Railtrack Songmaps

Migrant Ecologies Project (Singapore)

13 – 24 January 2016
Tue - Sun: 12pm - 7pm
Fri: 12pm - 9pm
Blk 47 Malan Road #01-25 Gillman Barracks

Fringe Highlight • Fringe Commission • World Premiere



Free Admission

Biography of Artist

Everyday animisms from a patch of urban wild

Railtrack Songmaps is a multimedia sound and visual experience evolving out of site-specific investigations into the relations between people and birds in a part of urban Singapore that faces considerable social and environmental change.

Conceptualised by Lucy Davis, the project is the result of three years of recording birds and exploring interspecies communications, stories, songs and memories along the former Malaysian railway tracks at Tanglin Halt where a survey conducted together with the Nature Society of Singapore Bird Group recorded over 100 species of birds.

Tanglin Halt was one of the first public housing development estates in Singapore. However, some of the blocks alongside the old railway line are being demolished, and it is unclear what will happen to the informal tree shrines, kampung garden initiatives and songbird clubs that exist along the tracks. The surprising biodiversity in pockets of mature trees, marshy ponds, long grass and thick undergrowth is also increasingly confined by the intensive construction in the area.

The premiere of Railtrack Songmaps at the M1 Singapore Fringe Festival marks the launch of the first works from this project, featuring contributions from artists and scientists across genres, including Zai Tang (composer/field recordist), Kee Ya Ting (photographer/videographer), Marijke Van Kets (filmmaker), David Tan (biologist), Dennice Juwono (designer/visual artist), Steven Setiawan Jap (interactive media designer/visual artist) and Ben Slater (script consultant). The installation is crafted with the assistance of Philippe Foulfoin and Kevin Sullivan (architects) and Eugene Tan (product designer).

The anchor piece is Railtrack Songmaps, an interactive touch-screen and projection piece tracing tangential responses to this changing environment. An introductory film leads the viewer into aninteractive map of the area. A diversity of bird calls invite visitors to follow soundtracks that weave into layers of song, story and image that resound with urban myths, memories and experiences of people and the birds they’ve known, seen or studied.

For the visual dimensions of this experience, Lucy Davis has been downloading and printing-out online images and video frames of birds, and "rewilding" these into real locations along the tracks where the birds have been observed. One method involves making transparent puppets from found-photographs, and using sunlight to cast shadows on a nearby leaf, tree or pathway. Another approach involves printing out hundreds of frames from online videos, cutting out the birds by hand and re-animating these frame-free birds—or, alternately, the paper frames with holes where the birds once were.

A second component, Feather Forensics, is a collaboration between Kee Ya Ting and David Tan from the National University of Singapore. This photographic work tracks darker, micro- and macro- "avian death maps" of the city, together with accounts from key hotspots where repeated avian window-strikes have occurred. These maps reveal the fatal borderline between avian flight-paths and high-rise architecture. Sadly, such hotspots include a few of the new buildings along our patch of urban wild.

The Migrant Ecologies Project embraces concerned explorers, curious collectors, daughters of woodcutters, miners of memories and art by nature. The project evolves through and around past and present movements and migrations of nature/cultures in art and life in Southeast Asia.

Sean says:

"This thoughtful and ambitious installation is testament to the artists and scientists' long-term commitment to rigorous research and creating awareness through their work. It is with great honour that we present the work of such a sensitive, talented and committed collective."

Relationship to Art and the Animal

In this work it is the presence, or more specifically the song of a bird that initiates a process of becoming; a chorus of sounds and stories about nature and culture in one specific area of Singapore.