Children's art show goes interactive in Singapore

An interactive exhibition in Singapore is capturing the imagination of children and parents alike

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 07 April, 2015, 6:08am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 07 April, 2015, 6:08am

My nine-year-old son is perched on a stationary bicycle in the middle of an art gallery, pumping his legs furiously as he leans forward to go up an imaginary hill. His effort pays off: kinetic energy is converted into electricity, and, suddenly, wall panels light up with the text: "The energy you generate came from the sun."

The room erupts in oohs and aahs from onlookers.

Titled Greenroom II: Interstellar Overdrive, the installation is made up of bicycles hooked to generators, which power LED lights and even a record player.

Created by Vincent Twardzik Ching, it is part of Imaginarium: A Voyage of Big Ideas, a contemporary art exhibition for children staged at the Singapore Art Museum until July 19.

The Canadian-born artist was inspired by the exhibition poster featuring a whimsical image of two children rowing a crescent moon across the night sky. Mulling on the source of light energy, he created the installation where "investment of your own energy becomes something you can see".

The bikes are configured so parent-and-child can cycle side by side and make things happen, such as causing "starlight" to twinkle overhead.

Ching, who has two young daughters, says he designed Greenroom II for families. "Kids are already imaginative. I was thinking more of adults. I wanted them to ride together and feel the same mystery."

"When you hear 'Imaginarium' you think of a room with infinite possibilities," says its curator Rachel Ng.

The aim of the show is to spark in children a "love and interest in what art is and what art can be," she says. "They can be part of the artwork and create, and feel empowered by that. It's important to let kids gain confidence through their interaction with the artwork."

Seven commissioned works were inspired by the crescent moon on the Singapore national flag - a nod to the country's 50th anniversary celebrations. Works were chosen to feature different aesthetics and modes of learning. These range from a room where children can fold origami and write letters to the moon, to Greenroom II, which "gets the audience pumped up, literally," while thinking about our place in the universe, Ng says.

Singaporean artist Chiang Yu Xiang has created an installation that is part playground and part ode to public housing estates. We Built This Estate! features charming murals, as well as cushion blocks that kids can lug around and arrange to their hearts' desire. The idea is to give young children a taste of what it is like to be architects and builders.

Izziyana Suhaimi, another emerging artist, emphasises hands-on experience with Let's Make! Studio, in which children are taught how to make pom-poms and small objects using yarn and textiles, before hanging the results on the walls to create a larger collective tapestry.

Some works, such as Japanese artist Takashi Kuribayashi's Trees, require quiet contemplation, rather than manic interaction. Using a tree that had been chopped down in a development project, he encased cut-out sections in glass cases filled with plant detritus from across Singapore, then reassembled the boxes into the shape of a tree. Each box is a terrarium, decaying, changing and giving rise to new ecosystems through the duration of the show.

"It's very sleek, modern and contemporary," says Ng. "It really captures the imagination at a single glance."

Trees is an atypical work in the show, however. Artworks aimed at children generally have to be very durable, Ng says. "Children may not know how to handle artworks. So, for them to immerse themselves in the work, it has to stand up to wear and tear."

Another challenge of curating art for children, she says, is that texts and other materials have to be shorter, for ease of understanding as well as fleeting attention spans. In place of long explanations, the team opted to draw youngsters into the works using guiding questions, such as "What is your relationship with nature?"

Ultimately, though, the artists behind the Imaginarium installations hope to captivate both adults and children.

Sri Lankan artist Kumkum Fernando's mixed media installation is a prime example. Kiko's Secrets features three huts, each containing surreal details to be discovered: oversized plastic eggs, Day-Glo kaleidoscopic patterns and windows that open to reveal strange insects. An activity wall nearby invites visitors to complete the abstract body of a fish by hanging "scales" of plastic tags.

"It's a tribute to a childhood friend of mine," says Fernando, 30, of his work. "All the secrets we shared when we were kids, I've put it into the work."

Fernando doesn't believe that art should be specially tailored for youngsters: "It's how you make it interesting to them."

Kiko's Secrets is certainly as intricate and labour-intensive as any installation: his insect creatures, for example, comprise more than 500 antique watches that took 10 people more than 1,000 hours to construct.

Now in its fifth year, the children's exhibition, previously named Art Garden, took its new name to mark the museum's new identity as a limited company

Imaginarium has already attracted fans of past editions.

Brand marketer Kristina Liu, 38, says she first took her son, now six, and daughter, four, to Art Garden in 2013. "Singapore Art Museum does a good job getting children interested in art and to explore," she says.

French expatriate and technopreneur Carrie Nooten and her two children, aged seven and three, are huge fans. They have seen all the shows, and visited each edition at least three times. "They want to go around according to their own rhythm," Nooten says.

Acquiring an appreciation of art will give her children the freedom to experiment in future, she says. "With creativity, they will always find solutions; they will never be stuck. And it's cool that this nurturing of young art lovers is happening in Singapore."