Singapore through the eyes of local artists

From the echoing emptiness of an MRT station to the spectrum of colours produced by heartland debris, a new coffee-table book maps Singapore's urban space through the eyes of eight local artists.

The City Book, which was launched last Friday, collects existing works by these artists in print.

The locations that inspired their works are marked on a specially commissioned map tucked into the back of the book.

The book is the second in a series by art and lifestyle design company Production Q, brought out in Singapore in partnership with Articulate Consulting.

The Vernissage by Hilmi Johandi (above), in The City Book.
The Vernissage by Hilmi Johandi (above), in The City Book. PHOTO: HILMI JOHANDI

Production Q creative director Queenie Rosita Law, 30, says: "We want to look at how cities form, how they inspire artists to create. People have very different ways of understanding a city."

The first book in the series was set in Hong Kong, where Ms Law is from.

She is planning similar books for Paris, Rome and perhaps Taipei.

Artist Genevieve Chua, whose paintings of urban soundscapes appear in the book, describes it as a "Lonely Planet guide to Singapore, but from the perspective of artists".

"I thought it was interesting that they were using another strategy to approach Singapore art, one without a historical narrative," she says.

Chua, 32, explores urban disruption and deterioration through her work on sound vibrations.


The Vernissage by Hilmi Johandi, in The City Book (above). PHOTO: HILMI JOHANDI

Her Moths series was inspired by a phenomenon that occurs in the Central Business District in July and August. Atlas moths - which, when full-grown, are bigger than a person's face - emerge to mate and the humidity causes them to congregate on the cooler surfaces of buildings to dry their wings.

Chua recorded the vibratory patterns caused by the moths on buildings at Raffles Place and visualised them as dots in screen prints.

Where she looks at how the wilderness invades man-made environments, artist Tang Ling Nah, 45, depicts urban spaces such as MRT stations and void decks as empty of the humanity they were built to accommodate.

Tang, who works in charcoal, aims to create scenes of "unfamiliar familiarity in transitory spaces we pass through every day".

Other artists tell stories of the city through experiments with time and nostalgia.

Artist Hilmi Johandi's paintings blend bygone hangouts, such as the amusement parks of Great World City and Happy World, with stills from old 1950s and 1960s Malay films. "I want to subvert the expectations you get from these familiar images to create a disruptive experience," says the 30-year-old.

In paintings such as The Vernissage, named after the French term for an exclusive preview of an art exhibition, shifting perspectives of crowded scenes betray class divisions and the deception of social mannerisms.

More nostalgic are the installations of Dawn Ng, 34, who collects household items from her childhood days and photographs them in carefully arranged formations of a single colour.

She scoured 138 mom-and-pop shops in heartland estates such as Tiong Bahru and Tanglin Halt to find the items.

In order to put together a formation of 20 items, she would have to collect more than 100 in that colour palette before she was satisfied.

"Sometimes, it takes the eye of a child to find beauty in something as simple as a cup, a clothespeg or a ping pong ball," she says.

"We lose that sense of wonder as we grow older and I wanted to bring it back."

• The City Book ($75 before GST) is available at SPRMRKT, BooksActually, Kapok, Nana and Bird, Edit Lifestyle, Basheer Graphic Books, Gallery & Co and Naiise.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 18, 2017, with the headline 'Singapore through the eyes of local artists'. Print Edition | Subscribe