Illuminating Invisible Histories in the City of Continual Becoming


Session Title:

  • Practices and Poetics of Urban Media Art in the Shadows of the Illuminated City

Presentation Title:

  • Illuminating Invisible Histories in the City of Continual Becoming




  • To create a sense of place in urban life, there is a tension between the desire for familiarity and stability in our everyday environment and the drive towards growth and evolution. Singapore, like other rapidly developing cities, is in a constant state of becoming – a global city that exemplifies hyper-plasticity while concerned with cultivating its national identity through cultural renewal and development, as geographers Lily Kong and others have studied.

    [4] However, because of its rapid urban re-development, its landscapes of inscribed personal meaning are unevenly and rarely fixed or stable. Singapore is largely unrecognizable from what it was over five decades ago and its rapid renewal creates a certain anxiety and sense of placelessness among its citizens. A recent article in Singapore’s national newspaper, The Straits Times, critiques unabated urban development and the endangerment of vernacular post-independence architectural heritage in Singapore, challenging the state to preserve a sense of place and belonging for its citizens rather than continually serve the interest of private development. [5] As a city in a state of continual becoming, Singapore provides a useful case study for asking how cities in a continual process of urban renewal are challenged to cultivate and communicate cultural heritage and a sense of place for its diverse inhabitants.

    As cities develop, the invisible layers of history embedded in them are often erased or overlooked. Initiated as a collaboration with the Urban Redevelopment Authority of Singapore, this presentation will discuss a research project that uses new media to uncover overlooked cultural histories of Singapore’s diverse ethnic communities. In contrast to public exhibitions on urban planning that typically serve as an interface for visitors to learn about the city’s plans for the future, this project creates a way for visitors to hear and view stories and histories from Singapore’s disappearing past. Here digital technologies become a tool by which narratives of place and past are illuminated within an urban landscape that is continually shifting.

    This interactive mapping project engages new media to create a greater awareness of the invisible histories of our built environment and the diversity of peoples who populate it. It asks what kind of urban interfaces could be designed to communicate with the city and its communities, and what overlooked stories could be uncovered in order to enrich our understanding of the urban landscapes we move through.