Conceptual art poses no riddles in a family-friendly show in Singapore
Thai conceptual artist Nipan Oranniwesna is helping Singapore flash its cosmopolitan art credentials once again with the sound installation “Another Island”.
It’s part of a group exhibition at the Singapore Art Museum’s 8Q building, so named for its address at 8 Queen Street.
Nipan, who’s familiar with the city-state’s art scene, having memorably turned heads at the 2013 Singapore Biennnale, has made a dramatic return, this time sharing his observations about the urban and environment situation there.
As serious as that sounds, “Another Island” is a hit with children.
Nipan Orannaiwesna’s “Another Island” begs to be explored. Photo courtesy of Singapore Art Museum
Kids trooping up to the second-floor gallery with their parents initially see nothing but the wooden floor as they’re instructed to take off their shoes and step onto a platform.
Now they can see a constellation of 598 “dewdrops” embedded in the floor, each bearing a different depiction of the city’s landscape, mostly green, while at the same time hearing both the calming sounds of nature and the noisy racket of modern urban life.
Youngsters drop to their knees to peer closely at the “dewdrops” – 598 photographs taken around the island, each encased in a tiny bubble. As they sprawl there, they can hear whispers emerging from beneath the floor – the sounds of the place where they live and voices of people telling Nipan their personal stories about the city, its past and its future.
With his fresh notions in interactive presentation, Nipan appears to have achieved a breakthrough in getting the general public to appreciate art. And the museum’s seventh annual “Imaginarium” exhibition, “To the Ends of the Earth”, with its focus on family, is the perfect setting.
Mary Bernadette Lee’s “Wanderland” is filled with wonder. Photo courtesy of Singapore Art Museum
The group show has turned the museum into a lively playground. The specially commissioned works involve humans, flora and fauna adapting to their habitats and introduce ideas and stories about lands both real and imagined.
Nipan, 55, is chiefly interested in Singapore’s sustainable development. He’s visited the coastal forest at Mac Ritchie Reservoir Park and the manmade Botanical Gardens in the city’s heart. The imagery he assembled fills those dewdrops with urban and natural landscapes and scenes of everyday life, each one minuscule but meaningful.
Interviewing residents and expatriate Thais living there about how they see the island-nation, he recorded their views against a soundtrack of what they hear all around them.
He was most impressed among the mangroves on the shore, a place so quiet he could hear sounds from Malaysia just across the water. It’s not a popular tourist destination, he points out, but the Botanical Gardens downtown are, and between them there’s room for some anthropological musing.
Believing that sustainable development is possible in any circumstances, the artist is giving visitors a chance to think about their natural environment, so nearby and yet so little visited.
In a similar vein, Singapore-based Indian artist Nadita Mukand’s installation “The Origin” has two parts – “The Tree and Me” and “The Unborn” – which again look at human relations with nature.
Inspired by the old trees of East Coast Park, “The Tree and Me” is an assemblage of newspapers dyed with henna, turmeric and coffee. “The Unborn” entails 25,000 seeds and pods in a reminder of the potential miracle waiting inside each one.
“Where Am I” by Calvin Pang involves hunting down hidden mushrooms. Photo courtesy of Singapore Art Museum
Singapore’s own Calvin Pang startles with his cute installation “Where Am I”. You have to keep an eye open for the clusters of tiny mushrooms hidden in corners all over the museum. On a staircase are stickers asking “When was the last time you stopped to smell the roses?” and other challenging questions.
Another Singaporean, Mary Bernadette Lee, piques children’s interest with “Wanderland”, an imaginative “jungle” where kids are stretched out inside teepees under circling mobiles and textile birds.
Juvenile excitement hits a crescendo with “Licence 2 Draw” by Vietnam’s Uudam Tran Nguyen. He’s thinking about how globalisation and high technology are changing life, but the kids are enthralled with game-style remote controls and an app-operated “drawing robot” that drags markers across a sprawling canvas.
Remote controls and an app accessible worldwide put a robot to work creating art in Uudam Tran Nguyen’s “Licence 2 Draw”. Nation/Phatarawadee Phataranawik
Anyone in the world can access the app, so it’s fascinating to see what the robot draws next. That’s the Internet bridging vast distances and connecting people. The results of the “game” are hung on the walls, looking just like Jackson Pollock’s abstract expressionist paintings.
From Laos, a country still plagued by unexploded bombs from the Indochina conflict, Bounpaul Phothyzan has turned the shell casings into fern planters and other helpful objects. His project is meant to praise the resilience of the human spirit
Hiromi Tango, a Japanese based in Australia, delves into adaptation and survival, using as a metaphor the lizard’s ability to re-grow a severed tail. Her soft-sculpture installation comes to life during her live performances and in “art-making” workshops that produce more lizard tails to be added to the piece.
Thai artists seem to have a knack for entertaining kids. This is Unchalee Anantawat’s “Floating Mountain”. Photo courtesy of Singapore Art Museum
Thailand’s Unchalee Anantawat presents “Floating Mountain”, an aptly named mobile installation fashioned from coloured thread. Visitors, and not just the children, approach this artificial dreamland closely, imagining alternative worlds that might exist alongside ours.
Indonesian Eko Nugroho has another massive installation, “My Wonderful Dream”, filled with fantastical floating characters. The question here is whether harmony is truly possible in this world amid urbanisation and the rush to technological advancement.
The museum doubles down on its efforts to get youngsters interested in art with the educational “Imaginarium Adventure Kit”, explaining the artworks with cute illustrations, and “The Imaginarium Ranger’s Handbook”, full of fun activities that introduce concepts seen in the exhibition. They’re even given Imaginarium binoculars to spot the artworks and get a closer look.
“We also have a private room for autistic children that’s nice and quiet, so they can spend hours here, as well as family-oriented films screening throughout the exhibition,” says co-curator John Tung.
- “Imaginarium: To the Ends of the Earth” continues through August 27 at Singapore Art Museum’s 8Q.
- There are educational programmes and workshops each weekend.
- Find out more at www.SingaporeArtMuseum.org.