Cosy up in a regenerative seed pod, immerse in soundscape and song atop a grass mound, or unveil new meanings through literal shifts in visual perspectives. From now till 6 June 2021, the public can encounter 14 larger-than-life art installations along the 36km-long coast-to-coast trail, commissioned by the Public Art Trust (PAT) under the National Arts Council (NAC). Titled Rewritten: The World Ahead of Us, this first-ever public art showcase installed across eight nature parks from Punggol to Jurong sees our artists draw inspiration from Singaporean writers and works in the conceptualisation process.
The multi-sensory project was conceptualised during Singapore’s circuit breaker last year, as a spirited response from the arts community to concerns and experiences caused by COVID-19. Stepping out of their studios and into nature, homegrown artists responded to an open call by NAC with their messages of hope and resilience for the public to share.
Rewritten presents an opportunity for the public to discover works by Singaporean artists and develop a deeper appreciation of visual arts in our daily lives. Progressively installed in phases since Singapore Art Week 2021 in January, the full suite of public artworks is now available for public viewing just as Singapore welcomes a further easing of restrictions this month.
Tay Tong, Director of Sector Development (Visual Arts), NAC, said, “Just barely a year ago, arts spaces went dark and a hushed silence enveloped the nation at the height of COVID-19. Artists started to look inwards and seek new avenues of expression, and Rewritten presented an opportunity for them to push their creative boundaries and create works that inspire. We hope that the artworks will spark curiosity and open dialogue in the daily lives of our Singapore public, as we reflect and step bravely into a new post-COVID world.”
Singaporean writers and literary works take centre stage
Rewritten is a rethinking of language, narratives and expression as artists inject their creative energies into the environment and surrounding communities.
The project features artworks that were drawn from existing bodies of work by known Singaporean poets. This includes Robert Yeo’s poem Those in Urban Yellow (2012), which inspired immersive “viewing curtains” YELLOW by lighting designer James Tan and scenographer (Lighting & Set) Petrina Dawn Tan. Flanking the two sides of the Lorong Halus Bridge, YELLOW draws attention to the idea of beginnings and endings with dawn and dusk. The gently undulating curves of the drapes resemble an impression of the Punggol-Serangoon Reservoir skyline during sunrise and sunset.
Yong Shu Hoong’s poem Fan Fiction from his collection Anatomy of a Wave (2021), which was referenced in art collective Vertical Submarine’s striking audio cassette [ ] With Dual Possibilities. With keywords from Yong Shu Hoong’s poem redacted, the artwork invites viewers to mentally fill in the blanks based on their imagination. The sentiment of change is alluded by the Chinese phrase “危险机会” on the other side, which suggests that opportunity is often embedded in crisis.
Other works such as Hello Stranger by visual artist Dawn Ng and BOND by architectural artists Jerome Ng & Zed Haan feature prose and poetry exploring concepts of human presence and connections, whether conceptually or physically.
Creating a visual harmony between art and nature
The natural environment was another main source of inspiration for some of the artworks, where there were coincidentally two creations – When A Tree Becomes A Forest by photography and installation artist Ang Song Nian and 間 Jian by interdisciplinary artist Cheryl Chiw – that played with ideograms based on Chinese characters.
A site-specific installation comprising 195 timber structures, each stylised as the Chinese character “木” (wood or tree) and forming the characters “林” (woods) or even “森” (forest) when seen from different viewpoints. The artwork embodies the intimate interdependency between Man and Nature, and urges viewers not to lose sight of the forest for the trees as we rebuild our future as one.
間 Jian is an ideogrammatic artwork that breaks down the traditional Chinese character “間”, which denotes space or realm, and is a composite of sub-characters “門” (door) and “日” (sun / day). The artwork symbolises a transition or passageway to a brand new world of possibilities, where the COVID-19 pandemic allowed us a previous interval to reflect on our fast-paced lives.
Capturing the ephemeral concept of time, 2010 Young Artist Award recipient Robert Zhao Renhui presents a site-specific, durational artwork that follows the growth of a single tree. Over the course of the presentation, the 11 light boxes on display will reveal different stages of the tree’s growth, a conduit for the idea that it takes time for nature and mankind to reset and rebuild ourselves before moving ahead.
Encouraging communal healing and conversations
Taking the idea of contemplation into the wider community, artists such as social artist duo Hunny and Lummy (Hun Ming Kwang and Quinn Lum Fu Loong) and street artist Sam Lo carved out spaces that served as encouragement and reminders for the public to smile and heal together. Going a step further beyond individual reflection, the works bring forth the wider consciousness of empathy and self-confidence during challenging times.
A visual manifestation of Singaporean author Alvin Pang’s What Gives Us Our Name (2011), the seed pods are a space for weary souls to recharge and remind them that every single individual has the potential to grow into something great.
Sam Lo’s Temporary Escapism instils little doses of the human touch around the Punggol Waterway, as a pick-me-up that reminds us of our shared human experience through simple interactions with each other and our surroundings.
Rewritten represents the resilience of the arts community during COVID-19 pandemic, where artists are not only thinking out of the box to elevate or pivot their practice, but also committed to making art that is widely visible and freely accessible to all. Besides experienced artists such as Sam Lo, Dawn Ng and Robert Zhao who have been contributing to Singapore’s public arts landscape, Rewritten saw artists experimenting in this field for the first time, such as Ang Song Nian, Hunny and Lummy, who have presented exhibitions in gallery settings. The result is a concerted effort by a diverse mix of emerging and established artists to create meaningful art that inspires the rest of society to overcome challenges creatively.
Over the next few weeks, PAT will be launching virtual engagement content to enhance the physical art experience and promote visual literacy in public art.
Director Tay Tong added, “Partnering with artists and colleagues from public agencies to bring art closer to Singaporeans, NAC seeks to transform our urban spaces to host art that resonates with the public. The recent COVID-19 Arts Consumption Survey revealed that Singaporeans have shown a strong appetite for digital arts and blended deliveries during the pandemic, signalling that the arts provide essential relief and have a role in improving emotional and mental wellbeing. NAC will continue to work with artists and industry players of various backgrounds and expertise to find innovative ways to sustain our vibrant arts scene. This will help future proof Singapore’s arts scene as we hope to consistently bring art to the public.”