As You Were: The artists, ideas and inspiration behind Public Art Trust’s five new commissions

As You Were: The artists, ideas and inspiration behind Public Art Trust’s five new commissions

A stroll in some of Singapore’s parks now has some unusual inclusions – including a giant Marie biscuit and quirky, colourful shapes – as part of the landscape.

These five larger-than-life artworks are part of a public art showcase commissioned by the Public Art Trust titled As You Were, on display in three public parks from 12 May to 30 Oct.

The interactive installations are by seven artists, who brought their reflections from the COVID-19 pandemic and hopes of an endemic world into art and nature.

The A List spoke with the artists to learn about the inspiration behind these works, as well as the process that took them from ideation to fruition.

1. Our Dreams Must Continue by Teo Huey Ling

The quirky shapes of Our Dreams Must Continue are reminiscent of speech bubbles, flowers, and leaves. They pop out from the ground in an attempt to tease the viewer’s perception.
The quirky shapes of Our Dreams Must Continue are reminiscent of speech bubbles, flowers, and leaves. They pop out from the ground in an attempt to tease the viewer’s perception.

What was the inspiration behind using vivid colours in the artwork?

I view the work as a lyrical ballad narrating emotions and feelings conveyed through a composition of colours and forms.

In each work, a dominant colour is represented and the colours have different associations: the greens for regenerating, the blues for calm and trust, the pinks/oranges for sensitivity and cordiality, and the yellows for hope and happiness.

Teo Huey Ling, the artist behind Our Dreams Must Continue.
Teo Huey Ling, the artist behind Our Dreams Must Continue.

How do you hope colours, shapes, and nature can help the public in moving forward in the pandemic?

On an evening walk, one can hear the children laughing nearby while strolling through the bridge to encounter the artwork placed amid the tranquillity of nature.

I hope visitors can take a halt to view the dream bubbles with carefreeness, immerse in the surroundings and let the aspect of colours and shapes tell their dreamy tales, taking away a sense of well-being as we navigate away from the pandemic.

2. Small Moments by Daniel Chong

Daniel Chong, the artist behind Small Moments, intended a giant half-eaten Marie biscuit as both a metaphor for togetherness, the past and perhaps the absurd nature of holding on.
Daniel Chong, the artist behind Small Moments, intended a giant half-eaten Marie biscuit as both a metaphor for togetherness, the past and perhaps the absurd nature of holding on.

What would you say was the inspiration for this work?

Small Moments is an artwork about the brief unassuming moments underappreciated before the pandemic, and the ones we yearn for now. As Singapore finds ways to open up, we as individuals find ourselves renegotiating the ideas of togetherness as we find new ways to manage our relationships.

The work looks at small moments that, in light of the pandemic, can no longer be as they were. Examples include sharing food, our relationship with eating out, and shared spaces of social activity. It attempts to use the biscuit as that metaphor and by enlarging it and placing it in a space of social activity, hopes to bring these points of challenge and contention through in a humorous and fun manner for all generations.

What was the process of creating this piece, from ideation to creation and completion like?

The choice of biscuit was really for the memories we hold of it. The Marie biscuit is something instantly recognisable yet also not often thought about. I’d like to think it represents things we think as they once were that we took for granted before the pandemic.

The bite is quite important to me. It signifies that other person, whom you share food with, whom you hang out with. Here, the importance of their presence is in the gesture of sharing food, a space that has been at the heart of contention for many Singaporeans. I also like that at times, when the time of day is different, it also signifies absence. It feels like it has been left and abandoned, yet yearning for that person to come back.

Daniel Chong, the artist behind Small Moments.
Daniel Chong, the artist behind Small Moments.

What is the significance of placing this artwork at Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park?

It was the only place in my mind where this idea of a picnic and social gatherings felt the most obvious pre-pandemic.

At its core, Small Moments is about connection. Placed within the park, the biscuit looks almost like a leftover snack from a prior picnic. Here it is blown up to mark and monumentalise the small moments of connection in this wide open field. It mirrors both the utility of the park and its importance as a space for social gathering. It wouldn’t feel the same elsewhere.

3. Can You Hear Me? by Quek Jia Qi & Aaron Lim

The artists took inspiration from the cup-and-string telephone, a childhood game they played before they had even heard of mobile phones.
The artists took inspiration from the cup-and-string telephone, a childhood game they played before they had even heard of mobile phones.

Why choose this particular game out of many other childhood games?

Before technology, we fondly recall making do with what we have and inventing our own toys with simple everyday objects. The game reminds us to find joy in the little things and not take them for granted. Being able to use the telephone to talk and listen to someone, even if the person is just a few miles away.

Aaron Lim (left) and Quek Jia Qi, the artists behind Can You Hear Me?
Aaron Lim (left) and Quek Jia Qi, the artists behind Can You Hear Me?  

What do you hope to drive across to those who come across this work?

We wanted to rekindle listening as a way of being, knowing, and caring for the world around us. Taking inspiration from the childhood cup-and-string telephone, we wanted people to revisit and relearn the art of listening.

It is easy to tune out the noise or zone out while going about our daily routines in an urban space. For this reason, we had deliberately made one cup bigger than the other: one cup requires more attention to listen while the other requires less effort to hear. We hope our work can recapture their attention to slow down, engage with the instrument with child-like curiosity and find some respite in today’s fast-paced living.

How has creating this work helped you both personally in exercising more active listening?

Our work has been a catalyst for us to connect with our audience, as much as it is an instrument for our audience to connect with nature and each other. When creating this work, our setup piqued the curiosity of park-goers to come forward and share with us the stories of their pandemic journey and reminisce about their childhood. We loved listening to their anecdotes.

4. Afloat by Ang Song Nian

Afloat is on display at Punggol Waterway Park.
Afloat is on display at Punggol Waterway Park.

What was the inspiration behind this installation?

The face mask, as one of the most synonymous items in the last three years of the COVID-19 pandemic, inspired me to conceptualise the idea for Afloat. I started to think a lot more about how I would visualise or imagine the face mask as not just an object that provided protection, but also a symbol of solidarity and unity in working towards a common goal of overcoming the situation.

It took several iterations before I arrived at the final design, though I was very sure from the start that the work had to compose of the two main motifs – the paper boat and the face mask.

Ang Song Nian, the artist behind Afloat.
Ang Song Nian, the artist behind Afloat.

What do you hope the public will take away with them after seeing this piece of work?

That art can be accessible, fun to look at and be around, and can really just be anywhere and everywhere.

5. n o o n (at play) by Hazel Lim and Adeline Kueh

The artwork is part of the artists’ ongoing love and interest in palindromes. The pair wanted to incorporate a visual palindrome into the design by way of creating symmetries and balance.
The artwork is part of the artists’ ongoing love and interest in palindromes. The pair wanted to incorporate a visual palindrome into the design by way of creating symmetries and balance.

Your artwork took inspiration from the Sanskrit word Lila, and the golden leather fern. How did that come about?

Kueh: With the different stages of isolation and lockdown during the pandemic, the notion of play became increasingly important for both Hazel and I, especially when working from home meant that we were subjected to a continuous loop of endless work, and the line between work and play/rest became blurred.

We are drawn to the idea of balance and want to embody that in the work. Lila is a Hindu concept of (divine) play, of being carefree and spontaneous, and we wish for that idea to be encapsulated in this work, where the literal balance of the seesaw can be completed only by playing with another person. The concept of n o o n is reflected also in the design of the sundial and here the structure of the seesaw is a direct representation of noon – the time of the day when day and night is equal.

What can you tell us about how the installation and its surroundings complement each other?

Lim: We hope that the viewers will notice that n o o n  is positioned to echo the architectural features, by way of the parallel lines (with the bridge across) and the accents of colours from the surroundings. 

The concept of balance is not only represented through the physical design of the seesaws but also in the usage of the seesaws, as it is a structure where play can be activated or ignited if there are two players. We want the n o o n to be a site for meaningful connection, where one will not play in isolation, and to put the focus on the haptic and the tactile. 

Adeline Kueh (left) and Hazel Lim, the artists behind n o o n (at play).
Adeline Kueh (left) and Hazel Lim, the artists behind n o o n (at play).

What do you hope people will take away from viewing this artwork?

Kueh: Essentially, the work is about a kind of remembrance – in that human-nature relationship as well as paying tribute to the overlooked nature in our midst. We really want this work to be a site where people can play and at the same time, build or rebuild relationships with others.

(Photos: Isaiah Cheng, Teo Huey Ling, National Arts Council, Daniel Chong)

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