Yu Jun Manfred Lim
Hello! I’m Manfred.
Design has opened my eyes to the many different opportunities and methods, and I am constantly on the look out for more!
I have always had an interest in folklore and their roots in various cultures. Their influence is made apparent by the many designs and patterns within our lives. The many tales and myths reflects the human psyche, both of the past and the present, and I hope to further explore how these elements will be reinterpreted in present society and possibly, the future.
Folklore changes and adapts to society. In this modern age, where everything is doubted unless prove is evident, folklore manifest within communities as urban myths. Capitalizing on modern media, these myths often contain supernatural elements, yet grounded by certain truths, masking it in half-believe, half-doubt.
As folklore changes form, so does its role. Urban myths reflect the modern society mindset and its many concern and fears. We shape them through our concerns and fears (birth, life, death), giving form to this chaotic and uncontrollable world. By making our fears tangible, it gives one a semblance of control, a means of escape. Many of these myths revolve around the interaction between the living and dead, reflecting our society view on death and the way we deal with it.
Through urban myths, I aim to explore the local deathscape, looking into how our understanding of it change over time and how has it shaped our way of lives in current modern context. I explore this notion in notion within Bishan MRT Station, breaking it in to 3 parts, trying to understand how our perception shapes the ‘Third Space’, how spiritual beliefs and rituals create interaction between the living and death, and finally how it ties into its site context as an MRT Station.
Through this project, I hope to gain insight into the how our understanding of death has changed along with the spatial dynamics between the living and dead.
Bishan MRT station is one of the many train stations around Singapore, a functional infrastructure, yet it had somehow become a connection to the dead. It too becomes a reminder of its past as Peck San Theng, formerly one of Singapore’s largest cemetery, a community of the living and dead.
The many urban myths within the site, once again connects the dead to the living, the MRT station as a medium. Yet these connections are different, more often horrific encounters, the dead have become something to be feared and avoided, rather than accepted and respected.
“Everywhere you go, there is ghost” , Kampong Park San Theng was full of superstitions and tales of the supernatural. The residents regarded such phenomenon as normal, and part of their daily lives. Their lives interacted closely with the dead, and they accepted and respected these “ghost” into their lives, even for the kids, it was normal for them to play among the burial grounds. It was believed that “If the dead were well taken care of, it not only means peace to the departed, it could bring benefits to one’s descendants”, further emphasis on the relationship between the living and the dead.
Urban Myths act as lens, shaping the surrounding ‘Third Space’ , through which we attempt to percieve and understand death on our own terms. We spin these tales through collective encounters and gossips, as such they are constantly changing and adapting to the local community.
Within the context of Bishan MRT, urban myths tie the site to its past as Peck San Theng, formerly one of Singapore’s largest Cantonese Cemetery. The dynamics between the living and the death were more intertwined as a community of the living and dead. The various tales and rituals of the past detailed the reliance both aspect had for each other.
In present context, urban myths act as a narrative of our past. As our living conditions have changed, the way we understand death has changed. The spatial dynamics between the living and death has changed, as we set aside and segregate space for the dead. We view the dead as a quantitative element. Whether it is a negative element which lowers nearby property values or an important cultural assest to be preserved.
By taking a closer look at the urban myths within the site, I re-evaluate how we understand death within our modern community. Through these tales, how do we interact with death in our daily commute, and how does it affect our lives.
Our living conditions are constantly changing and evolving. How would the Singapore deathscape once again change in the future. The different rituals and beliefs surrounding death will change to fit the new livestyle, how would the nature of urban myths once again adapt to our everchanging view of death.
Manifesting the ‘Third Space’
The “spiritual space’ is ambiguious in nature, a space that we imagine, both as an individual and collective. I aim to delve deeper and look into the different ways we percieve the spiritual and how these perspective can be manifested in physical space.
Peck San Theng is hokkien for “Pavilions along the Jade Hill”, and true to its namesake, the dead and its landmark pavilions were spread across the numerous hills. We often perceive burial as laying the dead to rest deep underground. However, within the context of Bishan and its past, the dead were buried on the high ground, cascading upwards, while the MRT station brings us deep underground, creating an interesting discourse between both aspects.
This coincided with past beliefs, in which it was believed that if the dead were buried on high ground, their fortune would roll down to their descendants. This belief quantified filial piety, in which the higher the dead were buried, the more they would be buried. Drawing back to modern Bishan, although the graves were exhumed, we commute under the burial site, the dead literally looking over us. As we commute through the station, we are brought deeper into what we perceive as the territory of the dead.
The entrance draws attention to our past, through urban myths, the change in our relationship with the dead is made apparent. We often perceive the spiritual space, as one that is reminisce of the past. In this case drawing comparison between Peck San Theng and present Bishan MRT Station, and the difference in the way we perceive death as we slowly distance ourselves from it.
As commuters transit past the gantry and into the passageways, the boundaries between the living and dead are further blurred within the ‘Third Space’. Drawing back to rituals, we interact with the spiritual through smoke. We attempt to interpret supposed cryptic messages within the smoke, communing through the ambiguous. I took a deeper look into how the local urban shapes the perceived deathscape within the station. As we disguise both the physical and spiritual in an attempt to ignore the spiritual, we are in turn validating their supposed existence through the notion of ‘half-belief/ half-doubt’
In the present, urban myths are one of our last connections to the dead, often taking on a more sinister tone. In current society, we have tried to remove death from our lives. In his webinar, Terence Heng talked about death denial or avoidance within our society, with social media desensitizing it. Many rituals and duties towards our ancestor have also been ‘outsourced’. Overtime, these rituals and beliefs have lose their impact and power. However, urban myths remains, ‘scaring’ us into belief. This passageway remains as a reminder that death is present in our everyday life, as we transit through the ‘Third Space’ along with the spiritual.
It is within the platform that most of the urban myth takes place, it is within this ‘Third Space” where the boundary is further blurred, and the physical and spiritual interact more closely. It is the quietest yet busiest space within the station. It is the only space within the station where commuters stop and catch themselves while waiting for the next train. Yet, when the train arrives, the pace once again picks up as everyone rushes off to their next destination. Taking the ideas I explore in Part 1, I expanded on the concept where the ‘Third Space’ within the station is a transformable space, constantly ebbing and flowing along with the pace within the station.
The MRT platform embodies the constant struggle between the physical and spiritual, the everchanging ‘Third Space’. Contrasting the past and the present, we have ignored the immaterial in search for material. It is through urban myths within the site that brings back that last connection to the dead. It is within these deathscapes where the idea of ‘memento mori’ is brought up. It is an ancient Latin expression that means ‘remember that you are mortal’. However, rather than focusing on the inevitability of death, it focuses on how one live on their lives. Within the context of the station, it makes one question “what am I rushing around for? To my death? or to live more?
Our living conditions are always changing and so do the deathscape within Singapore. The relationship between the living and dead has always been an interesting one, everchanging to fit in our lives. The spatial dynamics between the living and dead has changed from one reliant on each other to a segregated one as we fit thedead within their own infrastructure. Unlike the past, in which the dead were very much still ‘alive’, we have began to view them as assests, whether cultural assest to be preserved, or a negative element, lowering the property value for nearby assests, fitting it within our quantitative views. However are our deathscapes just confined to these purposely built infrastructures to contain the dead?
Urban myths have always exist, taking different forms in different periods, reflecting the current community views and fears. Many of such myths revolves around the interaction between the living and the dead, embodying our percieved view and understanding of death. Rather than being quantified as an assest to be used, these tales often invoke an emotional reaction from us, whether one of fear or curiosity. They act as lens, a reminder of the past and a comparison to the present.
Within the context of Bishan MRT Station, these urban myths bring to mind the site’s past as a mass graveyard community and the various rituals and practices tied to it. It is through these myths that the station has become an informal deathscape, one which boundaries are not defined and ambiguous in nature, connecting the living and death within this modern infrastructure.
How will the future of deathscapes be like as our way of life continue changing? As we constantly looking for more land to build more infrastructures, will the dead once again ‘move house’, just like how our rituals and beliefs adapted as we transitioned from burial to cremation. What forms would urban myths take on as our perspective and percieved understanding of death once again change?