Articles and Interviews / Building as a Body: Interview with Grace Tan

Building as a Body
Interview with Grace Tan
By Tim Zeelie

Building as a Body is an art installation by Grace Tan and Randy Chan at The Substation. Architectural in its scale and artistic in its intent, this installation will completely transform The Substation’s facade, and will highlight some central questions around its identity. 

Tim Zeelie caught up with Associate Artist Grace Tan to uncover some more details about this mysterious shroud.

TZ: The installation you and Randy are creating envelopes the entire facade of the building, clothing it. Is this an attempt to personify The Substation? Why cover the façade?

GT: My initial idea was the ‘flattening’ of the façade into a single flat surface, stripped of any embellishment and representation. 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. We recognised that this is a bold and powerful gesture with different interpretations and we would like to leave them ambiguous. 

TZ When I look at the project, I can’t help but think it references Christo and Jeanne-Claude. Art critic David Bourdon once described their wrappings as a ‘revelation through concealment’. How would you say this interplay between revelation and concealment, or surface and significance play out in this work?

GT What led us to this multi-dimensional installation largely stemmed from our own design and artistic practices, as well as being stakeholders of The Substation. For us, it is important that the installation exists beyond the technical structure and visual aesthetic to contain a narrative element that looks into the relationships surrounding The Substation [both the organisation and the space].

The concealment is both physical and abstract. The concealment is a poignant starting point to question and revisit The Substation, especially for individuals who share stories or memories of the centre.

TZ There is also a religious element to the installation in the way it resembles a veil, which is supposed to demonstrate honour and help maintain social distance. Islamic architecture is also described as ‘the architecture of the veil’, to emphasise the value of what’s inside, as opposed to outside. Do you think these are valid readings?

GT Although Randy and I did not specifically talk about ‘the architecture of the veil’, it is an interesting perspective. The Islamic concept of ‘architecture of the veil’ emphasises a distinction and separation of the outer and inner space through a primary formalistic design solution. On the other hand, our site-specific veil is a secondary architectural intervention that serves as an interface between the outer and inner, as well as the physical and intangible, functioning beyond its physical concealing ability. For us, we are more interested to play with and push the idea of the veil abstractly and to see what it can become or do.

This interview originally appeared in the Singapore Art Gallery Guide January/February 2012

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