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17 Volcanoes

17 Volcanoes as part of the research project Tourism and Cultural Heritage: A Case Study on the Explorer Franz Junghuhn

17 Volcanoes was part of a multi-year (2016 - 2018) research project by Philip Ursprung & Alex Lehnerer at the Future Cities Laboratory at Singapore ETH Centre. It was funded by the National Research Foundation of Singapore and ETH Zurich.

U5 was invited to accompany and disrupt this research project as an artistic perspective has the freedom to say things that in other disciplines are not possible to articulate.

As Singapore is located in the midst of the Indonesian archipelago, Java qualified as the site of the investigation. With 140 million inhabitants on a space three times the size of Switzerland, it is one of the most densely populated and most rapidly developing areas in South East Asia. The only interruption in the man-made urban fabric are its 45 volcanoes. We decided to visit 17 of them with an interdisciplinary research team, consisting of architects, historians, artists, and scientists. How can one represent the urban? Mainstream urban studies have replaced the narration of growth by the narration of modernity. The dualism of city versus land which has been typical for modernist discourse, prevails.


Following the hypothesis that Java is the future city, marked by anachronisms, juxtaposition of speed and slowness, raw exploitation and subtle adaptation. Our guide was the explorer Franz Wilhelm Junghuhn (1809-1864), who fled Europe to not serve in the army and become pioneer of volcanology on Java. We followed his footsteps in order to access the historical dimension. We made visible past and present simultaneously.  

The project was exhibited at various venues including gta exhibitions (2016), ETH Zurich, Switzerland, Princeton School of Architecture Gallery (2016), New Jersey, USA, NUS Museum (2017), Singapore, Kupferstich-Kabinett, Grünes Gewölbe (2023), Dresden, Germany.

For the project, U5 has developed various video works, including The Human Crater, 2017 and DNA - Dynamic Normal Activity, 2016, as well as various documentary outputs. For the project, U5 created a cocktail called Dengue Sling.


During a six-month artist-in-residence program at the National University Museum Singapore, U5 developed various exhibitions under the name Crater Studios, each dedicated to individual volcanoes on the island of Java. 

U5 also organized exhibitions in their private apartment Plateau on Mount Sinai Drive in Singapore.

A publication will follow by end of 2023:

I am an avatar, an artificial person. Some years ago, I received a grant. It allowed me to live in Singapore. While many find Singapore sterile, I liked it. Perhaps because of its artificiality, the fact that as a city it is full of copies of something else, striving to find its identity. 

For a while I was part of a team of researchers at the Future Cities Laboratory. My superiors - the 'principal investigators, or, PIs' conceived the five-year project as one big happening. The score we followed was the climbing of 17 volcanoes on the Indonesian island of Java. Our group travelled by plane, by bus, on the back of motorcycles, and on foot. We made performances, videos, photographs. Work and leisure blurred, research and pleasure were inseparable.

After the financing was cut by the Future Cities Laboratory due to insufficient research output, the PIs left. They asked me to organize the archive and gather the material collected by the group. I am now browsing through the notes and contributions by the members of the group, trying, in retrospect, to make sense of what happened. I don’t oversee everything. Someone compared me to Ishmael in Melville’s Moby Dick. This is my story.

Crater Studios

NUS Museum Singapore
Residency and Solo Shows

curated by Sidd Perez

As part of a six-month artist-in-residence program at the NUS Museum in Singapore, U5 opens the CRATER STUDIOS in the prep-room of the museum. The premise is to create portraits of 17 Javanese volcanoes out of the materials gathered in the broader Future Cities Laboratory / Singapore ETH-Center research project 17 Volcanoes - Figures in the landscape of Java on tourism and urbanization.

Each volcano portrait is presented during an opening at the Crater Studios. The concept is to translate the impressions gathered during on-site excursions to the exhibition space, including parameters as scent, color, effort to climb, volcanic activity, weather, sound, etc. This approach represents each of the 17 volcanos in an abstract reproduction using all kinds of media and methods. The portraits are realized as installations, events and performances. In addition, a Singaporean artist commissioned by U5 translates the experience of the reproduction of the volcano in the exhibition space again into a further portraiture.

Among the volcanoes portrayed are 'The White Crater' (Kawah Putih), 'The Fiery One' (Merapi), 'The Drum Mountain' (Galunggung), "The God Creator" (Bromo) and 'The Huffing and Puffing' (Gede). While 'The White Crater' was portrayed in an installation-based setting, 'The Fiery One' led the visitor through the museum as a reenactment of the climb from the base camp to the crater rim of the volcano.

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