The M1 Singapore Fringe Festival pushes the boundaries of art through beguiling formats and thought-provoking concepts
|PHOTO COURTESY OF FELICIA LOW|
Go on, take a sniff. No, this is not a sales pitch from a perfume counter staff at a departmental store, but an invitation by Japanese olfactory artist Maki Ueda to re-experience Singapore through the nose—savory hawker stall aromas, salty breezes, stinking garbage and all. Titled Aromascape Of Singapore, her exhibition is one of the highlights of the M1 Singapore Fringe Festival, an annual festival curated by The Necessary Stage that spans genres of theater, dance, music, visual arts, mixed media and more. TNS was founded in 1987 as a non-profit theater company which aims to create challenging, indigenious and innovative theater that touches the heart and mind.
Into its seventh year now, the festival seeks to trigger discussion and innovation by bringing together artwork that engages an increasingly complex and connected world. Translation: expect the unexpected. This year, it features a total of 18 works by artists from 10 countries, with the theme Art And Education—an exploration of how art can be used as a tool to educate, not through a one-way exchange but through active engagement and discourse. Previous themes have included Art And War, as well as Art And The Law.
“The theme is chosen such that it encourages us to view an issue in a new light, so, for example, ‘art and education’ does not only refer to art education, that is, the techniques and applications of art in the school context, but it encompasses the different perspectives to the relationship between art and education,” says TNS’ founder and artistic director Alvin Tan. Going a step further, some of the works deal with artists themselves undergoing education through his or her artistic process.
An example of this can be seen in Inclusively Yours, a collaborative visual art project by Singaporean visual arts educator Felicia Low where merchandising staff from ION Orchard learned to communicate with adults who have special needs and make their sales pitch to them about their shop’s products.
|PHOTO COURTESY OF MAKIUEDA|
The resulting writings and pictures produced by the participants are then turned into advertisements for the mall, thus creating alternative forms of advertising based on personal opinions of those whose voices seldom, if ever, matter to the public. Not only does it demolish traditional perceptions about the “qualifications” one needs to have to produce art, it raises issues of accessibility, educational spaces and public engagement. Through her work, Low hopes to shed light on the “potential abilities that persons with special needs have within them, should external possibilities and opportunities be made available to them.”
Other works include Kolkata-based photographer Achinto Bhadra’s photo exhibition titled Another Me: Transformations From Pain To Power, which features girls and women who survived trafficking, abuse and abandonment. Through Bhadra’s cathartic photography shoots, conducted at a Kolkata-based girls’ shelter, the survivors were guided by counselors to narrate their stories and translate their innermost emotions into an image of themselves in their mind’s eye for the camera, as they journey toward healing, reconciliation and hope.
|PHOTO COURTESY OF LITTLE DROM STORE|
Closer to home, The School Of Hard Knocks, presented by Singaporean collective, the little dröm store, takes a whimsical yet interesting look at how the playgrounds of yesteryears provided us with life lessons, effectively taking a dig at the current types of “safe” and “protected” playgrounds.
Tan’s tip for getting the most out of what the festival has to offer: go with an open mind. “As arts festival that aims to be socially engaged, it deals with issues deeply and thus, some can be disturbing. Some issues presented in these works may have no apparent connection to our everyday lives—the relationships only become clearer after we engage with the work and connect the dots ourselves. Most of the works facilitate experiences but avoid being programmatic—they provoke thoughts but leave the viewers to come to their own conclusions and make their own stands on the issues; art enriches by inviting participation, not by being prescriptive,” concludes Tan.
With the growth of the local arts scene in recent years, evident from the increase of new arts groups and growing audience numbers filling up new arts venues, it seems that Singaporeans are indeed ready to be challenged by art that goes beyond the four walls of an art gallery.
The M1 Singapore Fringe Festival is from Jan. 5 to 16 at various venues. Log on to www.singaporefringe.com for more information. Free admission to selected works; ticketed works are from S$19 onwards through SISTIC.