. In return for their imagination, they would keep the drawing as a token, a souvenir of that dream.

What the work failed to do, was to plunge head-on into a recognisably difficult dialogue with more people, or a more prescriptive, craft sensitive construction of these people’s dream houses. As they are, they remain as sketches, crude maquettes and pale when compared to pretty models of architectural buildings and interior spaces, often found in show flats, or at HDB Hub in Toa Payoh or the URA Gallery at Maxwell Road. Found materials such as the inside of a packaging carton, painted compressed foam, or droopy coloured artcard just does not appeal or gel well with one’s understanding of a dream residence. Short of dissing them as appalling constructions, one can almost imagine it meant to be deliberately crude, to suggest our inabilities to built our dream homes, but merely to dream them incompletely, without windows or complicated electrical wiring.

What was most romantic about the work, is thus perhaps the third element, the ‘catalogue’ that records extracts of the conversations the artists converges on, suggesting a powerful social aspect of the work, which is lost in translation of the drawings, and objects. The dream one builds now, is not possible without the blessing of our personal histories and circumstances. The concept of ‘home’, ‘residence’, ‘abode’, ‘house’, ‘flat’ mean different things to different people, but arguably more than just a roof over one’s head. Whilst these dream home interpretative drawings are missing the human element, they still do echo the larger sentiments of an asset-rich, cash poor society, where public housing by virtue of inexorably extensive urban planning and renewal, are ‘rented’ to citizens. This project bears certain semblance to the movie Singapore Dreaming directed by Woo Yen Yen, where in dreaming, we stay alive.

If a Tree Falls in the Forest

puzzling nature conservation message

(“If a tree falls in the forest” is made up of three parts: a live performance titled “Before the flood”, “Kings” … and “Soon Bo’s Cold Room and Shelves”.)

If A Tree Falls in the Forest, Images with the kind permission of the artist and Substation

The recent solo exhibition by Zhao Renhui, last noted for his involvement in the Mitre Hotel photography project, is presented like a clinical version of a museum of curio, presenting images of taxidermy ‘endangered species, traps’, actual specimens of tourist trinkets, the likes of ‘Kangaroo paw bottle opener’ and a photo-documentary of a hunt for a ‘white, translucent cockroach’.

What is first intriguing about the exhibition is it’s critique of photography as a medium – truth and it’s construct – and perhaps our apathy towards other species residing on this planet.  The images that greet us, apparently rare taxidermy specimens from a certain “Soon Bo’s cold room and shelves” collection. The images are thus twice removed from reality, pictures of representations rather than the actual, much like photographing wax sculptures at Madam Tussauds. As most of us reside in the artificial urban jungle, away from real flora and fauna, we do know very little of our fellow inhabitants. Whether or not they look like the real animals, is anyone’s guess.

Between the framed piezo-prints (which I understand as inkjet prints), there are several ‘specimens’, transformed into tourist trinkets that holds ones’ attention. The idea of beholding something so dead, casting it in resin, in the name of preservation may seem absurd to many, enduring to some. 

There is something disturbing about these sets of photographs, something amiss. The exhibition can be said to contain more than three parts, one more than touted by the exhibition blurp. What’s missing, is the series of ‘traps’, and they do look uncanny and banal at the same time. I can almost recognise a sepak takraw, spray painted black but labelled as a monkey trap. Unsettling as they seem, there is a certain quiet, distant beauty about these object. Placed next to the installation work Before the Flood, consisting of hundreds of mousetraps triggered by a strong throb of bass, there is a certain resonance, and sadistic pleasure, to imagine any creature ensnared, bewitched or tricked by its’ lure.   

Without me revealing the name of the game, in a Duchampian LHOOQ tongue in cheek manner, we are confronted with our fears for cockroaches, seen in the Kings series. An unbelievable translucent white, slightly squashed ‘Tottori’ cockroach holds one’s fascination in it’s various stages of growth, suspended in plastic-like tubes. Text explaining how these insects are tracked, and captured accompany photo documents of the ‘extraction’ process.


The white cockroach reminded me of an albino cockroach, if there could be one. It also reminded me of Pieter Hugo‘s Looking Aside series dedicated to albinism, photographing Africans in …”a frank and unflinching portrait of people who are often social outsiders”.

While it may be difficult to call bluff to this elaborate setup, perfect plinths, and beautifully taken photographs, The subtle inconsistencies, puns will slowly reveal themselves as one digs deeper into the wall text, visuals, and catalogue. If a Tree Falls in the Forest challenges our perceptions of photography, of art and our understanding of nature.  Like film magic, these photographs of endearing portraits of animals, enthrall us, mirror us like Peter Jackson’s King Kong (2005) introduced giant giant gorrillas, and giant insects to the big screen as perhaps metaphors of the perils of nature, and man’s deception.

Perhaps the ultimate causal answer to the exhibition title would be the lead actress in King Kong, Ann Darrow’s response in a particular scene:

No! I said no! That’s all there is. There isn’t anymore. 

We will hear what we want to hear about nature conservation, and see what we would like to see. Only that the artist has skillfully pulled a subterfuge, questioning the validity of photography and more, enticing us to be our own naturalist to uncover the unsettling puzzle in this exhibition.

7.0 of 10 stars

Substation Gallery, till May 20