Dhavinder Singh's 'Test Tanah' rooftop installation project rails against over-development

  • Arts
  • Monday, 20 May 2019

In the works: Dhavinder Singh's 'Grave for Barrow' (wood, tarpaulin, compost soil, grass, found wheelbarrow, brick, 2019). -- Puah Chin Kok

Contemporary artist Dhavinder Singh’s Test Tanah installation art project is set to go places. Like the relentless development that finds its way into every corner of Kuala Lumpur, this project will pop up where cranes and construction converge.

This touring exhibit, which comprises two installation pieces fashioned out of bricks, soil, wood, cranes, a wheelbarrow and several other everyday curiosities, is currently on display on a rooftop venue in Chinatown that overlooks part of the city.

“The Test Tanah project has been an ongoing project since 2016, where it has been documented in various locations which are scheduled for redevelopment,” says Dhavinder, 36, in a recent interview.

“The concept came from my observations of urban landscapes, and how the tower crane has become a prominent fixture.

“It appears as a symbol of development and also destruction for some ... as land and spaces in the city are taken over by developers without the consideration of proper urban planning. Hence, the idea of using the tower crane as a subject matter came about.”

How fitting then, that Test Tanah is being shown against the backdrop of an example of the circumstances it is protesting against: over-development.

It is set up on the rooftop of the Moutou Artist-Run Space in KL. This rooftop farm, which is a perfect for Test Tanah, aims to create space for diverse projects through collaborations within the spectrum of arts, activism, community and sustainability.

Dhavinder plans to take the Test Tanah installation to other locations in the Klang Valley. Photo: Puah Chin Kok

Moutou is just a stone’s throw away from the bustle of Petaling Street.

Test Tanah is a silent protest of sorts,” the artist confirms, noting that the work absorbs the surroundings and contrasts the construction happening around it.

Dhavinder’s project gets its name from soil tests to assess the suitability of the soil for proposed constructions works. If these tests are inadequate or inaccurate, the implications can be disastrous.

As a person who grew up in the Chan Sow Lin neighbourhood in the heart of KL, an industrial area dotted with factories and car workshops, he has witnessed how the city has changed.

Back then, Dhavinder lived with his grandparents in a factory quarters, they used to be caretakers of the factory.

As a child, he was also fascinated by his seamstress mother’s tailoring techniques in which she would meticulously visualise, measure, draw, cut and stitch her creations.

With the development (and destruction) of the areas he grew up in, Test Tanah is Dhavinder’s personal investigation and exploration of his sentiments on the ever-changing skyline of KL and its surrounding areas. He intends to take the Test Tanah installations to other locations in KL this year.

This project also carries with it the sense of loss that comes with displacement.

Dhavinder’s art studio was previously located at Razak Mansion, a 50-year-old low-cost development in KL that housed more than 600 people, that was demolished in 2017.

Dhavinder's Grave For Barrow (wood, tarpaulin, compost soil, grass, found wheelbarrow, brick, 2019). Photo: Puah Chin Kok

“The people who lived there were displaced from their home once the order to demolish (the building) came through.

“While new plots (of housing) were offered, the spirit of the older, lived-in spaces that made them dear to the people who lived there were destroyed as the bulldozers, excavators and tower cranes appeared,” shares Dhavinder on how the Test Tanah idea was shaped.

In his second solo exhibition Recollectus in 2017, Dhavinder presented nine paintings triggered by the redevelopment of KL’s historic Razak Mansion. His first solo MO:Formal(and)scapes in 2014 also concerned itself with urban landscapes.

Dhavinder, a fine arts graduate from the Cardiff School Of Art And Design in Britain, hopes that this Test Tanah project will encourage people to think about the effects of over-development and how it is destroying our natural habitat and heritage.

It is far-fetched idea, he concurs, especially given how things seem to be going at the moment. But Dhavinder remains optimistic.

“I believe if we try to stand against it, we surely will receive what we want,” he says.

So head on over to the rooftop and watch the sun set on yet another day of skyscrapers, cranes and construction sites - and ask: What is the price of progress?

To view Test Tanah, take the Moutou Artist-Run Space rooftop (No. 8, Lorong Panggong, KL) access via a back entrance located next to the Chinese restaurant there. Visiting hours: 5pm-10pm (Monday-Friday) and 11am-10pm (Saturday-Sunday) by appointment. Call 012-666 6124. Exhibit runs till June 21. FB: Moutou.

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