Category Archives: Research

Between you and I…It’s a PostSecret

PostSecretScreenshot of the PostSecret website landing page

PostSecret is a project created by Frank Warren. It has its beginning in 2005 and has since manifested across various forms including a website, books, films and museum exhibitions.

“PostSecrets is an ongoing community art project where people mail in their secrets anonymously on one side of a postcard.”

The main premise of the concept involves having anonymous individuals send in postcards written with secrets they would like to divulge. Frank and his team then makes a selection amongst them and has them published or displayed on its various platforms. The content is

While the idea itself is relatively simple, the project is nevertheless evocative, opening up questions about privacy, anonymity, our innate need for a sense of connectedness and community.

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Since its inception in 2005, countless other platforms and similar websites have sprung up allowing individuals to share their inner most thoughts and sentiments they would otherwise perhaps not openly share with others.

Locally, “Confessions” websites and pages have been a popular outlet. There is even one for the NTU community.

NTU Confessions

Personally, the fact that PostSecrets seeks for contributors to mail in actual postcards with their messages physically written on them is  rather interesting. The steady decline in sending snail mail has been in place since email communications took over as the primary means for allowing sending letters to others. Yet, many still take the effort to send in their postcards to PostSecret. Often these postcards become little pieces of artistic expression that feature various collaging, deconstructive, and text-visual juxtaposition techniques.

The physicality of these messages in the form of the hardcopy postcard is an interesting point because PostSecret had an iOS app revoked late 2011 because there was a far higher volume of malicious comments and entries posted through the app than what moderators could cope with.

This distinction in the medium resulting in two very different outcomes hints at what we know for some time now – the cloak of anonymity and instant connectivity provided by the web encourages a more superficial, trigger-happy engagement.

Another aspect that PostSecret deals with is the negotiation of space between what is considered private and public. The voluntarily decision to give up one’s date (or secret) here is an interesting juxtaposition to the myriad of spying and data collection techniques and technologies used by various government agencies and corporations. Many of which are compulsory (in exchange of the use of certain services) or are committed secretly without the knowledge of the target.

This all points to the value of data. What is the bytes upon bytes of our digital trail and physical whereabouts worth? To whom is it worthy? And what can we do with the data to render it useful for various purposes?

Overall, PostSecret’s success and relevance even in today’s fickle climate is testament to its lasting appeal as a platform for individuals to reach out to others in a cathartic and anonymous fashion.

The following are two videos that PostSecret has produced in recent years as part of its efforts to diversify its output.

Hole In Space – Bridging People In The Third Space



Hole In Space was an installation piece presented to the public in 1980. It was based on satellite video technology and life size projection of images screened at Lincoln Centre for the Performing Arts in New York City, and The Broadway department store in Los Angeles.

See the installation below:

The work was both technologically and conceptually ahead of its time. The seamless projection of a real time video feed on the walls of the two buildings was done before the advent of webcam and Internet technologies we enjoy today. The fact that the public participants experienced a suspension of disbelief, fully immersed in the interactive experience, hardly feeling that they were speaking to a screen, speaks volumes about the technical refinement of the project.

Conceptually, the project ties in with the idea of the Third Space. Beyond just merely watching the video feed, participants who stood before the projection were remotely interacting and having conversations with complete strangers on the other side of the country. They were essentially entering a Third Space, in essence a non-material and  psychological realm where they have conjoined together; interacting and communicating with one another.

In ways, the project can be seen as a precursor to what we have today in terms of webcam and real time video technologies like Skype or Apple’s FaceTime. These technologies symbolically allow us to break down constrains of time and geography, expanding our abilities to distribute and broadcast our ideas, speech, identities etc. across a potentially widespread audience.

Where these technologies were only previously available to large broadcast companies like cable networks and television stations, resulting in a more “one to many” channel of communication, the ease and accessibility of such technology today has resulted in a “many to many” type of communication.

Overall, Hole In Space represents an interesting point in the history of the interactive installation art for breaking new ground and presenting a new and emotive mode of interpersonal communications that had never been experienced before.

jonCates BOLD3RRR…image and sound bl3nd3RRR…and then some

jonCates BOLD3RRR(screenshot of jonCates as he performed BOLD3RRR live)

jonCates’s BOLD3RRR project was performed (and recorded) live via Skype for MediaLive 2012 at Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art, July 14 2012.

The almost 24 minute long performance mashes sound and images in what is sometimes an incomprehensible mix of sensory triggers. A semiotics overload as it were.

Watch the performance here:

Sonically, jonCates adopts what we can describe loosely as ‘white noise’ (static noises, clicking sounds, distortions etc.), along with a spoken word narration soundtrack – overlaying fragments of the two in a manner that often, interweaves them together as a unibody.

Pictorially, jonCates pulls images and screen grabs from his screen and overlays them with typographical renderings of his spoken word script.

The potent mix of these interject each other, disrupting and interfering with each other in an juxtapositional collage to create a non-linear narrative that challenges the viewer to either negotiate the work in a “meaningful” manner by attempting to understand or rationalise its semiotics, or experience the work for what it is – a mishmash of audio-visual sequences.

BOLD3RRR does not establish a single stream or path that the audience can follow along (unlike more “traditional” art forms). Its multi stream, non-hierarchical semiotic structure is inherent to the success and failure of the work.

While they do not practice in the same discipline, encountering jonCates’ BOLD3RRR reminded me of an interview a local television station did with Singaporean director Kirsten Tan.

Watch the interview below:


(video link:

At one point during the programme, Tan reflected upon her work and posed the question if we as audiences (or even creators [sic]) are too fixated in attempting to rationalise, intellectualise and find “meaning” in a piece of work that we forgo the ability to just experience and respond in an organic and emotive manner.

Perhaps the underlying subtext to BOLD3RRR is this challenge to the audience: how will we choose to respond when we become overloaded with sensory data? Do we “expand” ourselves and attempt to take it all in or do we let ourselves go and drift in between the consciousness of the “flow”? This is not unlike what the contemporary state of the media is like now. We are constantly surrounded by triggers (wittingly or unwittingly) that prod our stream of consciousness, resulting in a now commonplace lament that our attention spans are becoming increasingly fragmented.

For creators, we have to grapple and walk the uneasy line of rationalising our work or working more instinctively. Sway too far in trying to justify one’s work with critical theories and rational reasoning and we run the risk of making something out of nothing; “over-intellectualising” the work in bids to justify its existence. Work too close to the other end of the spectrum and we now have to deal with looking like modern day pretenders to the legacy of Jackson Pollock and co.; making esoteric work that is inaccessible and self indulgent.

Just as BOLD3RRR is all about navigating through the different sound and picture sequences, we too as art consumers and creators must decide and negotiate how we wish to traverse this wild, wild world sometimes filled with contradicting paths.

Saying Hi To Your Other Self in Second Life

In 2010, some seven years after the virtual world Second Life (SL) was launched, director Jason Spingarn-Koff set off into this wild digital world and made the documentary Life 2.0 – charting the lives of people who participation in SL radically changed their real life circumstances.

In one of these instances, a man (herein referred to as ‘John’; his real name was omitted in the documentary) created a female child avatar, Ayya Aabye, in SL and became fixated with the character for some 6 months. He would often clock over 10 hours daily on Second Life, disrupting his daily life and relationship with his fiancée.

Even though John ultimately deleted his avatar, it was too little too late and his engagement crumbled.

Though, the direct cause of their relationship cannot be directly attributed solely to Man’s obsession with SL, it certainly exacerbated existing issues.

Yet in the aftermath of his breakup,  John headed back into SL and create a brand new avatar and began immersing once more into the digital sandbox world – claiming that he would “be in virtual worlds forever, that there would nothing that would keep (him) out of them”.

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It is fascinating to see how one’s real life can become so intertwined with a constructed online/digital life. The lines between the two become blurred and feed into one another, sometimes consuming the other almost wholly.

In the documentary, John would often refer to his avatar by its name and in third person, while acknowledging that they are in ways one and the same. While leading double lives and assuming new identities is nothing new, the ease and expansiveness in which one can undertake such endeavour has never been so prominent.

The ability for the Internet to connect these individuals in a single, almost anonymous platform, to role play together is also another important component in this phenomenon. Participants often speak of the community and connectedness they experience in SL; friendships made online are as authentic (if not more so) as friendships made in real life.

As technology advances even further, we can expect increasingly immersive digital worlds in which we inhabit and “live” in. How this will fracture or enhance interpersonal relationships is anyone’s guess. But life – real, digital or otherwise, as we know it, would certainly never be the same again.



Machine and Art

Kraftwerk LIVE in Singpore(Kraftwerk LIVE in Singapore/ Image by Hoong Wei Long / All Rights Reserved The Esplanade Co Ltd.)

How apt that we are looking at the idea of robots/cyborgs this week – the 2014 reboot (no pun intended) of Robocop just opened here over the weekend.

It is of course just one of many movies in recent years that deal with the idea of robots/cyborgs – think Transformers, Pacific Rim, Iron Man , Wall-E and yes, I, Frankenstein (some robots deserve to be shut down. But I digress).

As we move in the future, the use of machines to augment and further expand our capabilities beyond physical, time and spatial limits would be something that will likely more increasingly common in our daily lives.

Heck, even Amazon is looking to make robot dropships for your online shopping. It’s not the FedEx man at the door no more, it’s a friggin’ robot.

Will our future burn in chaos ala Terminator? Or will we tame A.I. to do our bidding and live happily ever after?

(Is it any wonder that overwhelmingly, most works predict a future closer to the former? Yeah, we’ll chalk it down to having a dramatic arc. *gulp*)

So we turn our eye (Comd – left, right, left, left, centre, please!) to a group called Kraftwerk from Germany. Yes THAT Kraftwerk. The Beatles of the cybernetic world, crisscrossing the Abbey Road of the information superhighway since the 70’s . If you listen to electronic music, you can be pretty sure you can track some form of influence back to these German lads. They are that big.

Through their music and performative elements, they heralded in our digital/electronic age and playing off the themes of man and machine coming together as one.

But I can’t help but notice a sense of irony here (and I guess this applies somewhat to the works by other groups/artists dealing with the whole man/machine conundrum) – that the work is created, and very much appreciated, by humans.

Making and enjoying music (art) is such a hallmark human activity. I don’t think we can ever teach a robot to truly enjoy music like we instinctively do. It is the space in between the beats and the melodies that we exist in, the energy we feel coming through the sound waves that make listening to music a very real experience.

So, as much as we would like to get away from the “human-ness” by playing up the clinical, hard ideas of a robotic future, we cannot deny the underlying human touch when it comes to artmaking and art appreciation. In ways, dabbling with the notions of cyborgs/robots is dealing with yet another aspect or facade of human nature/culture, albeit one perhaps mother nature did not intend.

I guess, my sentiment at this point is that humans make art for other humans. That’s the “why” we can’t escape from.

The “how” and the “what”? Well, that’s where the fun begins.

And oh while we’re at it, can someone send a message to the future? We don’t need a John Connor to save us no more.

Now, can we just dance? 😉

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(I shall close this entry with a personal note)

Close Encounter of the Robotic Kind (or How I Had  A Close Brush with Kraftwerk)

When I realised that Kraftwerk was part of the group of artists we are looking at for Week 4, I was excited. No, make that EXCITED.

Admittedly, I’m not the biggest fan of Kraftwerk around but I definitely recognise the group for their seminal sound and their ideas of melding visuals and a performative elements  to deliver a singular experience that makes Kraftwerk, well, Kraftwerk.

I had the chance to photograph their performance here in Singapore last year when they brought their 3D concert to our sunny shores. In a bid to hopefully capture some stereoscopic images of the concert, I also traded emails with Falk Grieffenhagen – one of the current members of the group – who offered some information and advice on their 3D setup (alas I had to settle on 2D imaging without resorting to extensive dual camera setups).

Still, it was a great experience and something I will remember in years to come.