Urban Aspiration

Press Release: The Physics Room – March 10, 2016

Scoop Independent News

A starting point for the exhibition Urban Aspiration was the experience of curator Vera Mey living in Singapore from July to September 2015 when the city was enveloped in a blanket of haze. Forest fires in Sumatra and the Indonesian part of Borneo spewed toxic smoke and climate-changing greenhouse gases so profusely that the haze spread to Malaysia, Singapore and parts of Thailand (Mollman 2015). Known as the ‘Southeast Asian haze’, the weather was like a nuclear winter–heavy and humid heat, seemingly endlessly grey and overcast. City dwellers wore facemasks when outdoors and air purifiers sold out in shops. PSI levels reached the hazardous phase (ratings of 317) and were at a level where the government advisory

cautioned against conducting work outdoors. Despite this imperative, construction or the progress of the ‘global city’ did not necessarily subside, all in the name of continuing productivity. The only slight impediment to the economy was through the consumer boycott of palm oil and pulp and paper companies that contribute to the forest fires. Eerily, during the weekend of the popular Formula 1 event in Singapore, the haze temporarily subsided.

Sites of extreme urbanisation, such as Singapore, are deeply interconnected with areas that lie beyond the conventional boundaries of the city through flows of capital, resources, labour and, as exemplified by the haze, pollution. Despite the cautionary tales of urban development, the spectacle of city living can be met with an emotional and aspirational ambivalence. In what Lim Sokchanlina describes as a moth to a flame, the aspirational city development can act as a glossy distraction to underlying issues of encroaching exploitation and leisure activities that could negatively change the psychogeography of the city. On the converse is the allure of convenience that contemporary urban development provides through its provision of entertainment and spectacle of urban lifestyle as a distraction from deeper questions of meaning. As a word of warning, on the subduing effects of bright colour and city lights, Lim says it’s like an opiate–until you get too close you don’t realise it will burn you.

These ideas circulate globally, and the visioning of the future of cities is a deeply referential process. What urban scholar Saskia Sassen has described as ‘global cities’—that is, the cities that play a role as command-and-control centers in a globalising economy—has become for many urban practitioners around the world a prescription, rather than a description (Sassen 2002). Effective urban development and affluence is often accompanied by what is perceived as an equally effective control. The ‘global city’, to be emulated and aspired to, is characterised by high-rise buildings, swanky office and commercial spaces, and orderly and controlled green spaces.

Lim Sokchanlina’s video installation Urban Street Night Club (2013) captures the contradictions of such urban desires in Southeast Asia. Lim alludes to the deep ambivalence felt in Phnom Penh and other cities throughout Southeast Asia as their homes are transformed in the name of building a clean, beautiful “modern” city, perhaps even aspiring toward the ideal of the “global city”.

Meanwhile, across the region, Amy Lien & Enzo Camacho followed the work hard, play hard, baller lifestyle of junior executives working for multi national banking agency Credit Suisse in Singapore.

A temporary meditation between both projects is the “pause” offered by Auckland- based collective Public Share. Returning to the legal workers’ proviso of the break to enable a moment of rest in exchange for continued productivity, the collective first began by exploring this through infrastructure sites of construction in West Auckland.

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