CounterCartographies – Traveling Light, Singapore

CounterCartographies – Traveling Light, Singapore
A talk by Kenneth Tay

6 July 2017 

As part of our CounterCartographies initiative to understand visual culture in relation to the politics of space, we are organising a series of talks to help kickstart discussions that might lead to the formation of a research cluster to consider alternative and imaginative ways in which the city can be understood.

In 1964, between Singapore’s transition from the great Malaysian project to its eventual independence, the city began its construction of the Pan Island Expressway (PIE). Built over several phrases and stretching across the length of the city, the PIE remains the oldest and longest highway in Singapore. Forty years after its initial construction, the filmmaker Tan Pin Pin records the journey of a moving vehicle traversing the PIE at the speed limit of 80km/h. Shot in one single take, between Changi Airport and Tuas Checkpoint, 80km/h (2004) is a cross country document whose duration – a mere 38 minutes – is its message.

Singapore has been known by various names courtesy of foreign critics and by various marketing slogans in the recent decades: garden city, disneyland with the death penalty, a perpetual tabula rasa, smart city. The latest of which represents Singapore’s ambition to join up with the global movement of urban intelligence, at the risk of presuming that the city had never been intelligent prior to the ubiquitous computing that now runs all over the place.

This talk departs first from the assertion that a city is a medium. It is more than an economic unit of consolidation, a densely built environment, but also a space for communication and communion; it distributes commodities, gathers communities, and informs connections. Beginning from a study of the Pan Island Expressway, the film 80km/h, and the project CONCRETE ISLAND, it proposes to remap Singapore as a condition of movements.

About the speaker

Kenneth TAY’s work engages with media histories and contemporary media practices. Previously, he was Assistant Curator at the National University of Singapore (NUS) Museum where he initiated the project CONCRETE ISLAND (2016). He is also the co-editor of Left-Right. In August he will begin his MA in Media Studies at The New School, New York City.

Image credit: Geraldine Kang

As a counter to the rhetoric of futuristic Smart City, Kenneth Tay suggests in his talk ‘Traveling Light, Singapore’ that perhaps ‘city has always been intelligent’. This intelligence is not found in the monumentalising of culture or heritage or the embedding of new technologies in our everyday lives to create modern conveniences. His talk last night instead considers the city as movement through a historical lens by looking at the Pan-Island Expressway in Singapore as well as artistic responses that explore the movement of migrants, people and communities as central to the urban narrative of Singapore.

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