When I first entered the Malaysian art scene as an artist, someone said my commission was expensive, especially for, in her own words, “just PVC pipes.” And she’s right. My projects are mainly made from PVC pipes. But the bigger question is, what justifies the commission?

The commission is related to the research and development phase of my art. All designers, whether furniture, interior, graphic or fashion, will go through a research stage. Everything from current market trends, manufacturing costs and materials are researched at this stage. Just like how a doctor must study the patient’s symptoms to understand the cause of the sickness before prescribing any medication for it, design is about identifying a problem and proposing a solution for it.

Location as artistic inspiration

Walls Have Ears, site photo

This is the data and site analysis stage. Before architects can attempt to design a solution, they must first be well-versed with the site’s traffic and pedestrian issues, building by-laws, fire regulations, drainage systems, etc. We know problems on site are caused by something and we spend a long time finding out what they are.

Trained in architecture, my art production also starts from knowing my site. I work in the public space, which makes the success of that work dependent on an understanding of the existing site forces.

Site-specific art is art made for its location. It can’t be moved to another location because it is closely connected to its local context.

I have made 2 large-scale, site-specific public art installations, both are made of PVC pipe.

Building big to create an environment

For Rimba Nusa, I requested a floor plan to know exactly where my installation will be placed and learned that it would be at the circular foyer that linked the black box and white box. To me, my place had a green room or waiting area vibe to it. This got me thinking about using the space to engage with passersby as they wait. When I visited the location for the first time, I was struck by its all-black interior. It resembled a backdrop to a theater set and I knew that I wanted to exploit this.

(Editor’s Note: Read more about Suzy’s thoughts about Rimba Nusa on her own blog.)

Walls have Ears used PVC pipes, as requested by the client. The biggest problem on site was that there was no floor space for my artwork. Unlike Rimba Nusa, where I was allocated a specific area, Walls have Ears required me to work with leftover spaces. I needed to strategize about my artwork’s placement. I didn’t want my work to obstruct other artwork, I also didn’t want it to be drowned out. I approached site specificity by taking cues from the space’s architectural features and crafted the pipes around them. The PVC pipes descended from the ceiling in a way that was similar to how vines wrap around a tree.

Negotiating human and habitat

Concept drawing for If Walls Have Ears

Architecture is the mediator between the human and the environment. Therefore, knowledge of the surrounding area is crucial to my art-making because it helps me connect with people and space. I approach my creations as scientific instruments that evoke small changes in human behaviour. The ability to disrupt and manipulate the public space comes from my intimate understanding of the site dynamics.