One slow-burn project of mine over the last twenty years has been documenting public art in Singapore. It began when I noticed how curiously literal-minded were the labels on public sculptures in Singapore: they spelled out, in no uncertain terms, the symbolism of the works they accompanied, leaving no room for ambiguity or interpretation. As someone fascinated with Singapore’s brand of technocratic rationality, this seemed a phenomenon worth tracking, so I made a list of works and transcribed their labels. The project took on its own momentum, especially as I became interested in the idea of publishing my inventory online.
These were public artworks, given to — or foisted on — a public who was then told precisely what they were supposed to think of the works. I published a couple of papers based on the work, and then thought, why not create a website that would be a public place to keep track of these works, and to comment on them? It was also a way for me to learn new web-publishing technologies. If I remember well I created the first iterations of the site using Tinderbox, which I enjoyed, before moving to Drupal. The Drupal versions of the site featured active comment sections, maps, deep social media integration and the like. You can read a description of the site at its peak that was published in the edtech website HASTAC.
But it became a pain to maintain and update, all those Drupal module and core updates, etc, and eventually I took down the site. (“Sorry for all the Drupal!”) I donated the data to Singapore’s Public Art Trust, more or less a unit of the National Arts Council, and also put the data into the public domain and made it available for download (here).
However recently I thought I should restart the project. The Public Art Trust has a very good website, although more PR for the Trust than seeking to document Singapore’s public art. So I thought it was a good time to reintroduce the old concept, and learn a new web-publishing technology or two while I was at it. The psmedia.asia/publicartsg site is developed in React using Gatsby.js, which I’m enjoying tremendously, even as I remain a script-kiddie in the way I develop!