By Kiyoko Mori
One of the goals of the Biennale this year was to portray the different spaces in Singapore. Both SAM and 8Q contain works related to the constant urban development construction in Singapore. It was stated in the media release that with the ‘theme’ Open House, the Biennale intended to invite viewers to engage in otherwise guarded boundaries of private and public space. Although in Ceal Folyer’s incredibly absurd work Construction in 8Q, the drilling and hammering noises made it hard to engage with the space. The noise was distasteful and painful to the ears. At a glance I was unimpressed, and even a little bit insulted at the notion that I have to take this work seriously.
I entered the room shocked to find nothing visually interesting or engaging, but a square space defined by four white walls. After a while, as I was about to step outside, noises of hammering started coming out from different sides followed by drilling and sanding noises. All that noise added to the frustration and irritation of the whole experience. Personally, I found it ridiculous to have a dedicated space that contained nothing but white blank slate walls. The noises of drilling definitely did not make the space more inviting. The walls were white almost certainly by choice, and not any other color, to suggest an ubiquitous appearance.
These were, indeed, my initial thoughts for the first few minutes of walking around the empty space. Annoyed, and yet, sufficiently provoked by such an installation, I decided to give it another chance. I stepped back out to check the description. Reading made me rethink my initial thoughts and I revisited the room, hoping to appreciate it with a fresh perspective. This time, I realized I could relate, somewhat, to the installation. I had a personal experience of moving to a HDB flat four years ago and the most terrible, torturous moments during my stay were the construction noises I had to endure. The drillings, lasting several hours a stretch, would go on for days. In some cases, the ruckus could drag on for weeks. The furniture in our apartment would literally tremble as long as the construction took place in one of the units in our block. Even the posters on my wall would fall off after a while. The noise of drilling, hammering and sanding will always find their way into my sensitive ears and give me a thumping headache. It’s the closest experience to an earthquake I’ve had in Singapore. Everything about this installation reminded me of my past experiences with construction noise. If this was the intended purpose, I applaud Floyer. Still hoping to be rewarded with something interesting, I stayed around longer, to see if I would finally acquire the taste for Floyer’s “art”. Unfortunately, my ears could no longer tolerate the dreadful recording to its end. After a while, you realise that the only changes in the audio are an offbeat pause that lasts for about half a minute. However, the silence is short lived as the layers of noise abruptly return. It’s just a short recording repeating over and over again. Utterly disappointed, I left the room feeling frustrated, miserable and barely sane.
In preparation for this exhibition at 8Q, Floyer recorded the noises generated during the process of setting up the space. However, there is no dialogue or any hint of human generated audio in his exhibit, making it rather dry and hard to comprehend. Only the mechanical sounds of drilling and hammering on a loop.
It might be the artist’s intention to capture the state of being caught in the in-between – a work in progress presented as the finished work of the idea of a work in progress. The noise that the audience are exposed to churns thoughts, stirs and evokes emotions in their minds. Much of the work, I believe, is left for the audience to imagine, interpret and decipher. No absolute answer has been given. Instead, we are left with rather puzzling questions. The value of such a piece is debatable, depending on the viewer’s familiarity or unfamiliarity with the experience, space and sounds the artist is trying to simulate. Questions such as, “What space is this supposed to represent?” or “What are these drilling sounds supposed to imply?” “How does this relate to me and society?” Much like the noise that goes in loop, these questions often lead to no end unless the viewers are willing to come to a conclusion after careful analysis.
Perhaps the Construction is an appropriate installation, which is related to the experience of staying in HDB flats. Although, not just subjected to people who are staying in HDB flats. I believe the majority of the people living in Singapore can identify with this experience, be it in a public or a private space. Overall, it was not a pleasant experience that I enjoy or appreciate but it was one that I could relate to.