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Visual Arts

Insights: Zul Mahmod

A poignant rumination on how we could emerge stronger from the sum of our collective experiences


Published: 24 Oct 2023

Time taken : >15mins

PULSATE by Zul Mahmod is a sound installation that reflects on events that have taken place in recent times and their ensuing impact on the individual and society. Built on the concepts of reflection, reverberation and resounding, the work responds to and takes the pulse of its immediate surroundings. The installation is composed of waves of acrylic mirrored panels and reflective gold paper in varying sizes. Wedged between them are tweeters, a type of loudspeaker which produces high audio frequencies. Composed to play at different timings, various sound frequencies from the tweeters send vibrations to the gold paper, resulting in reverberations that alter the papers’ surfaces. Imprinted on the reflective materials are images of the ever-evolving environment around the Concourse, reminding us of our existence, and life’s occurrences which shape our perceptions and character. PULSATE is a poignant rumination on how we could emerge stronger from the sum of our collective experiences. 

Installation view of <em>PULSATE</em>, Zul Mahmod, 2022.

Interview with Zul Mahmod

The concepts of reverberation, resounding and reflection are central to 'PULSATE'. Could you elaborate on why you chose to focus on these concepts for this installation and how they are manifested in the work?

I chose these concepts based on what has happened in Singapore in recent years especially during the pandemic and how these have affected us as a society. Reverberation explores the ideas of growth and evolution. When things happen in our lives, they will trigger certain emotions, whether they are positive or negative ones. Resounding explores the stages of transformation and suggests a sense of infinity. It is important for us to pick ourselves up when things are not going as planned. The concept of reflection relates to how things or events that take place in our lives could lead us to become better people. Certain events might have a big impact on us and change how we look at and perceive things.

Detail of <em>PULSATE</em>, Zul Mahmod, 2022.

Paper is one of the key mediums you worked with for 'PULSATE'. How has your engagement with this material evolved throughout the course of your practice? Could you share on your considerations when working with paper for this installation?

I have always been interested in paper as a medium in my practice. The texture, qualities, thickness and characteristics of paper play important roles in PULSATE. A lot of testing was done with the tonal value of the papers used in the work in order to achieve the vibrations of the tweeters. The length and grammage of the paper also played an important part in the process.

Detail of <em>PULSATE</em>, Zul Mahmod, 2022.

Several of your past works are concerned with establishing dialogues with the sites and spaces they are situated. The space of the Esplanade Concourse is open and porous, sitting at the nexus of many converging and diverging pathways. How did you approach this project of creating an artwork that inhabits the Concourse space and what were some considerations that you had?

The dialogues with sites and spaces are very crucial in my work. For this work I had to consider the aural architecture and spatial awareness of the Esplanade Concourse. I visited the site a couple of times to have a better understanding of the space and the environment. The Concourse is an active space where a lot of activities take place. I want my work to have a presence sonically but not overpower the space itself. The work has to have a conversation with the space. I created a sense of rhythm in the work by activating the tweeters at different times. It is constantly moving but at times there is silence, which is quite similar to the Esplanade Concourse. Visually, the work attracts viewers to come closer and it is then revealed there is sound when the papers begin to vibrate.

Detail of <em>PULSATE</em>, Zul Mahmod, 2022.

You are one of the foremost artists in Singapore working with sound and sound-based art, and your journey with the medium has evolved over time. Were there any new ideas or aspects about sound as a medium that you explored or experimented with in this installation?

With PULSATE, I explored in greater depth the medium of paper to have a better understanding of the material. I also explored the idea of “quietness” in the work. Sound does not need to be heard all the time, but it needs to be felt.

Detail of <em>PULSATE</em>, Zul Mahmod, 2022.

A central tenet of 'PULSATE' is how it speaks to and about the human condition, especially during challenging circumstances. What are your thoughts on developing a dialogue with the audience through your work? Is this a crucial consideration?

It is very important to have a dialogue with the audience through my work even if for a short period of time. When presenting sound works, time is an important factor. The audience needs to have the patience and time to really understand the work just like any other art forms.


PULSATE was presented at Esplanade Concourse from 22 Jul 2022 – 2 Jan 2023. 

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