Art Garden @ Singapore Art Museum (SAM at 8Q)
18 May to 12 August 2012
Update (20 May): I went again the 2nd day, 19 May. It was free entry. I am pleased to report that there have been some changes made to make activities more accessible and safer for kids. They changed out the tall table for a shorter one at the clay magnet station. However, they removed ‘sand art’ for some vague ‘safety’ reason. Paper folding activity was shifted out of the ‘Grow A Garden’ and ‘5QU1D’ room to a separate room on Level 4. Not sure why but perhaps it was to accomodate the large crowds anticipated for open house. They didn’t give out tissue paper strips for rose making already.
(note: All my photos are on my mom’s camera. She loaned me her compact for use but took it home with her. I’ll update this with my photos once I get the camera from her this weekend. But am posting this for all you eager-beaver moms!)
Together with 7 children and 4 other mothers from my son’s kindergarten, Lee (3.5yo ) and I made it down to the Art Garden the very first afternoon it was opened on 18 May. Being a Friday afternoon during school term, the exhibition was relatively quiet with a handful of other families and a class of primary school students visiting. So we pretty much had the place to ourselves and that allowed the children and us to explore and engage in the art viewing and activity stations at a comfortable pace without any squeeze.
I personally avoid going on free admission days because
1. I hate crowds
2. I feel that some space and relative quiet allows young visitors and their parents to more fully experience the art pieces, discuss and reflect on what they are viewing.
3. I believe in paying for art admission because c’mon, they are already underfunded in my opinion and it’s a cause I want to support.
About The Event
In its 3rd consecutive year, this event organized by the SAM aims at making art accessible to children. It touts itself as being “the only exhibition in Singapore dedicated to showcasing art suitable for children” and “addresses topical and open-ended issues” . A range of contemporary artworks by both Singaporean and international artists are featured with commissioned pieces by local artists. Also included in this are screenings of short films and animations by emerging filmmakers commissioned by SM ad animated shorts by Singaporean youth for the N.E.mation competition. (For non-Singaporean readers, N.E. stands for national education that endeavours to imbue our young with national pride and love for our country).
Our Overall Response to Art Garden
Our little gang was an interesting mix of 3 to 6 year olds, almost equal proportion of boys and girls, as well as nationalities with 1 Indonesian and 1 Taiwanese (who cannot speak English), and 3 Singaporean families. We also had 3 moms who are trained teachers – 2 of us have a background in drama. But none of us have much art-training or knowledge.
I’m sharing the make-up of our group because I think who we are has influenced the way we processed the art. My two other Singapore friends had been to every year of the Art Garden season since its inception, while I have only been to the first in 2010.
(I shall try really hard not to get too technical about what works and what didn’t from an educator’s perspective. I probably will do that in another post. Hee.)
Whee! Here goes.
FROM THE CHILDREN…
What our kids enjoyed ( favourite exhibits and activities):
# ‘Let’s Dance’ by Emilie Fouillox and ‘Reactive Wall’ by Mojoko & Shang Lian ( Level 3)
Our children seemed to have the most fun here. Let’s Dance unleashed the performers and somewhat-exhibitionistic/ego-centric tendencies in them. They just absolutely loved performing in front of camera and then watching themselves on a real TV screen, as part of a montage outside the ‘dance filming’ studio.
I personally didn’t like the music options for the dance studio recording much. I forgot to take down the list of songs. I do sort of recall Shakira, Christina Aguilera on the list. We chose ‘Sugar, Sugar’ for the kids. The music choices could have included different music genres that would allow a range of emotive movement responses e.g. a classical piece like Beethovan’s Symphony No. 5, a popular children’s tune. The effect of different music on the visitors’ movements might also make for interesting juxtaposition of images.
There was ‘mass hysteria’ in that room as the kids ran between that and ‘Reactive Wall’ where there was just no stopping them from screaming into the microphone. ( 19 May: I overheard a parent say “Would you like to go and scream into the microphone now?” Hmm.)Oh my! The poor teenaged guide did have quite a time trying to do so while we mommies did our best to have them try various vocal ranges and volume but there is just something about screaming kids just dig. ‘Reactive Wall’ is a great visual explanation of the ‘cause and effect’ concept. However, I wonder about the symbolism of the images used in the montage and about the artist’s choice of images, and how they resonate with the children.
As far as interactivity, I say the artist needs to think a little harder about how to get the children to temper their excitement at the opportunity to ‘scream’ so that they can observe the correlation between their voices and variance of images.
# ‘Grow a Garden in the Dark’ by Tan Bee Aye, and ‘5Quid’ by Ryf (Level 4)
Another ‘dark room’ activity. We hung out here for quite a while since the kids enjoyed doing the origami folding of leaves and flowers, and contributing their handiwork to the installation piece. The real draw was how the UV lights in the garden made them and their clothes change colours.
At the 5QU1D (a light scultpure that resembles a squid), they were mesmerized by the changing of lights as they jumped madly before it, even if they didn’t get the artist’s intention of making them ‘feel’ caged up like animals, . The story of how this creature escaped to watch them in their ‘tank’ quite flew over their heads. I just wished the sensor wasn’t so high, and far away from the kids.
# Activity Room (Level 2)
They got to make a floral pattern using sand and paper (follow-up activity based on ‘Echoes-Infinity-The Forest’, Level 1) and clay magnets using everyday objects like clothes pegs, keys to press on pre-shaped mounds.There was also a stamping station. While rather simple, the kids enjoyed them. However, they really need to get some sturdy stools for shorter kids to stand at the clay magnet station. Mammut stools are too dangerous.
# ‘Dress Me Up’ by Justin Lee (Level 3)
These large-sized cloth versions of old-fashioned paper dolls were quite absorbing for the kids. A pair of Eurasian boys who were probably about 5 and 7 were busy running about just sticking and changing the outfits, faces and shoes. So if boys that old enjoy this, there is something to be said about the success of the artistic concept. Height at which some of the ‘child’ outlines were placed posed a problem for all the kids that were there. Maybe it’s intentional so that the kids cannot do it without the aid of the adult, but it can get a tad annoying for a child.
# Film Screenings, Moving Image Gallery (Level 2)
3 half-hour sets of short films in a very cool, dark room. Kids veg out in front of the big screen while moms sink into the fat, plush couches at the back. What’s not to love? Warning: Do this as the very last stop in case your kid never wants to leave.
# Everyday Wonders by Loh Sau Kuen (Level 2)
While a very interesting concept about how daily objects like the clothes peg, and parts of a correction tape holder can be used to make art, the placement of the art pieces just about killed it for our kids (and some of them were at least 1.1m tall). Plus, the no-touch rule meant that the kids could not really view any of the small clay pieces close enough to observe the intricacies and textures rendered on them by the daily objects.
Ways to get around this? Create a viewing station where designated number of pieces can be handled and viewed by children using handheld magnifying glasses. Put those teeny pieces and the art tools behind Perspex covers so that at least they can get close enough to view them. They cannot see them; let alone be able to guess which part of the peg is making the imprint.
And please, get the target audience height ranges right!
# The Art of Imagination by Justin Lee (Level 3)
I loved the little brown boxes stored in the custom-made pigeon-holes. Visitors are free to slide any box out to stencil and decorate with. Pity there weren’t little surprises in the boxes we found or could add too. Anyway, for some reason, the kids in our gang seemed to give this a miss and headed for the Dress Me Up. I only spotted a (stranger) mom in there decorating a box while her daughter played happily in Dress Me Up.
# Kakhe by Speak Cryptic, along staircase walls (Levels 1 – 4)
Okay, I was honestly weirded out by these. I checked with some of my mom friends too, and we couldn’t quite see how this art fitted in the Garden. Never mind that there were strange words that we didn’t understand. But the illustrations themselves seemed rather dark and ominous…and for me, freaky. If you do/did go, tell me your thoughts on this.
Sure, kids love repetition. But to have not one but 2 repeated exhibits in two consecutive years, with another from a recent outdoor art show, that makes about 3 repeats. There may be some artistic message here, or do I smell some budget issues? I just hope it’s not due to a lack of imagination.
We adults so totally loved this (but not so the kids):
# Echoes-Infinity-The Forest, by Shinji Ohmaki (Level 1)
The white carpet of the room was painstakingly dusted with coloured crystalline powder to create an intricate composition of nature-inspired motifs. 10 days of painstaking work! We had to wear booties (think CSI white types), and we were told not to run but to walk slowly. It was such a beautiful Zen exercise for me. The impermanence of life on earth. To remember to stop and admire, appreciate beauty. Such an exquisite experiential and philosphical piece of art.
The kids were quite fascinated by the construction of the motifs on the ground and naturally, wanted to touch them. But …”DO NOT TOUCH!” And that seemed to spoil the fun and interest for them somewhat.
While the kids showed they could exercise restraint, we moms wondered if such cautions were necessary.
Could having children touching and moving however their instincts lead them to do so be seen and welcomed as a different interaction with the artwork instead of deemed as ‘inappropriate’? How can we balance ourselves between teaching appropriate art appreciation/interaction etiquette and creating art that leverages on the natural instincts and curiosities of children?
Nonetheless, I so love this work that I would like to go back there again just for this. I did the very next day. As anticipated, most of the work had faded and only the pattern stains were left. The staff told me that the artist is scheduled for another recreation in July. So if you go before then, at least you know your kids won’t have to hear the phrases ‘Do not touch’ and ‘Do not run’.
What we wished could be better
#1 . Height placement of art pieces:
I once read this very sound advice from somewhere. When working with children, especially the young ones, get down on your knees, get down to their level. I think that the artists and curators need to be more sensitive toward their young audience needs. Learning to see things from their height level is a very good place to start understanding how the artwork can be best displayed for them.
#2. Being touchy about being touchy:
The general consensus among us was that the exhibits have become a bit more kid-friendly with most things being touch-able. But there is still room for improvement because kids are really tactile by nature. Could we have artwork which allow for greater touch experiences?
I do believe that we should educate our children on museum and art viewing etiquette. However, I feel this does not be at the expense of working against their instinctive need for tactile and vestibular experiences.
#3. Kid-friendly Captions & Introduction to Pieces:
These are still quite adult-ish and wordy. I would like to see Walter the white bunny ‘hopping along’ with the kids as they go around the museum to discover the art pieces. (Think Walter paw prints trailing along. Walter peeking out unlikely corners. Walter narrating the stories behind the art.)
#4. Get feedback from the real target visitors themselves (and address them)
As my mom friend puts it, they really need to get a panel of advisors of kids and parents of kids in their target range to get some feedback. Even a written feedback channel would help. I didn’t seem to spot a visitor feedback form while there today.
My two friends who were there last year with their kids mentioned that they had given feedback about the height placement, but it seems that for some like the Dress me up, the pieces seemed to be still at the height they were last year – too high.
#5. Get on their knees
As I mentioned before, our adult perspectives and understanding of how children navigate through spaces and activities can change dramatically when we drop down to our knees. Coming from a really short woman, I advocate this wholeheartedly…because I’ve tried it and it does make me see things from my children and students’ point of view better.
My Personal Wish: An Activity Kit
I just wished there was some sort of activity kit for parents and children. Something that could be either used as a navigational/exploration guide at the museum or as follow-on home activity pack. I’m not sure if SAM has an activity pack for primary school kids, but I will be emailing them to ask.
Anyhow, since I didn’t see any while I was there…and you know me and my occupational
obsessions hazards, I promised you on Facebook and so I shall be preparing and sharing with you my very own, The Playful Parents’ Art Garden 2012 Artventure Activity Pack. I will do this in stages, but I hope to get it all done within the next two weeks so that you can use them with your kids. TPP Art Garden Artventure Pack is ready fo download! Click on previous link above to get it!
Meanwhile, if you plan to check out the Art Garden, read this other post about Exploring the Art Garden 2012.
First Update 20 May 2012.
All images and opinions are mine, unless stated otherwise.