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There is no political solution
To our troubled evolution
Have no faith in constitution
There is no bloody revolution

We are spirits in the material world
Are spirits in the material world
Are spirits in the material world
Are spirits in the material world

Our so-called leaders speak
With words they try to jail you
They subjugate the meek
But it's the rhetoric of failure

We are spirits in the material world
Are spirits in the material world
Are spirits in the material world
Are spirits in the material world

Where does the answer lie?
iving from day to day
If it's something we can't buy
There must be another way

We are spirits in the material world
Are spirits in the material world
Are spirits in the material world
Are spirits in the material world
Are spirits in the material world
Are spirits in the material world

‘Spirits in the Material World’, The Police, 1981

Spirits in the Material World

Convening with deities and spirits has historically been dependent on, and mediated by, architecture. Churches, mosques, synagogues and temples choreograph encounters with the realm of the unknown, the divine, and are perceived as legitimate processes in which our belief systems are reinforced by social and political powers.

Spirits have been woven into the fabric, stories, and daily life of cities, and in many places around the world are considered equal and rightful inhabitants. Yet, under certain circumstances their alleged presence elicits a consensual view on a place as being “haunted.” For some communities, the ghost of a person who died violently continues to inhabit the house they occupied in life, causing untold misfortune for the new residents. As a result, ghosts may not only leave the property vacant but also bring down its value. A “haunted” apartment could decrease the price of all the flats on the same floor, of apartments above and below it, and even of the entire building. By depreciating homes to between 20% and 30% below average, spectres have become an unpredictable disruptor in unaffordable real estate markets such as Hong Kong, where banks even refuse mortgages for “haunted” properties. Spirits, rumours, financial and real estate logic converge to shape the imaginaries and markets for the architecture of contemporary housing.

Spirits in the Material World explores a sphere of architecture that is not easily explained or understood—the relationship between the spirit and material worlds. Conceived by artist Heman Chong, the installation and public programme reflect on spaces that exist in the darkness, the slippages into the netherworld, places haunted by aswangshantusjinnyokai, and other unnamed spirits.


In Spirits in the Material World, artist Heman Chong reflects on spaces that exist in the grey, the darkness, the slippages into the netherworld. Places haunted by aswangshantusjinnyokai, and other unnamed spirits.

Chong collapses three diverse situations into one single physical grid within Het Nieuwe Instituut. The first is a fully functioning bookshop with around a hundred titles that oscillate between books that claim to offer sound, logical advice for investing in real estate, to books filled with ghost stories. This bookshop explores the cold, hard home of late capitalism where everything, including the intangible, can be commodified and mobilised for profit.

The second involves a chance encounter with Mr Teo, a mysterious real estate agent in Singapore claiming to be a ghost whisperer. The artist hired Mr Teo to communicate with a spirit who refuses to leave an empty plot where the Rochor Centre, an iconic brutalist public housing estate, once stood. Transcriptions of this conversation accompany a structural video of the Rochor Centre; demolished and forgotten, the remains are filmed through the small holes in a temporary fence around the lot.

The third strand of the exhibition is a public programme including the screening of horror films selected by the artist. The programme consists of a screening of Dark Water on 10 October, The Others on 31 October and A Ghost Story on 5 December.

Spirits in the Material World is curated by Marina Otero Verzier (Director of Research, Het Nieuwe Instituut). The title of the exhibition is derived from a 1981 song by The Police on their album Ghost in the Machine.

Opening Event

Heman Chong and Marina Otero Verzier will further elaborate on Spirits in the Material World on 10 October, in an informal opening talk.

Heman Chong

Heman Chong is an artist whose work is located at the intersection of image, performance, situation, and writing. His practice can be read as an imagining, an interrogation, and sometimes an intervention into infrastructures as everyday mediums of politics. His work has been shown in solo exhibitions at Swiss Institute New York, Art in General, Artsonje Center, Rockbund Art Museum, and South London Gallery, amongst others. Chong is the co-director and founder (with Renée Staal) of The Library of Unread Books, made up of donated books previously unread by their owners. He is currently working on his novel The Book of Drafts which will be published by Polyparenthesis in 2020. 


Het Nieuwe Instituut
Museumpark 25
3015 CB Rotterdam



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