Singapore’s Coasts, the Whale and the Museum

Dr Lilian Chee1, Mr. Zihao Wong1

1National University Of Singapore, , Singapore

In 2015, a whale’s carcass was discovered on the reclaimed embankments of Singapore’s industrial Jurong Island. The whale had been slashed by a ship’s propeller; plastic trash in its belly showed the carcass to be a product of a distant sea. The skeleton now hangs in the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum. It projects an image of environmental awareness that intertwines the double sites of museum and reclaimed coasts. This paper traces the whale’s movement to understand Singapore’s relationship to the sea. In particular, it speculates on the skeleton’s other name – the Singapore Whale, which references an earlier skeleton belonging to a colonial taxidermy collection of regional fauna in the old Raffles Museum. Contemporary urban myths link the Singapore Whale’s arrival to the nation’s colonial founding. The paper considers how aspects of the non-material and non-factual inhabit and constitute architectural space and histories. It postulates fictional-narrative writing as a method to rehabilitate several threads of knowledge: the mythic imagination of the Singapore Whale; the historic-factual architectural sites of museum and coast, and the restaging the nation’s founding moment in the Natural History Museum. In broader terms, this paper speculates on the future of architectural historical/theoretical research wherein the notion of the disciplinary archive is increasingly ill-defined or dispersed, and more creative modes of engagement become requisite.


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