Meet Bao Songyu: Call him a maker-designer, not an artist
Bao Songyu’s recent Afterman: Synthesis Lab exhibition centred on a future set in the year 2222, and allowed visitors to explore a speculative herbarium containing mutated specimens with composite features.

Meet Bao Songyu: Call him a maker-designer, not an artist

The first thing one should know about Bao Songyu is this: think of him as a maker-designer, not an artist.

This is despite how the Singapore-based creator incorporates kineticism and 3D printing in his installations that explore deep topics like the future of humans.

Or the fact that he was the inaugural recipient of the NTU Global Art Prize in 2019 for his final year project, and has had his works exhibited at the ArtScience Museum and National Gallery Singapore.

Bao, now pursuing a master’s degree at Nanyang Technological University’s School of Art, Design and Media, much prefers to not be the one to decide if his creation should be considered “art” or not.

Bao’s first major work, Museums of Marine Life 2119, won him the inaugural NTU Global Art Prize and went on to exhibit at the Ocean Flower Island Museum in Hainan, China.
Bao’s first major work, Museums of Marine Life 2119, won him the inaugural NTU Global Art Prize and went on to exhibit at the Ocean Flower Island Museum in Hainan, China.

Before his introduction to 3D printing at Nanyang Polytechnic, he had no previous exposure or experience in art. His interest in 3D modelling led him to robotics, and, over time, evolved into a creative process that inspired him to design and create fantastical specimens imagined from the future.

His recent exhibition Afterman: Synthesis Lab was part of the eighth edition of Art Encounters. In the show, he transported visitors to the year 2222, using 3D printing and robotics to imagine a world in the future where customised gene editing exists. Exhibits were composite features from various animals, plants, and fungi – all prototypes “grown” by Bao.

His choice of 3D printing as a medium is unique in the world of art and creation, but it was also a conscious choice so that his creative process is optimised.

Bao used 3D printing and robotics to create specimens in Afterman: Synthesis Lab, which was part of this year’s Art Encounters on Orchard Road.
Bao used 3D printing and robotics to create specimens in Afterman: Synthesis Lab, which was part of this year’s Art Encounters on Orchard Road.

He told The A List: “I like the versatility of it and how I can experiment and tweak design relatively fast and cheaply as compared to other mediums such as metal or wood.”

Bao takes a particular interest in helping people walk away from his creations with an appetite for making and creating themselves. In fact, he made himself available at the exhibition to guide visitors and help them create their own hybrid specimens by assembling parts he “grew”.

To him, art is diverse and has endless possibilities, and more importantly, is for everyone.

“Art can come in many forms: experiential, performance, conceptual, abstract, theatre, sports, and recreation. Combining these categories with a wide range of materials, the possibilities are endless,” he says.

A “sea turtle” specimen from the Museum of Marine Life 2119 exhibition.
A “sea turtle” specimen from the Museum of Marine Life 2119 exhibition.

The A List spoke to Bao Songyu to understand more about his journey.

You don’t like to be called an artist and prefer to be known as a maker-designer. Why is this so – is there a backstory there?

I remember people introducing me as an artist. The term “artist” was so overused that most will follow up with “so what kind of art do you do?” to which I will reply, “I design and make things”. Thus, a maker-designer.

I always preferred to be known as a maker-designer over an artist because considering if work is artistic or not is not up to me to decide. It’s from the perspective of the viewer. Imagine a driver who performs a stunt in the middle of a road, some people would see it as art while others argue that it’s a skill. Subjectively, anything can be art. Objectively, not anyone can be a stuntman. 

What is something not many know about you and/or that you wish more knew about you?

Sometimes I ask my Mom to help me with the production of work when I am overwhelmed. Huge credits to my Mom who always chooses to help me over her other interests!

How or where do you get inspiration? What about when you’re a little low on inspiration – what do you do? 

Most of my inspiration comes from reading and surprisingly, walking at 6am to nowhere. If I am out of ideas, I go for a hike or walk.

What are some of your takeaways from the recent Afterman: Synthesis Lab event?

Most people appreciated the “build your specimen” experience and asked if there are other shows where they get to experience the process of art-making. That led me to understand that there is still a huge demand in the Singapore art scene for interactive and experiential works.

Bao’s work explores the problems of ecology, natural phenomena, and the future of humans.
Bao’s work explores the problems of ecology, natural phenomena, and the future of humans.

What would you say to your younger self – the one right at the start of this whole journey? 

Strive for quality and enjoyment will follow; strive for quantity and time will be wasted.

Among your projects and creations so far, what would you say is one that has left the greatest impression on you or has meant the most to you? Why? 

I would say it’s the upcoming one. I have been producing it with my mentor for the past year. I cannot reveal the work yet. Why? Because I learned so much from him: production techniques, mechanical considerations, design for transport, electronics compatibility, communication between machines and of course, some life lessons.

What do you aim to convey through your creations?

For all my works, I aim to create “things” that are seemingly not from this world and bring some amusement to myself and the audience (if there’s any).

Rarely do I see people make or create things – most of the time, we are consuming content. So in Afterman, I hope to invite the taste of creation back to people. 

What is up next for you in Afterman (Data) and what can we expect from it?

Afterman (Data) will feature a data visualisation of the responses I collected during Afterman Synthesis, as well as all of the node designs I created for Afterman.

(Photos: Colin Wan, Bao Songyu)

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