The Singapore River as a Psychogeographical Faultline by Debbie Ding

reduction – seduction

The Singapore River as a Psychogeographical Faultline by Debbie Ding

The Singapore River as a subject matter has riveted Singapore artists. Because it serves as a symbol of the heart and essence of the nation; the Raffles landing site as a place for for contending the nation’s colonial history; a place of significant personal memory, that is edged on/out by progress and urban redevelopment.

Debbie Ding’s work cleverly examine these, illustrated by a large map with ‘tags’, allowing visitors to pen their memories of the river, 20 interpretative doodles of the shape of the river, and an interactive digital map that allows one to ‘mess with the shape’ of the river.

The enlarged, hand-illustrated map served as a reminder of the organic functions of Memory and a counterpoint, a stark contrast to the digital interactive map.  Memories are more malleable than than we desire. This work serves to illustrate that, by allowing the audience to  insert their own interpretations of memories and events surrounding the Singapore River, by writing on a cardboard standing tag. Other viewers who agreed with the statement/narrative could place a green sticker on the same tag. One viewer wrote: “UFO: It was the day I saw it land… (opposite Funan)”, with at least 7 other people agreeing. The digital interactive map responded to fiddling a set of acrylic discs, distorting ever so slightly the projected image of the shape of the river moved by a colossus or eroded by water and time.

The second work “The Shape of the Singapore River: A series of 20 speculative maps” are tongue-in-cheek impressions. As cartographic as they may appear to be, they resemble cartoons, twisted by definitions and caricatures of what the river meant to those who penned them. For example, a stomach-shaped drawing suggests the Singapore River as the belly of a carp, because so many banks are found near Cavenagh bridge, and the Chinese like metaphors of fish because it means ‘abundance’.  The ‘logo’ – two unassuming short parallel lines – of the exhibition bests represents what the river means to many. Reducing cartography to mere graphical representations, two backslashes, is seductive. It conveniently simplifies a memory, compounds history and erodes the rough bits.

The river mentioned in the title of the exhibition isn’t really about a river.  It points us to a clinical, no-nonsense attitude we often take towards history. Just show me the facts/points, not the personal narratives that run parallel to time. As a warning, it signals the apathy we may have towards the place we inhabit. As a conceptual ‘faultline’, it alerts us to the disaster of being overtly detached and rootless.

7.0 of 10 stars

The Substation Gallery, 2 to 26 September 2010.

Related Links:

Debbie Ding’s Documentation of the work:

Substation Open Call 2010 ( , which this resulted in this exhibition.

Other exemplary renditions of the Singapore River:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s