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Following Instructions: Roving Singapore in the name of Art

It feels illegal to enter the spaces I’m instructed to: to watch children being let out of school, as a childless adult; to touch fruit I’m not planning to buy; to count words in an empty train station while staff members watch me warily; or to climb tree stumps as a public park closes. 

What I just described are things I did while interacting with Process: Roving Ideas (2023), a project conceptualised by Goh Chun Aik and produced by Hong Shu-ying for Singapore Art Week 2023. A self-guided experience through a series of text-based instructions, you can access Process: Roving Ideas through their website designed by two-people studio gideon-jamie or printed postcards. 

And while I might have felt like I was doing things I shouldn’t, I was just experiencing the thrill of reframing my perspective of what is ‘normal’, while following instructions from artists.  

The Art of Instructions

Instructional artworks aren’t new. In the 1960s, artists like Yoko Ono, Alison Knowles, and George Brecht were associated with Fluxus, an international group of artists who were interested in creating ‘happenings’ and were akin to an art movement.

I might be slightly biased, but the first time I read an instructional-based Fluxus artwork I fell in love. I laughed at some and cried at others – it was more than poetry and differed from what I knew to be art in my adolescence. 

It brought me closer to artists whom I might never meet but respected, and also made me more aware of the world around me and brought me closer to myself. As the viewers and executors of such works, we mediate our own experiences. We become responsible for the work, collaborating with the artist to complete it. 

The Process

Process: Roving Ideas builds on this foundation, drawing inspiration from Fluxus and other forms of instructional, conceptual, or relational text-based works. 

When asking Goh and Hong how the project came about, Goh noted,

“Amidst this hectic life, there are many little things around us worth slowing down for to take a closer look…  Hence this project, to try and direct our attention to these moments that can get lost easily in our daily hustle and bustle.” 

The criteria of their instructions included being site-specific to Singapore, with the instructions being very much rooted in specific locations. When I asked if there were any restrictions placed on the artists’ contributions, Goh responded, “the restrictions mainly lie within the concept of the project being site-specific, so artists would have to first decide on a physical location and possibly a time for the audience to visit and carry out the actions stated in the instructions.” 

When asked about encountering challenges while producing the project, Hong mentioned working with Gideon Kong and Jamie Yeo of gideon-jamie and Berny Tan on copy editing. “I think most of the ‘issues’ we faced were not too different from working on other art projects (the labour of working with multiple artists concurrently). What was new to me and the designers was the heightened pressure and lack of experience of working on a project that relied so heavily on the website. gideon-jamie are heroes for pulling together such a beautiful and sleek website in such a short timeframe! [Tan] also gave super valuable input in terms of tightening the intentions and clarity of each instruction.”

The result does not betray the hard work of ensuring that all the moving parts cohesively came together into an effortless-looking webpage.  

How it works

You can either filter through a list of all the instructions and pick what resonates, or let the site randomly generate an instruction for you, much like a “surprise me!” function. Some instructions are purposefully opaque or coded and leave room for interpretation, while others comment on some uniquely Singaporean phenomena. Some seem humorous, while some are poetic. Some give you new places to explore while a few are more like mindfulness exercises or zen meditations, contemplative or futile.

They are not about succeeding, but rather in trying to complete impossible tasks like outrunning your shadow, we might challenge ourselves to attempt to outwit the artist or contemplate our failure before even beginning.

Much like a guided meditation, an instructional artwork invites the audience to pay closer attention to what another person is pointing out to them.

On using a main online platform, Hong commented that “disseminating the project or artworks via the website and Instagram was the most practical way to reach audiences anywhere, anytime. It also makes it scalable with the least cost and barriers, should [Goh] decide to grow the project in the future.” 

The project also engaged all types of artists – emerging and established; those from different fields and mediums; and those who curate – which also lent a tone of diversity and approachability to the work. Goh added that he was keen to have a wide range of artists and curators contribute to this project, saying that “some of their instructions are very obviously related to their practice, while some are more personal, and some might simply come from their daily experiences.” And while some of the artists’ instructions do seem predictable given their practice, others were surprising.

Fitting and Unexpected

Genevieve Leong’s instructions to stack fruit in a grocery store reflect a gesture seen in her sculptural practice, and by leaving a ‘public sculpture’ as a remnant of the instructions, I felt quite thrilled. (I made sure to sanitize my hands to touch fruit I didn’t buy!) 

XiaoCong Ge’s instructions to observe a school at 1:30 pm left me contemplating gender roles. As a woman, I blended into the crowd of other female caregivers, but I wondered if a lone man would have been perceived as a creep. By centring parents and helpers in her instructions, Ge reframed my perspective.

Ezzam Rahman’s instructions led me all the way to Woodlands. As an artist whose practice I’ve always found moving and tender, the “something that does not belong” mentioned in Rahman’s instructions represented his personal memory of sharing a kiss with someone in a stairwell, which made me reminisce on my own parallel experiences.

And after a long day of viewing art and travelling all over this island, at dusk I “[ascended] the root of a tree departed”, as instructed by Boedi Widjaja. I climbed onto some tree stumps in the clearing of Labrador Park, just as closing time passed, and I stood still, breathing. 

These were only a few of the instructions in Process: Roving Ideas. Take it from me, an instructional art lover, that this will be a unique art experience – something personal, something thrilling, or something very mundane, that might make us see that our everyday lives aren’t so different after all.

The accessibility and possibility to personalise each instruction also make this a pretty fun date idea! Challenge yourself, your partner, or your friends to engage in these tasks and learn more about yourselves along the way. 


Click here to find out more about Process: Roving Ideas. It will be available for the rest of 2023. 

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