[Non-review] Building as a Body
Image from The Substation site.
The facade of the Substation is currently swathed in a screen of black and white PVC slats. The installation is the brainchild of a local architect and a designer, Randy Chan and Grace Tan, titled Building as a Body. The work, as that moniker suggests, imagines architecture as anatomy. According to Tan:
The façade becomes bare and neutral, but powerful and dynamic beyond the surface. Subsequently, Randy and I started talking about the parallel between the body and architecture. Over the course of our dialogue, the notion of constructing a layer/skin to cover the façade came naturally to us.
By shrouding the façade, we are removing and masking the ‘face’ of the building, which is the most critical, visual, and symbolic physical representation of The Substation.
(See an interview with Tan here.)
The correlation between built structures and somatic structures is not a new one:
… Renaissance building owed its special qualities as an “architecture of humanism” to its analogies, in theory and physical presence, to the human body. A confessed Wolfflinian himself, Rowe would seem to agree with the ascription of a corporeal psychology to the experience of architecture, a response of the human body to a building that, for the building to be successful, would have, so to speak, to be matched and instigated by the building itself. We sense an echo of Wolfflin’s conclusion that “we judge every object by analogy with our own bodies.” Wolfflin wrote of the “creature”-like nature of the building, “with head and foot, back and front” ……
For Geoffrey Scott, the building’s “body” acted as a referent for “the body’s favorable state,” the “moods of the spirit … power and laughter, strength and terror and calm.” Translating the long tradition of Renaissance bodily analogy into psychological terms, Scott identified two complementary principles at work: the one, founded on the response we have to the appearance of stability or instability in a building, is our identification with the building itself: “we have transcribed ourselves into terms of architecture.” The other was founded on the fact that with this initial transcription we unconsciously invest the building itself with human movement and human moods: “we transcribe architecture into terms of ourselves.” Together, these two principles formed, he asserted, “the humanism of architecture.” … Thence Scott’s impassioned plea for the body in architecture: “architecture, to communicate the vital values of the spirit must appear organic, like the body.”
(Anthony Vidler, The Architectural Uncanny [1992, MIT Press].)
Comparisons to the large-scale outdoor projects of Christo and Jeanne-Claude aside, Building as a Body strikes one as an informed intervention in the urban streetscape: cloaking the physical presence of a well-established local institution in a now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t play of shifting chromaticism, the work perhaps functions as an oblique comment on the Substation’s diminished influence in the arts scene hereabouts, a game of optical hide-and-seek to mirror its vicissitudinous wax and wane in the public eye …
A write-up in The Straits Times last week, reproduced below.
VEIL FOR SUBSTATION
Artists turn the arts centre into an art installation for its 20th anniversary.
By Denise Cheong. Published: 3 February 2012.
One of Singapore’s landmark arts centres has itself been turned into a work of art.
Take a stroll along Armenian Street and you will find The Substation shrouded in interwoven black and cream plastic strips.
The arts centre-turned-art-installation was commissioned by the National Heritage Board and the Singapore Art Museum.
Singapore artists Grace Tan, 32, and Randy Chan, 41, created it to celebrate The Substation’s 20th anniversary. Their work, quite an artistic and architectural feat, is titled Building As A Body.
It is a 15m-tall and 10m-wide matrix of 471 PVC strips, each between 5m and 9m in length and 3cm in width. These strips are connected to steel poles using square rings and conceals the entire facade of The Substation building.
The 80kg structure was completed on Jan 10 and is on display till March 28. It is supported by steel scaffolding clamped to the building’s pillars, and took three days and 10 construction workers to build.
On why the artists concealed the arts centre, Chan said he was disappointed that since the National Library and a well- known char kway teow stall (Armenian Street Char Kway Teow, now at Block 303, Anchorvale Link Coffeshop in Sengkang) were relocated, the area was now often deserted.
‘The idea was to personify the building. If you look at it one way, the veil represents a woman’s coming of age as a young bride. However, it can also stand for something more morbid, as a veil is also used to cover a corpse,’ he said.
Tan added: ‘This is why we chose the monochromatic colour scheme instead of something more striking. The polarity is very symbolic.
‘The image of a veil in itself is very elusive and mysterious. This can be paralleled to how The Substation means different things to different people.’
The Substation artistic director Noor Effendy Ibrahim, 38, said: ‘I hope the installation will activate a new imagination of The Substation, not only as a home for the arts but also as a platform for design and sculpture.’
He added: ‘The Substation already stands out in gentrified Armenian Street. This installation disrupts the clean lines of this neighbourhood. I like it and I think it’s an important statement.’
On the use of PVC strips, Chan said: ‘As this is a public art installation, we were very strategic about the materials used. Instead of just draping a big cloth over the building, which will eventually get wet and heavy, we went for this idea of weaving so that wind can flow through it.
‘PVC material is water-resistant and also very light, making the veil structurally sound.’
This is Chan and Tan’s first time collaborating on an art project of this scale.
He is an architect by profession, and she is an associate artist of The Substation’s research programme and the founder of kwodrent, an inter-disciplinary practice specialising in design and fabric works.