Arts & Culture

i Light Singapore: Using Art to Champion Sustainability

Must art be instagram-worthy?

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Singapore can be said to be a festival hub, with year-round celebrations of religious holidays, arts and culture. With so many festivals in a year, can festivalgoers really distinguish one from the other? Also, is there a need for so many festivals, especially those that highlight outdoor art installations?

I Light Singapore — Bicentennial Edition is currently held in various places across central Singapore and will run until 24 February. The works showcased provide perspectives on the Singapore Bicentennial in the forms of art, installations and interactive media.

Jason Chen, the festival director and director (place management) of the Urban Redevelopment Authority, shares more on how art can help tell Singapore’s history and why i Light Singapore is not just another festival.

Singapore’s calendar has always been filled with festivals. What do you think i Light Singapore brings to the table?

As one of the country’s signature events, i Light Singapore has been a platform that bridges people, culture and opportunity through art and sustainability since its inception in 2010. The festival’s focus on sustainability also reinforces the position of Marina Bay, where it all began, as a sustainable precinct, and serves as reminders to encourage festivalgoers to adopt environment-friendly habits in their everyday lives.

For instance, the light art installations are designed with energy-saving lighting, recycled or environmentally friendly materials. In addition, the festival has been rallying building owners, corporations and businesses to support our signature Switch Off, Turn Up campaign, where they are encouraged to switch off non-essential lighting and turn up their air-conditioning temperatures to reduce the consumption of energy. This year, more than 60 organisations have committed to coming on board the campaign.

How would the Singapore Bicentennial Edition of i Light Singapore differ from past editions?

i Light Singapore — Bicentennial Edition, which is taking place from 28 January to 24 February 2019, is a special edition of i Light Marina Bay, which many would be familiar with since it began in 2010. An anchor event to kick-start the Singapore Bicentennial commemoration, the festival invites artists and festivalgoers to reflect on Singapore’s history and growth, as well as our connection with the world in the last 700 years.

This year, the festival will span Marina Bay, as well as the historical areas of the Civic District, Singapore River and Raffles Terrace at Fort Canning Park. Curated to the theme Bridges of Time, 33 sustainable light art installations from 15 countries, including Singapore, will be showcased at the festival, with more than half of them designed by Singapore artists or feature content related to Singapore. We have also introduced five distinct programming hubs for visitors looking for a fun, engaging and unique experience, as they traverse our iconic waterfront that bridges old and new Singapore along the festival route.

This special bicentennial edition will see an intensified effort to bring communities together, as a reflection of how the historic Civic District and Singapore River first drew people from different parts of the world here centuries ago.

We hope that Singaporeans will join in this year’s festival and be inspired to find out more about Singapore’s longer history.

In this Singapore Bicentennial commemoration, how do you think art may play a role in this history?

Art can serve as accessible entry points for the communication of ideas, and invite discussions and contemplation.

In the case of i Light Singapore, visitors can reflect on Singapore’s history and growth, as well as our connection with the world in the last 700 years through the sustainable light art installations. Beyond that, these light art installations can also evoke hope and optimism about our future.

Some examples include Cenotaph for a Stone by a group of students from the National University of Singapore, located at the Waterboat House Garden. The artwork serves as a reinterpretation of the Singapore Stone — what it was, what it is and what it could have been. The installation comprises 51 rock fragments on steel pedestals, with the 52nd pedestal left empty, hinting at the only piece that remains of the Singapore Stone (with its whereabouts known), which currently resides in the National Museum of Singapore. The ‘rock fragments’ are placed in an orchestrated fashion that hypothesises what the stone could have looked like. This artwork won the first prize in our inaugural i Light Student Award.

Michael Davis from the UK also uses participatory sonic and visual kinetic art in his work HALO, located at Esplanade Park, that enables visitors to connect the past, present and future through music making as they interact with the work.

Time Traveller by Indonesian artist Eko Prawoto, located at Clifford Square, signifies a visitor from the past to our present. It is inspired by bamboo fish traps, an artefact of a recent past that already seems too distant to be bridged between generations. Situated between One Fullerton — a result of development of the new city, and Clifford Pier — the old landing point for travellers who arrived in Singapore by sea, this artwork stands tall between the old and the new as a bridge between generations.

Festival numbers have been rising over the years with more focus on aesthetics and “Instagram-worthy” art. Do you think this is the direction for art in the future? Or can art attract numbers while delving deeper?

At the heart of it, art is a medium to communicate ideas to its audience. Regardless of the form it takes, be it Instagram-worthy or not, what is important is to draw the audience in and have them interpret and understand the message behind the artwork.

In the case of i Light Singapore, we want to invite the community to be involved in environmental sustainability. We are also cognisant that our festivalgoers enjoy interacting with our artworks for the past editions. Hence, we also handpicked proposals with interactive artworks that are innovative, carry strong messages of sustainability and are aligned with the festival’s theme for each edition.

All images courtesy of the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA)

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