See The Asian Civilisations Museum In A New Light

Colours take centre stage at the Light to Night Festival 2018.

As part of Singapore Art Week 2018, the second edition of the Light to Night Festival (Jan 19 – 28, 2018) is back with the theme of Colour Sensations. Inspired by the rich tapestry of ancient and modern Asian culture, the Asian Civilisations Museum (ACM) has gathered artists, dancers, and more to celebrate colour in all forms.

The 12-day festival spans seven venues across Singapore, including civic and non-profit spaces such as the ACM. This year, the museum commissioned local artistsKllylmrck, Other Half, fFurious and PAYNK to present a plethora of immersive, site-specific, multi-sensory experiences. The commissions were carefully curated to draw visitors to parts of the museum that are often overlooked, said Mr Bernard Tan, deputy director of ACM’s Audience and Contemporary Art department. More importantly, the works are also heavily inspired by the museum’s collections, highlighting the relevance of history through conversations with contemporary art.

The Power of Community
Close-up of Portal of Patterns. Photo: Hong Shu-ying 

A waterfall of colourful crochet diamonds greets visitors entering the ACM lobby. Like her bold and happy yarn-bomb work, artist Kllylmrck (a.k.a. Kelly Lim) has a cheerful disposition, which showed when she spoke about her works and interacted with her volunteers. The artist shared that Portal of Patterns is a “portal”, a spatial construct that transports people to another place, much like ACM itself. She also arranged the different coloured pieces to create the illusion of 3D cubes flowing in a tonal gradient on the flat surface. The whole piece is playful with daring colours and optical illusions.

Lim added that tessellation is an ancient artistic technique in Asia, especially in Islamic pieces where the use of geometric shapes is common in architecture and everyday objects. In her work, the tessellation alludes to the ACM’s collection and history; the process of sewing many similar but distinct pieces to form a mammoth piece of fabric is akin to the way diverse parties come together to form wholesome narratives in history.

Artist Kelly Limerick explains her work. Photo: Hong Shu-ying

In a similar vein, the work was put together by a large group of diverse individuals. With only about a month to work on this ambitious project, Lim decided to look for an intern, and her search eventually resulted in an army of volunteers. A yarn shop owner helped her to put up a Facebook post calling for “some help”, and before long, Lim found herself backed by 62 crochet and knitting lovers who were as excited as she was, and perhaps even more, about her project.

Her favourite part of creating Portal of Patterns was the moment when the group finished sewing all the crochet diamonds into the final fabric structure and hung it up. It was a shared ‘eureka’ moment as they admired Lim’s vision synthesised through her volunteers’ hard work. Touched by the experience of working with them, Lim hopes to tackle even bigger projects with the continued support of the group.

Creating a Happy Space
Still of OH! Treasure Chest. Photo: Hong Shu-ying

Artist duo Other Half (Ho Lay Hoon/ Arty Guava and Sumay Cheah) presents OH! Treasure Chest in an unassuming corridor of the ACM. True to their specialty of creating immersive art experiences, the duo presents a life-sized, walk-in kaleidoscope. Drawing on their own experience while visiting museums, the pair used blown-up images of more than 50 artefacts in ACM as the building blocks of the psychedelic piece.

Enhanced by a specially designed soundscape, the visuals are meant to help visitors see the artefacts in a new light, and draw more attention to the details and intricacies of these symbols of civilisation. Coming so close to magnified versions of the artefacts is a humbling experience, yet also cathartic as one gets lost in the array of colours and patterns.

Museum-goers snap shots of the beautiful artwork. Photo: Hong Shu-ying

The artists are especially aware of the stressful contemporary landscape we live in. With OH! Treasure Chest, they allude to their own “childhood memory of the kaleidoscope in hopes of creating a happy space people can retreat to as a form of therapy”. The dream-like sequence is projected and reflected to engulf the entire space, reminding one of the oddly nostalgic yet strange feelings evoked by childhood stories like Alice in Wonderland. The rules of gravity are completely disregarded as the artefacts levitate across the screen, much like how childlike innocence and imagination have no boundaries.

Upending Snapchat Culture
Details of Recording Today. Photo: Hong Shu-ying

Proceeding to Level 3, one enters the beautiful Dehua ceramics gallery. The whitewashed pieces are almost minimalist and modern, but these pieces are in fact ancient. PAYNK’s (Sharon Yang) Recording Today, a work commenting on technology and the 21st century state of mind, is juxtaposed against the ancient artefacts. In her three-part installation, PAYNK explores creating a quiet and contemplative space to rest after being bombarded by the sensory-overloaded contemporary world. The artist describes her work as one that is “anti-colour”; like the gallery, her works are mainly decked out in clean and crisp white, broken only by transparent plastic or her illustrations.

In the first part of her work, PAYNK created a structure reminiscent of a HDB flat, providing a peepshow of sea creatures made with plastic and lit by fairy lights. This is followed by an interesting diorama containing a sequence that can only be seen when visitors record the work with a smartphone.

With this part of the installation, PAYNK makes a statement about the “millennial phenomenon” where museum-goers are often Snapchatting or Instagramming the displays while looking at them. The work uses the very act of looking through a mobile lens to enable visitors to connect with the work. The irony critiques the way we engage with things around us — a mediated experience caused by our reliance on social media.

In the last of the trio, PAYNK presents a paper bag covered in papier-mâché to look like a ceramic piece, which she then decorated with her illustrations and ceramic barnacles. The aged appearance alludes to uncovered sea treasures, while the word “SALE” highlights the perceived importance of fleeting events in our lives.  

Mythical Creatures Come Alive
Curious Creatures by fFurious. Photo: Hong Shu-ying

An artist collective of designers, fFurious presents Curious Creatures, a zoo of neon-esque creatures. Inspired by the different mythical creatures found on artefacts in ACM, fFurious went on to create “awe-inspiring creatures” of their own. The creatures are rendered in sleek geometrical shapes, the stylisation and red illumination lending an unearthly quality that echoes the artists’ wonderment at the mythical creatures from the imaginations of ancient craftsmen and artists.

The experience of walking into the River Room at Level 2 is very intimate. One enters a dark and quiet room, illuminated only by the contours of the reimagined creatures of ancient times. The generous space surrounding the works invites the visitor to imagine how all these creatures might move, growl or purr if they came alive.

Close-up of Curious Creatures. Photo: Hong Shu-ying

Other than the collection of sculptures, fFurious brings their ensemble of creatures to the public through Art Skin on Monument. Using projection mapping, the creatures come to life on the Victoria Concert Hall and ACM facade after dark, animated to interact with the architecture of the heritage buildings. This brings their works in the festival full circle, as the creatures are finally allowed to roam in a space of their own.

Besides these artworks, Light to Night: Colour Sensations at Asian Civilisations Museum has an exciting line-up of artist workshops and art-centric movie screenings from Jan 19 – 28. Find out more here