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Arts & Culture

Life in a Cloud: Interview with Natalie Hennedige

Encapsulating creative articulation in an unusual time.

Words by
b-side staff
Location
Singapore

Text by Hera

https://www.lifeinacloud.co

Encountering art, music and performances brings us pleasure; it takes us to a space where aesthetic experience and communal spectacle may manifest. Even as Singapore is recovering from the disruptive effects of COVID-19, we are still acutely aware of the necessity of social distancing as well as the associated risks of physical gatherings. These restrictions are resulting in a proactive expansion of the digital realm in our society, not only to replace the void of physical presence, but also to give expression to our daily modes of living.

Life in a Cloud is a digital compilation of works by seven prominent local artists across genres created in an uncertain period of global pandemic. It is also part of the #SGCultureAnywhere campaign, which features digital iterations of selected arts and culture offerings from Singapore. Presented in the format of a microsite, the works of Kirsten Tan (Film), Santha Bhaskar (Dance), NADA (Music), Sharlene Teo (Literary Arts), Kaylene Tan & Paul Rae (Performing Arts), Iskandar Jalil (Visual Arts) and Randy Chan (Architecture) are released each Sunday between 9 August – 27 September.

Each artist responded to a five point framework as a starting point to their artmaking in their own space. Life in a Cloud mediates the creative journey of the artists through narrative and graphical approaches, allowing the audience particular perspectives into the artists’ daily lives and commitments to their art forms. B-side speaks to Natalie Hennedige, curator of Life in a Cloud and Festival Director Designate, Singapore International Festival of Arts 2022 – 2024. 

Image Credit: Sean Lee 

H: The artists featured in Life in a Cloud responded to the five point framework. To me this is a really intriguing art brief, how did you come up with this framework?
[The five points are: (1) Write down a dream idea in less than 1000 words; (2) Create; (3) Talk about your creation; (4) Personal Message; and (5) Gaze]

N: The five point framework offers structure. It came to me instinctively as I was conceptualizing. We find ourselves in a moment in time that’s beyond compare. Life in a Cloud tests the possibility of how artistic dialogue, exchange and collaboration can happen in a time of human separation. Writing the framework helps to focus and define the project when I approach each artist. It’s designed to liberate rather than restrict. When we spoke, we agreed that it could be applied only in as much as it was useful. The seven artists featured in Cloud are diverse in their practices and perspectives and their creations would take vastly different shapes, so the framework was there as a guide only to begin with.

Life in a Cloud tests the possibility of how artistic dialogue, exchange and collaboration can happen in a time of human separation.

H: We saw some of the behind the scenes photos of the artists’ process creating their works, these images are really inspiring and give a glimpse of the artists’ creative journey. Did the Life in a Cloud team spend a lot of time with the artists as they produced their works? Were there any memorable moments?

N: Initially we communicated remotely and the team did a lot of planning beforehand so that we would be able to maximize the limited physical time we had to do the actual filming. Sharlene is based in London so she made her work with London based collaborators, Kirsten made her work independently and Paul and Kaylene who are based in Melbourne directed actors Kay Siu and Swee Lin over zoom. The Cloud team spent a day or so filming Mrs. Bhaskar, NADA, Mr. Iskandar and Randy. They are each such innate artists and generous human beings. Open, spirited people with clear and distinct points of view on life and art, its deeply wonderful to spend time with them.

Directors Kaylene Tan and Paul Rae working with actors Lim Kay Siu and Neo Swee Lin over online video conferencing. Image credit Kiat.
The Cloud team and Natalie filming Shanta Bhaskar and dancers. Image credit Kiat.

H: The artists featured in Life in a Cloud approached creative work in a time of social distancing with different creative strategies and workflows. Is there any artist whom you think have responded to the framework in an unexpected or ingenious way?

N: The pieces are varied, emanating from each artist’s creative recess and reflecting their personal and artistic trajectories. Each work encapsulates artistic articulation in this pandemic moment, archiving the reality of the times and the manner in which artists, in this moment, continued to create and articulate, reflecting a certain resilience and dedication to art.

Iskandar Jalil ‘dreaming’ of a ‘bowl’. Image credit Kiat.

H: What do you think about the digital format as a means of presenting the arts? Would the internet browser or the smartphone application ever be an adequate stage?

N: Artists had to discover ways to pivot and adapt during this pandemic season, exploring how the digital medium could be applied so we could carry on working. Artistic discipline demands a certain constancy. There are moments in life where things happen and you just need to stop, take some space and distance. Sometimes you determine that space and time for yourself. In this case, the pandemic forced us to pause, threatening the arts space in a very direct way, disrupting the ability for us to gather together in the live encounter. The gathering of people is an essential part of being human, feeling human. Encountering art in the presence of others is an experience that cannot be replaced.  

Randy Chan weaving a structure on the wayang stage he built. Image credit Kiat.

H: The cloud people are equally enigmatic as they are anonymous. How were these characters conceptualised and designed? 

N: Over seven weeks seven Cloud chapters revealed the meditations and creations of seven artists across genres and disciplines. The chapters resided within in a website providing for a highly constructed world of dreams populated by Cloud characters. 

Dialogues between Cloud people captured seven fleeting exchanges which evoked a timeless, existential quality reverberating with biological, ecological, social, economic, and ideological turbulence. The Cloud characters sometimes reflect an innocence, sometimes something more sinister. The pandemic exposed serious problems that exist in contemporary life. Compounding inequalities. The already marginalized facing disproportionally higher mortality rates. The already economically disadvantaged collapsing back into poverty and the weak and vulnerable suffering, muted and isolated. As we endure this pandemic, our eyes have been opened to the inequalities and injustices that pervade contemporary life. When things return to a more usual state, will we keep our eyes open or look away and carry on without having be altered by this trial?

When things return to a more usual state, will we keep our eyes open or look away and carry on without having be altered by this trial?

H: If we were to imagine a future where social distancing were no longer required, what do you think the significance of Life in a Cloud could be?

N: Life in a Cloud draws its title from Cloud as a metaphor for the internet during a time where we have little choice but to transcend physical barriers with virtual modes of connectivity. It also relates to the gradual lifting of a Cloud of uncertainty as, in due time, we step into a new dawn soberer perhaps with the knowledge of what we have gone through.

The seven Life in a Cloud chapters were created and built into the Cloud website specifically for these unusual days of human separation; so that the chapters both encapsulate and unveil the myriad voices and expressions of artists that are part the Singapore arts landscape. It exists, at once, as an artistic and historical archive encapsulating creative articulation in this pandemic time.

NADA during filming of their music video Nyata & Mimpi. Image credit Kiat.

Life in a Cloud is a digital playbook of creations from seven prominent artists, each established within their respective fields. These artists have created intimate 5-7 minute video chapters offering viewers insight into their artist geneses and creations born out of this time of pandemic. To view the video chapters, visit: www.lifeinacloud.co

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