Objects in the Mirror are Closer than They Appear


Update: Residents of the Dakota Estate have been relocated as of January 2017

Objects in the Mirror are Closer than They Appear is a project in collaboration with Selene Yap.  A site-specific material and spatial interrogation of Dakota Crescent, Objects in the Mirror explores the estate outside of the nostalgic, national narrative that surrounds it, and imagines icons of the estates as entities in conversations with each other.

#1 In Transit

Of the numerous usages of a convex mirror, its most common employment is in the passenger-side mirror of a car where it provides an essential field of view for any motorist on the road. Reflecting more in a small space, a driver can minimize blind corners and pick up better live feedback to visual activity happening on the other side, captured within its compressed reflection at any given second. However, the perception of distance becomes slightly altered: objects in these mirrors become smaller, and therefore appear to be of a greater distance from the car.

In many ways, the Dakota Crescent estate in Singapore has been reflected within a similar convexity in recent times: since the announcement of its demolition slated in 2016, the entire neighbourhood has been the loci for pop culture producers, academics, heritage enthusiasts and photographers.

Like a convex mirror which expresses more in its panorama, the attention has made personalities out of Dakota Crescent’s residents and augmenting architecture into landmarks: its Dove playground, established in the same panache of other terrazzo tiles playgrounds of the 80s, is now an icon, akin to the status of the Dragon playground in Toa Payoh. It has been the mise-en-scène of local rapper Shigga Shay’s “Lion City Boy” music video, filmmaker Royston Tan’s “3688”, and undoubtedly, constituted as the vivid subject of many pictures squared on Instagram.

In the provision of a macro perspective, we all have met with projections of Dakota Crescent.These documented manifestations persistently articulate the estate’s past in the present, and simultaneously, imagine a future without it, escalating for many, a sense of déjà vu.

But from the same convexity, details are diminished. How about the crevices of the neighbourhood not captured in the repeated landscapes and narratives of its personalities and landmarks? What if the micro details that are missed can be found when we remember that in their convex diminution, objects in the mirror are, in fact, closer and nearer than they appear?

By looking at the estate through a peripheral lens, Dakota Crescent becomes a reactivated site; a conduit for discussions on the experience of space and material.

Rendering the estate through labels as text surtitles that narrate spatial and material encounters throughout the scattered-site, this work provides an alternative mise-en-scène to the existing cultural status, meanings and collective imagination attached to the site–making it available for active re-appropriation through a situated interpretation.

Work and sites:

S390008: Pavement of carpark between Block 4 and Block 6

Rental flat tenants in Dakota were able to upgrade and move on to their own homes in the 80s and Block 8 was demolished between 1986 to 1989 to clear flats that fell vacant over the years. Yet, there was hearsay of its demolition due to ground instability, leading to its demolition. By locating an approximate coordinate of where Block 8 used to be, S390008 creates a glimpse of Dakota post-demolition and ideates Block 8 as a metaphorical potential at the same time.


Antecedent: Intersection of playground and Care and Friends


Antecedent looks to its left and right side to interrogate living and the passing of time. The last few decades after construction have left no marks on the playground but in an estate mostly occupied by the elderly, it is an incongruent presence. As a non- living entity, it is immortalized in its unaging presence. Across it is Care and Friends, an elder care centre where of its visitors are where the visitors’ lives are coming to fruition. This intersection marks the binary opposites of time: one frozen but eternal, and the other living but aging.

In Transit: lift journey (34 secs)


Many non-residents have recorded the estate in videos, films or as stills, capturing the exteriority. How do residents feel about the place which they live- their interiority, called on by strangers? When does curiosity breach privacy? Can interest transit to intrusion? These 34 seconds in this unconventional elevator ride imagines both the residents’ responses and the strangers who document these spaces.


“Dakota escapes demolition” (14 January 2016): Playground



The Today article “Iconic dragon playground in Toa Payoh escapes demolition” (14 January 2014) was shared more than 700 times on social media where readers lauded the preservation of the playground. This work questions the future of the Dakota if calls for conservation are answered: will dialogues change or stop? What happens when we finally have what we want? Do we still give it the same attention or does it fade into the background as a result of visual satiation?


Objects in the Mirror are Closer than They Appear Catalogue

Photo credit: Selene Yap