Category Archives: Ned Solakov

Site Specifics

By Kevin Chong

Nedko Solakov’s contribution to the Singapore Biennale 2011 is site specific; using the spiral staircase that spans 3 levels within what was a circular control tower at Old Kallang Airport (OKA). The materials involved were a felt tip pen and everything within the space. Literally everything. Dust, litter, vandalism, interior structures… everything.

As the title suggests, this work is a collaboration between Bulgarian artist Solakov[1] and Singaporean film maker/artist Liao JieKai[2]. Here’s the thing; Solakov is scared of flying. In the opening sequence of the accompanying 74:59 min DVD (lengthy but offers a clearer perspective, more about that later) that documents the instructional process of creating the work, he confesses,

“I’m really scared of flying.”

That was why Liao flew from Singapore to get instructions from Solakov on how to go about setting up his work at the allocated site at OKA. In the video, it shows Solakov receiving Liao from the airport, welcoming him with his technique of scribbles in the context of a given surrounding.

Figure 1 –“Welcome in my dirty city Jeikai”, written on a wall in a car park above a shadow cast by Solakov’s vehicle.

This was a prelude to what we could expect. As Liao reaches Solakov’s studio, there is a mutual exchange of information; Solakov sharing the techniques he adopts while Liao informs the former of the construct of the space, both within and outside the allocated site. Solakov then spends the four days taking Liao around Sofia to try out in various spaces, public and private, executing his technique, to get Liao comfortable with his approach and immersed into the context of the ‘craft’.

Liao demonstrated high sensitivity and awareness to his surroundings.He is instructed to try out writing in a gallery space with a felt tip pen. He deliberates, observes his surroundings, then writes,

“She stares straight into my eyes.”

Figure 2 – Liao writes on a window still, his first attempt on executing Solakov’s modus operandi.

When asked by Solakov “Who is she? Who is this ‘she’?”, Liao points to a painting diagonally across and beyond the room, where a portrait of a lady hangs in view, ‘staring’ at where Liao is standing through a narrow passage way. Liao’s perceptiveness goes beyond interior space, in one instance, he writes on a glass window plane, “The sky I wish to share with you.”

Figure 3 – Liao writes a title of Han’s book on a window glass panel.

From that perspective one would be able to see the writing juxtaposed with the sky behind. This text was subsequently duplicated in the site at OKA. The glass on which its scribbled allows for the visual extension of the space one is now involved with.

Figure 4 – Duplicated writing on a window panel at OKA.This quotation shares the title from Han’s book “The Sky I Wish to Share with You”

Solakov on the other hand, has another quirk unique to him; he draws little figures that interact with the shadows cast in an interior space.

Figure 5 – Solakov’s little figure “climbing” the line of a shadow.

Figure 6 – Liao’s version of a figure straddling the line of a shadow cast by a fire extinguisher.

Solakov explains,

“Everything is found on site. I did not bring anything in my pocket.”

But interestingly, when asked by Liao if he would want anything in the space, Solakov is fixated on the idea of bringing a piece of gum to be stuck into the exhibition space, to the extent that he profusely reminds Liao to buy gum prior to his departure.

With regards to the general context of the work, Solakov has on more than one occasion, told Liao that:

“You can express in your own way.[sic]”
“You just can’t make it wrong.”
“If you’re not in the mood, don’t do it, OK?”
“I want your spontaneous to the space.[sic]”

Solakov brings a new perspective to “site specificity”, where the work is no longer confined within an allocated space (figure 7), where interactivity within the space becomes part of the work (figure 8), where context could be derived based on an individual’s imagination (figure 9) and more importantly, the introduction of a hint of local flavour (figure 10), where associations can be conjured up and a viewer gains an intimate understanding of the work.

Figure 7 – Projected skyline in Singapore.

Figure 8 – I sincerely doubt this was penned by Liao, it was not there on my first visit to the site, the handwriting does not match and there is no relation to the space. Regardless, it got people talking and airing their views on the work as a whole.

Figure 9 – Imaginary painting. You decide what this painting is to look like.

Figure 10 – A vaccination shot at Primary 6. Otherwise affectionately known as the “Made in Singapore” stamp.

On my first trip to the Singapore Biennale 2011, my first encounter with this work was coincidental, or so I thought. Apparently it was Solakov’s intention that a viewer may enter the space unaware of the work and ask (about a doodled figure) “What is this?” and they see “a figure which is not supposed to be there (in the space)” and then they decide to “find the others”. Because it spans three levels, of which the provisioning of entrance is on the first and second level, it was out of convenience while negotiating the exhibition space that led me to enter via the second level. The accompanying description was on the first level. By then I was already consuming, and consumed by the work.

In an unorthodox manner I began from level two and upwards, before I went all the way down, unintentionally bypassing the description because I was so caught up in the work. At the alleged third level of the control tower, there was a rope barrier queue system that prevented people from going beyond.

Figure 11 – “The Institution, which cares dearly for the safety and welfare of the people, orders you to take no steps beyond this point.” You don’t say.

This is the Biennale, in Singapore. If it were a safety sign it would be outrageously obvious. On my second visit, my gosh it was blatant. Singapore is known for fines and signs, so this was simply a situation waiting for something to happen.

Curiosity got the better of me on my first visit as I went up the stairs to take a peek. Aside from the panoramic view, there were no signs of any scribbling. Later I found out from the video Liao mentioned it was due to safety reasons this level was not accessible for.So down I went, carrying on my search for little felt tip snippets and got into “Where’s Wally”[5]mode.

As you move along within the staircase with eyes darting all around, a pattern evolves. More than just looking out for ink marks, there should be a certain level of awareness of the immediate interior, looking out for any sort of incongruence for they are tell tale signs to which one can find the doodles and scribbles. These elements may appear to belong to a group, e.g. the hooks (figure 13) or as a stand-alone (figure 14).

Figure 13 – The series of hooks.

Figure 14 – The mineral water cup most likely got cleared away by the cleaners of the space on 13 March.

There is also a sense of counter cohesiveness, where those that appear in a group are individualistic in nature, while those that appear to bear no relation to its neighbouring doodles are to be set aside and to be pieced with another doodle (figure 15).

Figure 15 – Little footsteps of the doodled figure. Its set-up in various nook and crannies gives one the impression that these stick man reside within the site.

The content of the scribbles vary from being a commentary on its immediate surroundings to being on a slightly more intimate level, where a viewer, regardless of prior knowledge possessed, could come up with a perceived interpretation that is unique to them. As per instructed, Liao managed to convey Solakov’s intentions of creating a work that consists of local and universal references and was given leeway to be childish to a certain extent.The entire set up allows for more than just physical participation; you start to invest a part of yourself into the context of the work.

As for the gum? The closest relevance I found was this:

Figure 16 – “A pilot was punished for chewing gum while flying across Singaporean Skies. He was confined within this cell for a long time.”

Well, rather him than Liao, otherwise we would not have had the opportunity to see “a signature site-specific work from a long distance”.


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