From the vivid crimsons of Wong Kar Wai’s celluloid creations to the Blade Runner-esque dystopian hues of blues, oranges and washes of neon pink, the visual spectacle of a vibrant cityscape is an enthralling sight to behold. What then, would be a more fitting way to spend an evening in this city that never sleeps, than to take in more city lights? This past week and over the coming weekend, up to January 28, the drab slate-grey of Singapore’s colonial civic district gives way to a riot of projected colour and motifs; bringing a new luminescent dimension to familiar landmarks.
The Light to Night Festival returns this year with Colour Sensations – a delightful assemblage of installations that is sure to light up the night. As the marquee event of Singapore Art Week, the festival is a collaborative effort by the Victoria Theatre & Concert Hall, The Arts House, the National Gallery Singapore, and the Asian Civilisations Museum to take visitors on a stimulating journey of and for the senses. Aside from established names like the Melbourne-based Christian Wagstaff and Keith Courtney, as well as local luminaries Samantha Lo (a.k.a Sticker Lady) and Brandon Tay, I found the inclusion of lesser-known Singapore-based artists and university students from non-arts related fields extremely heartening.
The outdoor art trail begins at the National Gallery Singapore and the adjacent Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall. It also includes the Asian Civilisations Museum and The Arts House just around the corner. Lending their facades as oversized canvases, images created by 30 Singaporean and Singapore-based artists cover the stately structures in designs that vary from a 70’s-inspired head trip of colours to monochrome depictions of recognisable, classical figures. One of the images that stood out for me was the pair of eyes projected onto the former Supreme Court Building, the design and position of which resembles the designs commonly found on Tibetan stupas.
I thought it interesting how easily spaces can be stripped of their identity, heritage and history with the addition of swaths of colour without altering their physical structure or even applying a fresh coat of paint. It made me wonder if places with pasts even more sombre than the former Supreme Court could be reformed in such a manner. After all, prisons and schools are known to cover their compound walls in brightly coloured murals to give them a more cheery outlook.
Just next door, projected onto the Corinthian-columned frontage of the City Hall Wing is another noteworthy piece. Pressure pads installed across the road, on the edge of the Padang, allow the public to interact with, and manipulate the projections on the building. This blurring of lines between artist and audience creates a democracy that isn’t typical, when an artist, with his or her works given pride of place on a gallery wall, basking in the spotlight, is usually the one in total control
Inferred meaning or intended significance aside, the biggest lure here is that the spectacle is a virtual feast for the eyes – a veritable buffet spread of Instagram angles can be had from any corner. Judging from the curious crowds ambling by each evening, the outreach efforts have been fruitful and there is certain to be a new crop of art enthusiasts in the coming years.
Losing your way is a frightening experience. The feelings of helplessness can drive one into a panic. The House of Mirrors forces you to revisit those distressing sensations. Everything is plain to see yet, the exit to the maze is hidden. You can see absolutely everything, from any angle you choose but then you can’t trust your eyes. After getting hopelessly lost and doubling back countless times in a very small space made up of a handful of shipping containers, you have to abandon your instincts and find your own way to escape this larger-than-life puzzle. The endless reflections, although conveying an illusion of infinite space, feels ironically claustrophobic as you lose your sense of direction and reality.
At the Esplanade Park, stars can be found on the ground as mirror balls hung over the grounds project a dense collection of pinpoints of lights on the grass below. The old-school swings and clever lighting design turn this sliver of green, wedged between the Singapore River and Padang, into a cosmic playground of light. This atmospheric light installation is accompanied by musical performances on the weekend. I was surprised by how the environment at the Padang could be altered, and the ambience changed, with just the use of lighting effects.
Straddling the Asian Civilisations Museum and the river bank, a triangular structure looking much like an isometric projection of a rural home’s thatched roof shines brightly in the shadow of the night. The Art Incubator is an installation so named to pay homage to the 1st-year Architecture students that created it. The latticed structure is decidedly Asian in design and creates an attractive pattern. As an art incubator, aside from fostering the artistic ambitions of its creators, it has also proven enticing to visitors who create their own brand of art by interacting with the structure and recording it for posterity.
The Light to Night Festival succeeds in creating an attractive showcase to reach out to the masses. The salary-man, the Instagrammer, and the art-enthusiast can all find something to delight in and engage with. To me, this is the most compelling aspect of the festival; It is approachable and not pretentious in any way, with no hint of posturing at all. It is, first and foremost, intended for visitors to have a good time. Only after that does it attempt to challenge the festival attendee visually in the hope that it engenders a greater appreciation for the arts.