Market Place : an art installation

Pasar Ÿ ŸŸMarket Place

a sound and visual installation

by Claudio Curciotti (Italy) & Wilson Goh (Singapore)


is a unique term that is used colloquially only by the Chinese communities of Singapore and Malaysia. It refers to the marketplace where goods are sold and services offered. This Chinese term is derived from the Malay word for market, pasar, which in turn finds its etymology in the Arabic, bazaar (بازار), which has been adopted by English to mean the same.

This linguistic reference is to highlight the fact that regardless of what it is called, the marketplace is a shared experience of the general populace in any culture. In more developed countries, fancy shopping malls, supermarkets and even online stores often take the place of traditional markets, however, the experience of trade is the same. The idea that everyone looks for and buys things and services that are 

needed or desired, from some kind of a market[1] is a universal concept.

In addition, the market is also a place where people chat with each other about daily concerns and hence becomes more than just a space for trading goods and services but also for information and ideas.

Unspoken Reciprocity: Bargaining and Trust

While the most common currency of trade is money, bartering with an item, a service or a piece of information of equivalent value is also prevalent. This assessment of just how much something is worth is highly arbitrary, thus allowing for the ritual of bargaining. This dance of give and take could result in a satisfactory compromise for all parties, or one party gaining an advantage at the expense of another.

Thus we can say that through the process of bargaining, the market allows us re-evaluate our assessments of value for items and services. Similarly, when shared in the marketplace, the veracity of information and the substance of our ideas are weighed and tested. This brings us to the issue of trust[2].

In describing the Brazilian government’s efforts in contacting their indigenous people who usually avoid contact, Mark Warren wrote:

Officials of the ministry went to a clearing where a band (indigenous tribe) had been seen recently and strung a clothesline between trees on which they hung objects they imagined the band members might want: knife and ax blades, penknives, plastic bowls and cups, cloth, rope, paints, waterproof matches. Then they left. When they returned a few weeks later, all the objects they had left had been removed; in their place were hung objects one imagines band members might have thought their “gift-leaving visitors” would want: necklaces, plumage, traps, flutes, scrapers, knife handles. They were reciprocating the gift and, at the same time, opening the possibility of continuing barter relations. The officials took these gifts-in-trade and left other goods; the band returned the favor. As the intervals diminished, the two groups were gradually in sight of one another and eventually close enough to exchange greetings. Thanks to the anthropologist’s faith in the unspoken but universal etiquette of barter and reciprocity, enough wary trust had been created to open other lines of communication.”[3]

The element of trust, when established through unspoken reciprocity, allows the marketplace to further become a space for social cohesion and negotiation of social identity[4].

Worth Considering

This installation hopes to establish a space in which our estimation of value, in other words, our sense of worth, is considered.

We hope to achieve this by creating an audio-visual representation of a marketplace to imply the expectations of value assessment (bargaining), and then elicit a contemplation about the concepts of value we ascribe to various situations of our lives, such as education, employment, starting a family, getting a house or a car, a relationship, etc. and the negotiations we make to accommodate or ignore them.

The Visual Installation

For this prescribed space, we hope to create a multi-channel projection on at least 3 walls of the gallery showing stills and/or videos of various markets from different countries, including Singapore. A black screen with various questions about the considered worth of an object, person or situation will be flashed at random on one of the channels. The questions will range from the banal (should I spend $10 on box of popcorn?) to the mundane (can I afford that new car?) and the more philosophical (can I afford to lose a friend?). We also hope to create an opportunity for visitors to contribute their own questions, which would then be incorporated into the show.



The Aural Installation

To complete the installation, we hope to create a soundscape of the marketplace by installing speakers to play recordings taken at various markets around the world (e.g. Egypt, Africa, India and Singapore).



The Blues

To further the dialogue of arbitration in value and worth, we also hope to punctuate the soundscape with live singing of African American freedom songs and the blues.

Any kind of slave trade exemplifies the ideas and conflicts of self-worth in a myriad ways and the songs that grew from the African American traditions are perhaps the most poignant. Human trafficking is still an existing problem in many countries, and only just in December 2014, it was announced that Singapore is on the watch list for human trafficking and exploitation[5]. This section of our installation hopes to draw attention to this more perverse aspect of the marketplace, and further challenge our ideas of value and worth.

Putting it together

Thus the complete installation will involve multi-channel video projections, audio samples played over multiple speakers, live singing and audience participation.

[2] Bromiley, P., & Cummings, L. L. (1995). Transactions costs in organizations with trust. Research on negotiation in organizations, 5, 219-250.

[3] Warren, M. (Ed.) (1999). Geographies of trust, geographies of hierarchy. Democracy and trust, pp. 274-275.

[4] Forrest, R., & Kearns, A. (2001). Social cohesion, social capital and the neighbourhood. Urban studies, 38(12), 2125-2143.

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