“The installation begins with a miniature scene of a village and people driving out of town heading for Utopia. The word Utopia is made up of roads, suggesting that the journey and search itself is where the Utopian ideal is.” Chun Kai Qun
Every driver probably has a favourite road. Some might choose the straight, runway-like Lim Chu Kang Road to test their wheels alignment amongst other things, or Ayer Rajah Expressway -East Coast Highway scenic drive from west to east of the island. Those who prefer a drive to no-where, would probably sympathise with this work; Singapore, a metropolitan village of high idealism, clockwork efficiency is made possible by hardworking people and 8848km of road 1. For those who don’t drive, the work will remind you of American road movies or literature, synonymous with American culture because hitting the road allows the protagonist of the story to get away, and eventually find their freedom ‘out there’, in the unknown landscape.
The work consists of a modeled city centre, with an expansive and gravity defying highway that leads out of the city, twisting and turning to form the word ‘UTOPIA’, littered with cars and buses and explosions. Frozen in a moment, the scene is comical and sinister and video-game like. Placed on the steps of the concourse, the miniaturised scale loses itself to the larger surrounding. The barricades further isolates the work, losing the charm of dioramas or scaled models where looking up close is personal and an intimate experience.
The work could jolly be a statement about industrialisation, rapid urbanisation and the destruction of the natural habitat. As the highway, in stasis, breaks in multiple places there is a sense of relieve and hope that nature might reclaim itself. The sight of crushed metal in accidents once prompted American artist Andy Warhol to make a series of silkscreens based on car crashes. The crushing of metal, epitomised by the Autobots and Deceptacons in Transformers bashing themselves silly, has a certain perverse satisfaction. The desire to see machine’s fail could be a manifestation of deeper human instincts for self-preservation, a la Matrix style.
The work has successfully depicted the desires and explosive anxieties of the modern individual, bound by simplistic views that roads are synonymous with progress. Visit any sprawling city, efficient roads are a measure of the efficiency of the city and its economy.
Humanity is often tested in a traffic jam. Be stuck in any traffic jam and you can feel the anxiety and pent up frustration, waiting to explode at the slight provocation from the neighbouring unruly driver. Manners are sometimes lost, and we become machines, as much part of the vehicle’s carburetor. The work critiques the means and ends of the artist’s version of urbanised, corporatised Utopia, and warns us of apocalyptic ends if we pursuit it bending minds and will.
Esplanade Concourse, 14 Jul – 3 October 2010
6.0 of 10 stars
1. Land Transport Authority Road Length Statistics for 2009, accessed on Aug 9, 2010, http://www.lta.gov.sg/corp_info/doc/Road%20length%20-%20lane-km%20(2009).pdf
2. Video featured in the Installation can be found here: