Longlist Profile – Ling Tan

By Carla Rapoport August 15, 2019

Leaving home – whether its to study, travel or to escape  – can clearly provide a boost to the creative spirit. We know this is true because artists who live and work away from their home country form a significant portion of the Lumen Prize longlist each year. A good example of such an artist is Ling Tan, a Singapore-born designer, maker and software developer who lives in London. Her practice? She concentrates on creating social wearables and building community participation around them.

Tan originally trained as an architect, but today she focuses on the exploration of people’s interaction with the built environment using wearable technology. She is currently working as a senior designer at Umbrellium where she leads on all the wearables and air quality initiatives, producing works such as Pollution Explorers, which qualified for this year’s Lumen Longlist. The work is a participatory project in which people make sense of the quality of air in their environment through using wearable technology and machine learning, with the aim to harness collective actions to improve air quality in neighbourhoods.

In her own practice, she has worked with various communities in different cities and countries and uses wearable technology as tools to express their relationship with the city through their subjective perception, touching on topics ranging from safety in public space, the impact of smart cities and air quality issues. Another recent work; SUPERGESTURES involved working with 50 young people across Manchester, UK over a period of 6 months to create a large scale outdoor participatory performance that uses wearable technology to help question how much tangible impact smart city technology can have on future generations.

Pushing the Limits


A true bicultural artist, Ling trained as an architect in both Singapore and in UCL Bartlett School of Architecture. However, she decided that moving into art would get her work more widely seen and offer more opportunities for collaboration. She explains: “I want to push the limit of what technology can enable in terms of interactions between people and the the cities we live in – and hopefully moving toward changes, such as improving air quality in neighbourhoods together through the use of technology.

As technology becomes ever more embedded in our everyday lives, she says, “we become used to abdicating our decisions to algorithms or governments, as a result, this removes our sense of responsibility, accountability, and agency with our environment. I am interested to explore possibilities of inverting this relationship.” She would like to see citizens as active participants in providing their own opinions as individuals and as a community on what needs to be done through their actions. “I am particularly interested in the use of wearable technology as an expressive interface to empower people to connect and to collectively explore their responsibilities as individuals and as citizens in our complex interactions with our cities,” she explains.

This message is starting to get traction as her work has already been exhibited in places such as Centre Pompidou (France), Victoria and Albert Museum (UK), Barbican (UK) and Wits Art Museum (South Africa) and featured in magazines and websites such as Dezeen, Wired and Fast Company. To get a fuller appreciation of her work, click on the link below.


Share this article