Category Archives: The Dragon The Purple Forbidden Enclosure

Do Not Be Afraid

The signage outside the room containing The Dragon, The Purple Forbidden Enclosure, Dane Mitchell, 2011, SB2011. Photo taken by: Kimberly Huang

By Kimberly Huang



You are about to cross the threshold between this world and the next. If you suffer from motion sickness, anxiety, or are currently with child, please proceed with caution.

As you enter the space, take a good look at your surroundings. Take in the various objects placed on the ground: the stone, the blown glass sculpture on two square wooden planks, the one hundred and eight bottles of water arranged in a rectangular fashion and bound repeatedly with a thin, red string to the constellation that is the metal tube enclosure. Now, as you absorb these tangible objects, commit them to memory; then I want you to close your eyes and feel your surroundings. Feel the light breeze brush your cheek, the sweat on your brow, on your arms. Hear the soft rustling of the leaves in the trees outside this space. Immerse yourself completely in the sensory experience, and feel yourself become increasingly aware of your other senses becoming heightened as you grow less and less dependent on your eyesight. Now, slowly start making your way around the space, calling to mind the images that you committed to memory earlier. Bring all these elements together in your imagination as you continue to walk around the space. Feel the space around you – both physically and mentally. Fill the space you occupy completely; truly inhabit it and engage its capacity with your presence. Feel the emptiness that surrounds your occupied space. Whatever space you’re occupying right at this moment, is home.

This year’s Singapore Biennale is all about the use of the domestic space – the artworks themselves form a relationship with the locality they occupy and in turn construct a dialogue with a more global setting. Indeed, artists are encouraged to take advantage of the potential of these everyday spaces – Dane Mitchell, in this case, has obviously chosen to leave most of it blank. Perhaps, in doing this, he has chosen to place a greater emphasis on the viewer’s ability to react to the given space – quite literally, giving the audience ‘room’ to read the work. And although the various objects are intentionally and strategically placed, they remain detached from their surroundings. Is this because these items are mere remnants of the life that once was, instead of being living, breathing entities themselves? This detachment certainly makes the work far more challenging as it elicits the viewer to dig a little deeper.

Shall we press on? Continue to stimulate your imagination and keep walking, albeit slowly. Step over the metal tubes when necessary. At this point, some of you may start to feel a little bit frustrated or uneasy: when is this going to end? What is the point of all this? Do not fret, for energies have been summoned to this room – spirits brought from another realm and mapped by this constellation. Do you feel them? Do you feel them inhabiting the space around you, through you? Does the space around you suddenly feel no longer as empty? Do not be afraid. Walk on and feel these spirits envelope your being; dialogue with them. Forget everything you once knew, suppress reasoning for now, and hold steadfast to your imagination. Let your instincts guide you.

These spirits are manifestations of the former inhabitants of the space you now inhabit. Do you sense these spirits’ relationship with the existing space? Push your imagination a little bit further: what do these objects in the room have to do with these spirits? The blown glass, the planks of wood, the stone, the bottles of water, the string? Are they relics from the past? Objects left behind by those who once were,  by the previous life lived? Could these spirits perhaps be people you once knew? Or, at the very least, people you once crossed paths with? Reflect on that as you continue to walk around. Some of you may choose to stand still and focus on the energies around you.

What makes this piece of work so unique is that as much importance is placed on the undoing as in the doing. This year’s Biennale also stresses the value in the process – the act of creating and of doing creates meaning just as much as the finished artwork itself. However, what Dane Mitchell has done here is, essentially, nothing, or rather, contingent on a suspension of disbelief. Both the doing and undoing rest on the summoning process, but other than that the piece is for the most part an ‘invisible installation’; does that make the piece any less meaningful? The meaning becomes almost fully dependent on the viewers’ imaginations to conjure.

On that note, I want you to finally, slowly open your eyes. Look around the space. Do you see it any differently? Do you still feel the energies in the room reverberating around you and through you? Ask yourself: what do you now believe?

You must have realised by now that imagination and instinctual experiences are far stronger than any historical record, or the spoken word; and that you have come to this understanding only after developing a sense of awareness of the space and the objects and people that occupy it. It is only through these experiences – through tapping into potent energies – that we are able to transcend physical limitations, tread the fragile boundary between the mundane and supernatural, and go beyond what is really there, at the very least to immerse yourself in a unique experience, but ultimately and ideally to find meaning in what is not there. To see through the nothingness and find the energies within objects, surrounding spaces.


We have come to the end of the experience. If you are feeling a slight nausea or headache from either being affected by the summoned entities or having pushed your imagination a little too hard, do not fret: this is completely normal, and should pass in a couple of hours. Otherwise, please proceed through the door to your right. Thank you and enjoy the rest of your day.


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