Three Planks

Three Planks (Sampan 三板), 2021, Dimension: 280 cm x 280cmx 50cm, Materials: Shipping pallets, motor, sound

Sound: Fran Ho Fei Fan 何斐凡, Video: Ken Cheong 

Three Planks (Sampan 三板 ) is a kinetic artwork looking into the history of sampan in the contexts of Southeast Asia in parallel with the exploration of the environmental issues related to marine culture. A sampan, a small wooden boat powered by paddling or rowing, is commonly known in Singapore and the region. Sampan originated from the Chinese term “三板” (hanyu pinyin “san ban”), which means “three boards” or “three planks”, in reference to Chinese boats constructed using a flat plank to form the base and two planks for either side. Over time, the word sampan entered Southeast Asian vocabularies and became especially well-known from the popular Indonesian folk song “Dayung Sampan”, literally translated as “Paddling a Sampan”.

Three Planks (Sampan) is a kinetic rowing boat constructed mainly from recycled wooden shipping pallets accompanied with vocal humming of the folk song “Dayung Sampan”. Shipping pallets, also known as skids, are designed to protect goods in shipment and help make them more easily handled, stacked and moved. The majority of them are made from wood. According to Environmental Leader, nearly 2 billion wooden pallets are currently in circulation in the United States alone, with a majority of them replaced each year. This means roughly half of these pallets are intended to be used only once and then discarded, which undoubtedly raises the concerns of overconsumption of natural resources in the global context. Similar to driftwoods and marine debris, shipping pallets travel from one place to another with the ocean currents. But their environmental consequences are less visible as they usually do not end up stranded on the beach.

The shipping pallets used in making this artwork were collected from the artist’s studio neighbour SG CARDS. SG CARDS is a game distributor importing games from all over the world to supply the local market. Shipping pallets are the frequent additional bulk that comes with their shipments, which are discarded in open skips after the goods are unloaded. By recycling the discarded shipping pallets and transforming them into a rowing sampan, the artist intends to create a prism holding both the past and current, encouraging the viewers to be made aware, afresh of the culture and environment around them.