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Gazing through the eyes of the animal: Reflections of the Aura

Part 2 Dissertation 2009
Jinwei Cheang
National University of Singapore | Singapore
The hypothesis of this dissertation pre-supposes the postmodern condition of the waning gaze exchanged between the Man and the Animal along with the disappearance of the latter. It postulates that aura, in architectural space, is in reality the projection of the repressed and sublime object of nature – the Animal, embodying nature and all that is natural as well as its manifold qualities, which gazes back at us in return, revealing the secrets of mortality to Man and yet also withholding full comprehension of the ambiguities surrounding Man, even as he persists in his constructs and the understanding of his environment.

This dissertation aims to identify the intriguing aura enshrouding certain buildings through a discourse on the concept of the gaze with its associative trauma and how it relates to the notion of death, in a world of symbol versus the world of allegory, juxtaposed with the tension inherent in the dialectics of distance and proximity and how, through the establishment of this relationship, Man and Nature are associated through its animal agents even as the repressed animal re-emerges and becomes manifest. As the language of symbology that Man has developed breaks down, the Animal becomes more apparent and takes hold. There is a rupture of the veil.

A tangible example of this phenomenon is the experience whilst exploring the presently abandoned View Road Hospital. The hospital has been taken out of the human realm of symbolism and now, due to decay and the return to nature, resides in the realm of allegory. An analysis of 62 Niven Road, a recently renovated house with a five- storey addition to the back of the house by a Singapore architect Ling Hao is also made. There is a disparate and uncomfortable union between its front and back, between the new and old and they cause the house to become an abomination of time and space as the house becomes disjointed within the chronological chain. Inside, the rooms feel as if they belong to different bodies, plucked out and thrown together. Here the gaze is only illusory, the veil thickened and the aura manufactured.

Jinwei Cheang

The Department of Architecture rated this dissertation highly. The student showed a mastery in understanding the complex texts on animality and space. She was able to relate that mastery to her experiences; the visit to an abandoned mental hospital in its process of decay. Here animality is equated to primal states where symbols do not mean much and language runs amok. It is akin to Alice in Wonderland. She understood what it means to “see” before language comes to represent what was being seen. It is with this understanding that she begins to criticize a recently renovated house along Niven Road, Singapore by a Singapore architect named Linghao. There is a play of the new within the old. The finished product is highly schizophrenic, made up of the familiar and the unfamiliar juxtaposed to weaved a fairly disjuncted narrative. What is crucial is that the allegorical masks are not what they are made up to be but rather she showed how the decayed and ruinous elements are but part of a symbolic language found in late capitalist economy.

Prof Wong Chong Thai Bobby
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