SINGAPORE: Can’t wait for next month’s Yayoi Kusama exhibition at the National Gallery Singapore (NGS)? Fans of the popular Japanese artist can get a taste of what’s to come at the inaugural Gallery Children’s Biennale, which opens on Saturday (May 20).
Kusama’s Obliteration Room, which will run for four months, is one of the 10 works presented at the museum’s family-friendly exhibition.
Located at the museum’s basement concourse, the interactive installation is an all-white room, and visitors are encouraged to “obliterate” through the course of the show by sticking hundreds of thousands of coloured sticker dots everywhere.
Presented in conjunction with her highly anticipated retrospective in Singapore in June, Kusama’s children’s project was first shown in Australia in 2002 and has exhibited all over the world. The Singapore version is said to be the biggest iteration to date.
“As a child, she saw the world through dots but she has turned that into a strength,” said Suenne Megan Tan, the museum’s director for audience development and engagement.
BRIDGE THE GAP
Kusama’s artwork won’t be the only one that employs visual trickery at the Biennale, which carries the theme Dreams & Stories.
Nearby, Filipino artist Mark Justiniani’s 16m-long transparent bridge challenges you to conquer your fear of heights while you walk over a chasm, which is an illusion using mirrors.
There’s also Singapore art show regular teamLAB’s own interactive room. The Japanese collective has filled it with huge balls that pulse with different lights and sounds once they’re given a firm slap.
While it’s billed as a children’s biennale, the exhibition isn’t just for the young ones. Like Singapore Art Museum’s ongoing Imaginarium show, with its sculptures made of bombs and contemporary artist Eko Nugroho’s off-kilter creations, NGS’ first big kids show wants adults to have fun, too.
“If you look at museums all over the world, children’s programmes are mostly conceived with only one audience in mind — the children. Most of the time, these neglect the adults accompanying the child,” said Tan.
Described by Tan as a “meeting point for the child and inner child-in-us to form a bond or connection,” the biennale is the museum’s first children’s show outside of its popular Keppel Centre for Art Education spaces, which drew around 300,000 young ones last year.
This time, the works are installed all over the museum, mingling with more “grown-up” works.
FOR ADULTS, TOO
Walking around, one might come across Cultural Medallion recipient Chng Seok Tin’s five-in-one woodcut piece, recreations of some of her previous works that chronicle her struggles with losing most of her vision in the late 1980s due to an accident.
There’s also fellow Singaporean Ian Woo’s playful sponge sculptures that children can configure ala Lego pieces — or adults can contemplate as soft abstract sculptures.
While Vincent Leow’s biennale piece isn’t quite as “grown-up” as his infamous urine-drinking performance (the relics of which are at the museum’s Singapore wing), he injects social commentary about the plight of former residents of Rochor Centre in an installation of colourful bird traps and gilded everyday objects.
All three probably wouldn’t seem out of place in a “proper” contemporary art gallery setting or even NGS’ main galleries.
Meanwhile, other artists have even reconfigured their works to fit a younger audience, while maintaining the essence of their practice.
Singaporean artist Robert Zhao Renhui presents a “children's edition” of his fact-meets-fiction musings on fauna and flora, which includes both a cutes Hasbro robot cat and a cockroach that’s supposedly remote controlled.
Meanwhile, among the works by Singaporean performance artist Lynn Lu is a cloud-shaped installation. Two people can sit underneath it and they will be prompted to answer a series of questions in order to learn more about each other — a work that echoes her practice of looking at relationships.
But even the most children-oriented work in the show evokes something more. Vietnamese artist Tran Trong Vu’s plastic garden of sorts includes flowers containing 100 poems from schoolchildren in Singapore, Myanmar, the Philippines, and Indonesia.
At the same time, the organic-looking installation, seemingly growing at the Supreme Court Foyer, also reminds one of the kinds of works shown in the same building, back when big brother Singapore Biennale held fort at the then-deserted space in 2008.