SINGAPORE: The Singapore Art Museum’s (SAM) main building may already be closed for the imminent revamp, but it’s business as usual over at its SAM at 8Q wing with its annual family-friendly exhibition.
After last year’s ocean-themed show, this year’s Imaginarium edition heads To The Ends Of The Earth. Running from May 6 to Aug 27, the exhibition will include offerings ranging from colourful installations and film screenings to artist-run workshops. Its opening weekend, for instance, will feature live performances and a craft fair run entirely by children.
The young ones, of course, will be the VIPs, with most of the works featuring interactive elements. “It will be a sensory overload for them, and it won’t just be about looking at art but being immersed in them,” said museum curator John Tung.
But that won’t mean presenting art with kid gloves. Fellow curator Andrea Fam pointed out that it is still a contemporary art exhibition that even adults would like. “The works tackle mature themes like war, the Internet, psychology — big ideas in bite-sized packages,” she said.
So what should one expect at Imaginarium: To The Ends Of The Earth? We’ve broken it down for you.
1. REVISIT CHILDHOOD MEMORIES
As a young girl, Singaporean artist Mary Bernadette Lee had fond memories of living in the Ulu Pandan area, where she would wake up to the lush foliage right outside her home. In her installation Wanderland, she attempts to capture just that - visitors walk into a space inhabited by stuff toy-like egrets and spotted doves, and motion-sensored teepees that light up once you walk inside.
While Lee’s work was inspired by nostalgic memories of growing up, Japanese-Australian Hiromi Tango’s Lizard Tail installation takes on a slightly more serious tone. Colourful, tangled, textile soft sculptures are meant to evoke detached lizard tails, a defense mechanism of these little reptiles evading predators.
But the art project has its roots as trauma therapy for children unable to articulate their fears - metaphorical tails that need to be shed. Children are encouraged to create their own mini-tails (and leave a message), which will be added to the installation. There will also be a performance by Tango and the NUS Dance Ensemble after lunch during the opening weekend.
2. PSSST, WHERE’S THE ART?
There are a couple of works here that need you to be more eagle-eyed than usual.
First up is Singaporean artist Calvin Pang’s Where Am I, which comprises seven small clusters of colourful dried mushrooms scattered all over the building. It’s reminiscent of a recent Singapore Biennale work that featured what was seemingly regular pieces of rubbish found in the most unexpected places. Like that particular work, this one also encourages visitors to be more aware of their surroundings and points out that not all art are hung on walls or immediately visually striking.
Speaking of the Biennale, an alumni from the 2013 edition is back. Five years ago, Thailand’s Nipan Oranniwesna presented a floorboard into which were embedded small resin beads with images of Thai people living in Singapore.
This time around, he puts images of Singapore itself - all 598 of them taken in nature reserves and around the city. You’ll have to crouch on all fours to pick out the details - and as you do, you’ll hear everyday sounds emanating from the floor itself, courtesy of speakers planted underneath.
3. WALK THROUGH AN ARTIST’S DREAMSCAPE
A cotton candy waterfall, a small island floating mid-air, a volcano erupting in all its psychedelic glory - we wonder what Thai artist Unchalee Anantawat had for dinner because her installation Floating Mountain was supposedly inspired by a vivid dream involving a scooter, a mountain, and plunging into the sea.
Kids get to join in the fun, too — she’ll be holding a workshop where the little ones can create their own dreamscape mobile.
That’s not the only dreamscape here. Visitors also get a chance to see works by one of the region’s most famous artists. Indonesian Eko Nugroho’s My Wonderful Dream features three of his deadpan surreal figures (including one holding a bolster for some reason) in a room filled with his trademark black and white loopy street art-meets-traditional Indonesian illustrations.
4. DEVELOP YOUR (ARTISTIC) GREEN THUMB
Exploring parks can sometimes be a source of inspiration. Just ask Singapore-based Indian artist Nandita Mukand. Her two-in-one work The Origin: The Tree And Me & The Unborn was inspired by exploring East Coast Park and the wildlife of Spain’s Catalonia region.
The Tree, for instance, takes its cue from the old casuarina trees at East Coast Park and the stories they would tell if they were able to talk. Pieces of dyed, crushed newspapers - a way for these “pulped trees” to talk, as it were - are assembled to form a bark-like centrepiece.
Meanwhile, the walls are lined by pine cones and cypress tree seeds she had collected in Spain. At the moment there are only 300 of these, but by the time the show finishes, expect to be surrounded by 30,000 pieces.
On the other end of the spectrum, there is Laotian Bounpaul Phothyzan’s Lie Of The Land, which is essentially two cluster bomb shells that were repurposed into boats before being turned into planters.
It’s a commentary on his country’s unfortunate reputation as being the most heavily bombed in the whole world (thanks to the wars that took place during the 1960s and 1970s). Thousands of undetonated bombs are still found all over Laos. After diffusing these, many are turned into housing materials, cooking utensils, and, of course, planters for edible plants.
5. DRAWING WITH PEOPLE FROM AROUND THE WORLD
For the first time, the Imaginarium series plugs in with a unique interactive drawing piece by Vietnamese artist UuDam Tran Nguyen.
You’ve heard of Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games, right? Well, his work LICENSE 2 DRAW is like that. Well, sort of. Onsite, there’s a special drawing machine — a robot with marker pens stuck into it — that you can control to draw lines on a paper canvas on the floor.
You can do so using either a downloadable app on your handphone or on three available iPads in the space. At the same time, other people can also remotely draw in real-time, too. There’s a map that tracks everyone using the programme wherever they are in the world.
But it’s not really a game, per se. Instead, the fun is in trying to control the robot while everyone else is doing the same thing. Online etiquette in an increasingly connected world? This is one work where you can, ahem, draw some lessons.