Jolene Liam

Country where you live:

City where you live:

Statement : 

My architectural background and work have fuelled an interest in documenting how places and spaces are occupied, which informs my illustrations and vice versa. These include floor plans divested of the architecture itself and defined through the things inside it, spaces described through visual inventories of the objects within, or drawings of buildings midway through the construction or demolition process.

The places we live in can say a lot about us - an expression of our identities, habits, and personalities. Over the last few years, I’ve made several drawings of my flat in London and my family home in Singapore. These have become a way of exploring my relationship to both places, and a description of myself at a particular point in time. In the same way, drawings of my friends’ homes are also portraits that capture how they make a space their own.

Through drawings of shared and informal gardens, I wanted to celebrate the spaces between buildings and highlight how important these pockets of nature within the city are to all of us, both socially and ecologically.

My House at Home
This drawing describes the house in Singapore where I grew up, where my parents and sisters still live. It references the original Polly Pocket dolls from the 90’s, a nod to the period where I spent the most time in this house. For me, being in this house is sometimes disconcerting. It is a place that I still think of as home, yet I only visit once or twice a year. Something is slightly different each time I go back, creating a strange disjunction between the familiar and unfamiliar. It makes me wonder sometimes: if the house in my memories from living there is what I think of as home, then what this house in its current physical form – almost home but not exactly home? Maybe this is what anyone experiences when they revisit any place, just heightened when it was/ is home. Or, when you move away from home, home itself inevitably moves on without you, and your idea of it can never quite catch up, stuck in various bits of time. Through representing my childhood home as a dollhouse that can be opened and closed, these were some of the thoughts and feelings I was hoping to explore and convey.
My Flat, As Rearranged
Taking everything out of the flat, in my mind and onto paper, this next drawing is about the constant negotiation of the spaces we inhabit, through the processes of arranging, rearranging, tidying, messing up, accumulation and letting go.
My Flat, As Lived
This is the story of one person and one studio apartment (drawn with one pen). In my day to day work at a large practice, I draw hundreds of flats for thousands of imaginary people, filled with generic furniture for abstract families. As a reminder that these homes will someday be filled and lived in by actual people, I decided to document the space occupied by one person, myself, mess and all. This drawing illustrates the idea that architecture is not just about what has been designed by the architect, but is completed in a myriad of ways by the people who live in it; that spaces are equally defined by that which is fixed and that which is not. Drawing a plan of everything that is movable within the flat was a way of exploring how spaces can be represented solely in terms of the objects within it. It describes one version of domesticity for a young working professional living in a city. It is also a response to depictions of architecture which avoid the mess and clutter of everyday life - to me how the two come together over time (or not) is the most interesting bit.
My Room Unfolded
This drawing reflects on the multiple characters of a home, using both sides of the paper to explore the relationship of interior and exterior. Again, the subject is my flat, presented in the form of a greeting card. Anything sitting on, kept within or attached to the wall was recorded to show four varying faces belonging to the same space. The front of the card shows a small segment of a brick facade, with two of the numerous windows that form a uniform grid across this London housing block from the 1930’s. It illustrates that, beneath the homogeneity of this envelope, each piece of wall and every window belongs to someone who has made their home behind it. On the back is a section of the endless corridors that dissect the building – in this case a rather narrow, depressing one – in stark contrast to the array of objects on the other side. The card opens to reveal two walls inside the flat that face each other. On the reverse of the brick façade, the two windows make a reappearance, each window sill simultaneously acting as garden and display shelf. Across from this sits a wall of in built-in cupboards, where personal belongings accumulated over years are exposed through a section cut.
Shared Garden
As I wasn’t able to visit anywhere new over the past year, I decided to as treat the places around me as though I was on holiday; trying to see them with new eyes by taking photos, making drawings and creating maps. The shared garden for my block of flats became a jungle to be explored, with new plants and animals to be discovered. ​ With this drawing, I wanted to celebrate the spaces between buildings and highlight how important these pockets of nature within the city are to all of us, both socially and ecologically. Living in an apartment in the city can sometimes be lonely, but shared gardens create a space where neighbours can interact. With their diverse mix of habitats, gardens form routes along which birds, bats and invertebrates can feed and travel, acting as wildlife corridors that connect parks and larger green spaces.

Jolene Liam is a London-based illustrator and architect from Singapore. Working in ink, paint and digital media, her work reflects on the idea of home and identity. Part of an ongoing interest in architectural drawing conventions, these illustrations are also explorations of the gaps between typical methods of representation. In the process, Jolene hopes to encounter different ways of depicting and thinking about the built environment and spaces around us.

Jolene studied architecture at the National University of Singapore, the University of Westminster and Technische Universität München.

Her drawings have been shortlisted for the World Illustration Awards and commended in the RIBAJ Eye Line Competition organised by the Royal Institute of British Architects.

Greater London



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