Journey Through iLight Marina Bay 2012

iLight


By LIAU SHU JUAN

The Sands Hotel stood too conspicuously in the dark at the ‘iLight’ Marina Bay Waterfront with its glittering façade and colossal architecture. It might even replace the Merlion as the next cultural icon. However, the latest visual attraction at the 2012 ‘sustainable’ light art festival was the bright kaleidoscopic projections on the surface of the once plain and futuristic-looking Art Science Museum. The projections changed every few minutes or so. There were edgy pattern designs, butterflies and countryside views… They beautified the whole nightscape but I do not see them as serious works of art. I found out later that they were actually not backdrops to complement the Sands, but one of the light art installations entitled ‘Garden of Light’ by Hexagon Solution. I admired its contribution to the night scene but I am not sure if it was something I would stand, watch and ponder about.

Hexagon Solution, Garden of Light, 2012, Marina Bay

Wiyoga Muhardanto, Tangible Gallery, 2012 (Exterior)

A work that was worthy for contemplation and engagement was Wiyoga Muhardanto’s ‘Tangible Gallery’. ‘Tangible Gallery’ was not a gallery per se but a small, cube-like, one-level structure that stood forlornly in the dark, waiting for people to enter as excited viewers gravitated towards Zulkifle Mahmod’s colourful and electrifying deck chairs situated at the opposite.

Zulkifle Mahmod, Deck Journey, 2012

Wiyoga Muhardanto, Tangible Gallery, 2012 (Interior_Replica of Robert Indiana, LOVE)

I read the instructions stated outside the door of ‘Tangible Gallery’-

‘Dear visitor, sorry for the inconvenience caused. If you want to see the works inside, please use your own light device’.

Maybe that was why Mahmod’s ‘Deck Journey’ was a more attractive option.

The first thing that I heard from the person in front of me was, ‘Eh, no lights ah?’ which followed by her companion’s reply, ‘It’s a blackout’.

Wiyoga Muhardanto, Tangible Gallery (Interior) Photo: Shu Juan

That was no blackout at all.

The work was intentionally conceived as a piece of experiential conceptual art, to allow viewers to experience art in the dark. Although multimedia works were commonly projected and shown in the dark, it was a first for traditional medium like paintings and sculptures. Who would have thought of holding an art exhibition in total darkness where the focus of attraction could barely be seen? The gallery lights were visibly installed atop the ceiling but they were not switched on. They functioned more like props.

I gingerly maneuvered my way through. The space was really tiny and I had to share it with four or five curious onlookers. I carefully made my way around the voyeurs and Yoshitomo Nara’s head sculptures which were placed in the most awkward and dangerous position- just one foot above ground.

Yoshitomo Nara. Left: 'You and Me'. Right: 'Head Vase'. Photo: Shu Juan

It was an accident waiting to happen if someone kicked or bumped into them in the dark. That was when I realised I was treating those replicas like multi-million dollars worth of art. This raised further question on my perspective and attitude towards originals and replicas. Do we treat them differently or are we conditioned to view them in a similar fashion just because they are situated in a ‘gallery’ space?

As I observed in the dark, people were more concerned with trying to get a light source onto the replicas of Takashi Murakami’s ‘And then, And then, And then…’ and Damien Hirst’s spot paintings.

Takashi Murakami, 'And then, And then, And then...' (5 pieces, variable colours- Replicas) Photo: Shu Juan

Damien Hirst, Benzyloxyurea (Replica). Photo: Shu Juan

Nobody took a step back to appreciate or really looked at the works. I could not stand it any longer and emitted a long and powerful flash from my camera (‘Tangible Gallery’ is not a conventional gallery so there was no ‘no flash photography’ rule). The sudden flash of light took the people by surprise and a little girl wailed. She almost bumped into Yoshitomo Nara’s ‘Head Vase’.

Yoshitomo Nara, Head Vase (Replica), Tangible Gallery. Photo: Shu Juan

No more flash photography in this room for now.

As I studied the photo, I realised I was observing Murakami’s ‘And then’ from my camera’s LCD screen rather than looking at the work itself, which was just a mere three feet away from me. It was a strange and unconventional viewing experience where the camera photos overtook the real works as the main subject matter. As the rest of the people were playing Sherlock Holmes and Miss Marples and pointing their flashlights as close to the paintings as possible, I was having the most frustrating moment of my time in my attempt at low light photography.

Who did that painting? What was the title of that work? The text was just a black blot without a light source. Nobody was kind enough to sweep some of their light over to the captions as they scrutinized the Mickey-Mouse like designs in Murakami’s works. The combination of activities between straining to get a good look at Roy Lichtenstein’s ‘Sweet Dream Baby!’ and trying in vain to get a good photo was too much. I was perspiring from the exertion and from the sauna-like temperature in the small, confined space. I gave up and turned to see how the others were doing. One guy was very well prepared. He had with him a gigantic tripod and a flashlight, not those miserable handphone or Iphone backlights. Placing his camera atop the tripod, he aimed his flashlight at a copy of Robert Indiana’s love sculpture and it was pure magic from that moment. The sculpture consisted of just four words ‘L-O-V-E’ but the shadows created on the walls behind were pure art.

Shadow of Robert Indiana's 'LOVE', 2012, Tangible Gallery.

I love the concept of ‘Tangible Gallery’. There was so much potential in new and varied viewing experiences that I came back a second time to revisit the work, this time with a flashlight and a friend to hold the light source.

The second trip to ‘Tangible Gallery’ was much more enjoyable but equally as memorable as the first. My friend and I were temporarily turned to artists as we created our own light and shadow art with Robert Indiana’s ‘LOVE’ sculpture. Our roles changed from a mere observer to a participant and co-creator of Indiana’s ‘LOVE’. There was this sense of satisfaction from making the art and capturing it successfully with one’s camera, as if we were also participating in the process and not just admiring the works from a respectable distant.

With a stronger light source, I could now scrutinise the works clearly. The works’ imitation qualities were exposed. The texture of Murakami’s ‘And then’ was made of inkjet poster paper, not canvas. Damien Hirst’s spot painting or ‘Ethistherone’ was cropped in a raw fashion along the edges, as if it was ripped out from a piece of rough paper. Yoshitomo Nara’s ‘Head Vase’ looked as if it was executed by a five-year-old. The ceramic surface was threatening to flake off and the features of the doll face looked like it was painted with black permanent markers.

Damien Hirst, Ethistherone (Replica). Photo: Shu Juan

However, ‘Tangible Gallery’ was more about the interactivity and less about the works themselves. It was about questioning our viewing conventions through an unconventional display of works. It daringly challenged the display conventions of galleries and museums and earned itself a fan. This is a piece of work worth revisiting a second or even a third time.

Edwin Tan, Enlightenment, 2012.

Next up was Edwin Tan’s ‘Enlightenment’. I saw many people walking passed the artwork without thinking that it was one of the light art installations. It resembled readymade vertical light rods which you might see along the road. That visual association occured when the work was ‘not activated’. The ‘game’ only began when the viewer/ participant stepped up to the podium, posed a question, pressed a button and ‘voila’ the white rods lighted up and transited into a series of moving neon oranges, blues and purples. That was followed by a breath holding moment when the god of destiny (or LED rods) tells you whether you need a hair cut or not.

Edwin Tan, Enlightenment, 2012. Photo: Shu Juan

The words ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ will be flashed across to any random questions you asked. However, there are no genies, seers or genuine fortune tellers in this world, only human nature’s tendency to be satisfied or reassured by an answer given from above, or in this case, from the god of vertical rods.

I tried experimenting with the work by asking ‘Should I eat bananas?’ and was not enlightened. I did not get any response except for a dull, pulseating white screen. Maybe, my question was out of its sphere of intelligence.

OKUBO, Light of the Merlion, 2012.

‘Light of the Merlion’ by OCUBO was an interesting piece of work. However, its merits were purely based on its interactivity. From afar, Singapore’s national icon was splattered in garish hues of pink, blue, yellow and green. She looked like she was vandalised by Takashi Murakami with his colourful ‘Flower Ball’ series. The source of vandalism was not at the site but at a computerised station where a group of excited Japanese tourists were decorating the Merlion aka Neoprint style on the computer monitor and exclaiming ‘Kawaii!’ as each colour appeared simultaneously on the individual scales of the Merlion. The excitement from the people grew as the Merlion transformed from white prince to kitsch in real time. Although, I did not fancy the Merlion’s latest fashion sense, I was similarly excited by the transformation. When the adorning was completed, there was a pause where nothing seemed to be happening, when suddenly, the Merlion vomited..I mean, squirted out water from its gaping mouth. The ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ of the audience were raised a couple more decibels when she started to spew projections of coloured lights and water into the river.

Light of the Merlion, Decoration in Progress...

OCUBO, Light of the Merlion, 2012
Stage 1 - Colour: Blue

OKUBO, Light of the Merlion, 2012. Voila!

I love the interactivity of the work and the fact that the artist dared to transform Singapore’s respectable cultural symbol to a highly engaging and exciting icon of contemporary art and getting everybody all pumped up and excited, made it a good piece of light art. Although I do not see in what way was it sustainable, I do not really care.

Groupe LAP, Key Frames, 2012.
Dancing skeletons?

Groupe LAP, Key Frames, 2012

Further down, was another delightful piece of light installation entitled ‘Key Frames’. Twenty static figures stood atop podium poles like a field of football players in position (except ‘Key Frames’ was a 5 x 4 arrangement). I felt like I was watching a minimalist musical starring emaciated stick figures that came alive at night. It was not Tim Burton’s idea though. This work by Groupe LAP, consisted of figures that were simple and futuristic looking and they lighted up according to the rhythm of various genres of music such that they were ‘dancing’ atop the vertical poles. It was an entertaining spectacle and the public clearly enjoyed it as they sat at the steps looking at the art work as if they were watching a theatre performance.

Light Collective, Key Frames, 2012.

Check out the similarity between Key Frames and ‘Flight’ from 2008 Singapore Biennale.

Alfredo and Isabel Aquilizan, Flight, 2008, Singapore Biennale.

Above: An outdoor installation of 4000 slippers perched on bamboo poles.

Teddy Lo, Megapov, 2012.

A thin crowd was gathering in front of a… tall and vertical light beam structure that projected into space. It was very sci-fi and futuristic looking and the empty space with silhouttes pausing and staring at the monumentality of the structure made it looked like a set from a tech noir film. That strange alien structure was Teddy Lo’s ‘Megapov’. Its strong light beam and smooth organic lines juxtaposed well with the gigantic glass panes of the Marina Bay Sands Shopping Mall. This maybe the future of Singapore’s urban landscape- lots of metal and glass and white beams of light to light up our city life.

'Deck Journey'
Suntanning at Night.

Just further down was a completely different mise-en-scène of carnival, revelry and merry making. We arrived at Zulkifle Mahmod’s ‘Deck Journey’. It was a chic party along the bay with its sleek, lighted up angular deck chairs on wooden decks, facing the brightly lit Marina Bay. This work is a good example of an installation integrating well with its surrounding environment. People were clearly enjoying the work and the experience of sitting on those unique, eye-catching deck chairs with their LED lights and whimsical overarching light stands. The work uniquely created the experience of ‘sun-tanning at night’ in the city. I would love to have this work installed at the front of my house (if I do own a house facing the sea).

Light Collective, Urban Makyoh, 2012.

Next, I turned into a sheltered area. I was greeted by huge moving shadows on the walls and people playing with those shadows using some strange metal pieces with stenciled cut outs. That was ‘Urban Makyoh’ by Light Collective. When I saw the title, I thought the work was created by a Japanese artist. However, ‘Makyoh’ was actually a Chinese word referring to the magic mirrors used in ancient times. The idea of making audience participation an innate part of the work was laudable, but the execution and the overall effect of cheesy, hand-moving shadows on the walls were a tad too raw and simplistic.

Aleksandra Stratimirovic, Sweet Home, 2012.

I walked over to the next exhibit and was greeted by an IKEA-like setting. That was ‘Sweet Home’ by Aleksandra Stratimirovic. The installation had a quirky display of red and white spotted lanterns hanging atop the ceiling with a sofa, bookshelf and bedside table laid out neatly in an open space- a ‘living room in an exterior space’ concept. I saw people walking around and experiencing the space as if they were shopping for bargain furniture pieces. However, the space was just too huge for the few furniture pieces that the artist had which caused the setup to appear sparse, as if the artist had not carefully considered the relationship between the space and the objects. ‘Sweet Home’ was far from being sweet and homely. It was like a half-baked sale done in a spur of the moment. Sweltering and disappointed with the unattractive works in this area, I left the building.

Shinya Okuda, BioShell, 2012

The next work that I encountered was entitled ‘BioShell’ by Shinya Okuda. I would not even call it an art work just by the sound of its name. It was more like a product, a utilitarian object trying to masquerade as art in the grand context of the ‘Marina Bay Sustainable Light Art Festival’. The object in question was three-dimensional but it did not a slightest bit resembled a sculpture- it was a foldable tent, not Tracey Emin’s, but blown up, translucent and cuboidal in appearance. According to the description, it was a lightweight temporary shelter that packs and stacks easily and is entirely lit by LED flood lights. I could almost hear the inflection and excitement at the last line, if a salesman tried to pitch the product to a potential customer. I was beginning to wonder if this is really a light art installation show or a convention for environmentally-friendly products.

Shinya Okuda, BioShell, 2012 (Interior)

The only aesthetically pleasing aspect about the work was the bright blue, futuristic-looking, translucent hue that appealed to the basal instinct of the human eyes for a few seconds before the attraction of the work completely disappeared. However, the young kids love the work as their parents excitedly ushered them in to play in the playpen.

Concept-wise, there was nothing in relations to art in this piece of ‘light art installation’. Shinya Okuda and his project team were definitely not making a Marcel Duchamp statement on elevating a readymade to a piece of art. Instead, they were proudly proclaiming that this work is made of biodegradable plastic and is very useful as a temporary disaster-relief shelter. To make matter worse, I was not even convinced that it will work as a good temporary shelter. Inside the space, the work did not evoke a ‘gentle feeling of kinship between human and nature’ as what the caption claimed. Instead, it emitted a strange, pungent smell from the weeks of exhibition and throngs of people viewing the product. With its biodegradable plastics, I will be very happy to see such a work in a ‘Save the Earth’ convention but not in a ‘sustainable light art show’ where the sustainability aspect of the work overrode the aesthetics, completely. It was as if the work was conceived purely as an innovative attempt in shelter technology with the LED lights thrown in to give it an excuse that, that was art.

Uno Lai, Light Dam, 2012.

The ‘Light Dam’ by Uno Lai was another example of the corporatization of art. It was like a poor mockup of those channel 8 variety game shows that you see on TV. Instead of having those boxes lighted up automatically for you to make a decision, the ‘boxes’ in this case were lighted up by the deliberate movements of people. It was kinetic art in the rawest sense as people jumped and waved their hands energetically in front of the mentos-like installation which seemed to be made of some cheap, plastic (maybe biodegradable?) material. The true aim of the project though, was to exhibit, in the noblest sense, of being environmentally friendly by powering the work using solar energy. Talk about light art and conservation in the same breath. However, the adults and children were more concerned with playing peek-a-boo through the huge mentos- shaped holes, rather than standing back to contemplate about its sustainability. The solar energy was eco-friendly but what about the inflatable floats used as the shell? There seemed to be conflicting aims in the work between sustainability and art but it was just too appalling to be called art.

Uno Lai, Light Dam, 2012 (detail)
Careful. You wouldn't want to get an electric shock.

The organisers’ efforts in putting up this show is laudable. However, Marina Bay’s ‘Sustainable Light Art Festival’ was trying to wear too many hats on one head. On one hand it aimed to be eco-friendly, on the other, it was pumping out so much electricity just to allow large-scale projections to run. Yes, there were solar energies and biodegradable plastics but what about the art? The ‘Light art’ portion of the festival which was drowned by its bigger aim of being eco-friendly was almost non-existent in a number of installations. The Urban Redevelopment Authority should reconsider naming its programme to- ‘The Sustainable Waterfront Convention’ and shift the avant-garde ‘Tangible Gallery’ out to a proper art show.

Disclaimer: All views on the site are solely of the author’s and in no way are a representation of any individuals or organisations.

Copyright © 2012 Liau Shu Juan.

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