All images by the ICZ
A book published by Webb Gillman
Queen’s Own Hill and its Environs, 2019
Photography, video and found objects in display cabinet with artist-led tours
240 x 500 x 120 cm
Collection of the Artist
Singapore Biennale 2019 commission
For more information on the Singapore Biennale, click here.
Installation view of the Singapore Biennale, click here.
Queen’s Own Hill and its Environs
The area around Gillman Barracks has a patchy history which can only be glimpsed through glancing mentions in historical records and by making approximate matches to old maps. Before 1912, when the place was named Queen’s Own Hill by the colonial administration, most of the area would have been virgin swamp and forest. Before it had an official name, some of the land was used, at various times, to plant gambier, coffee and rubber, but these crops eventually declined.
In the 1930s, some of the jungle was cleared for Gillman Barracks, which was used to house British army officers and their families. Besides buildings, there were badminton courts and a swimming pool. In the 1970s to 1990s, the Barracks was administered by the Singapore Armed Forces, before it was converted into Gillman Village in 1996, comprising shops and restaurants. In 2012, the government converted the lifestyle district into an art gallery cluster.
While the developed areas went through several changes, the forested areas around Gillman remained untamed and a site of illicit human activity. Shards of alcohol vats have been in the forest, suggesting there were moonshine operations. In the 2000s, migrant workers set up illegal camps and squats. There were also reports of a jungle brothel in there.
Ecologically, the forest is a secondary wasteland forest, meaning that it has sprung up after the destruction of the primary vegetation. The ecology is rich, combining native and foreign species that interact to create new ecological situations. One of the results is more sightings of the changeable hawk eagle, the largest raptor in Singapore. The bird nests in albizia trees, a fast-growing tree that was originally imported from Papua New Guinea but has now colonised many green spaces in Singapore.
A selection of objects and items found in and around the area:
Videos from a one-year survey on the eastern side of the hill, behind this very building
A samsu (DIY illicit liquor) vessel, 1930s
Various alcohol bottles, 1930s to 1980s
Fragment of flower pot found at 2m depth, 1940s
Various fragments and glass from underneath a fallen albizia tree, 1950s
Various fragments at 3m depth, carved into eggs
Fallen albizia tree that housed a changeable hawk eagle nest
Queen’s Own Hill and its Environs, published 1935
Various albums from former British officers during their stay in Gillman Barracks, 1940 to 1950s
A photograph of the barracks being built, circa 1935
A photograph of Queen’s Own Hill, 1910s
A photograph of deforestation on Queen’s Own Hill, 1910s
Part of an angsana tree
Found feathers from a changeable hawk eagle
Tiles from the former swimming pool
Glass and ceramic shards from a 2m-deep open pit which the artist dug.
Ceramic shards at the roots of a Albizia Tree.