The recent Singapore Arts Festival 2012 drew more than 220,000 visitors during its 16-day run, which came to a close on June 2. The annual event organized by the Singaporean National Arts Council featured a range of events including performances, exhibitions, talks and projects.
At the Festival Village at Esplanade Park, attendees from all walks of life came to watch, participate and interpret what they saw, which was often unique. Organizers arranged both ticketed productions and a free program, all of which were carefully prepared well before the festival kicked off on May 18.
“For some of the commissions, we started discussions back in October 2009. We worked on three editions of the festival at once to get a full sense of the trilogy. This also gave us a broader scope and space to explore with a range of artists,” festival general manager Low Kee Hong said.
This year’s festival, themed “Our Lost Poems,” rounded off the trilogy that started two years ago with “Between You and Me,” which was followed by “I Want to Remember.”
During the previous two editions, the festival focused on exchanging ideas and asked visitors to recall memories, both personal and related to the history of Singapore. This year’s edition looked at myths, legends, wandering thoughts, reflections, riddles and hidden stories.
“It is a discovery of tales and aspirations that need to be told and retold — stories that inspire us, legends that have deep cultural roots, and riddles that reveal the secrets of the world,” Kee Hong said.
The artists involved in this year’s festival came an array of countries beyond Singapore, including Indonesia, India, China, New Zealand, Japan, Malaysia, Sweden and Israel.
The festival was started in 1977 to showcase the diverse communities that make up Singapore. Since then, Kee Hong said, the event has become recognized as a platform for international art.
“Of course in recent years we have shifted the gaze back to this part of the world through our extensive research and conversations with artists from Singapore and the region,” Kee Hong said.
This year, exhibits “Lear Dreaming” and “Vertical Road” wowed audiences with their impressive and innovative set designs, while personal stories from common people touched and inspired many through interactive shows such as “Ciudades Paralelas” (“Parallel Cities”).
In “Parallel Cities,” visitors enter the lives of strangers working in a hotel by listening to their stories, looking at their photos, and reading their letters. A number of rooms had been prepared to serve as stages, meant for visitors to see the lives from different angles and through the eyes of other people.
Inspiring talks from the “ConversAsians” series allowed the audience to get closer to artists who shared their personal views on life and creativity. Two Indonesian artists, gamelan composer Rahayu Supanggah and batik maestro Agus Ismoyo were among the speakers at the event. In “Dream Country — A Lost Monologue,” Malaysian dancer, choreographer, producer and educator Marion D’Cruz presented 35 female performers, each emerging soaked from an urn. The women then performed wet and interacted with water and each other on the stage.
“You are free to interpret what you see as you like. You may say it is the stages of life, from being born to the time you are gone. It is really up to your own interpretation. There is no right or wrong here because everyone may view it from a different angle,” said Michele Lim, producer of “Dream Country.”
The festival aimed at helping visitors get a better understanding on the meaning of art in general.
“The key to this is opening up discussions about the arts. This is not always easy, and we have to think of access points on a continuum. Hopefully, we can provide this through different festival touch points, be it an outreach talk or a performance in the theater or the unusual projects,” Kee Hong said. He added that the festival’s purpose was about “redefining common assumptions of what art is.”
“Everyday, we make some kind of aesthetic choice, such as deciding what to wear, our hairstyle, home furnishings. But we never see these as an artistic process. If you think about it more carefully, they do form an opinion about desire, beauty and taste,” Kee Hong said.
“Appreciation of the arts will need to begin somewhere and most likely, this is already innate. So it is really about expanding our ideas about art, about how art illuminates life.”
Despite what seemed to be a very well-organized event, Kee Hong said there were areas that could be improved.
“The review is important so that we rethink some of the fundamentals of the festival,” he said. “At this point, we don’t know exactly how yet but with the formation of a work group comprising of members from the arts community, we hope to brainstorm some interesting ideas and include them in the planning and curating of the festival [in the future].”
Kee Hong said the festival has always tried to include the participation of Singaporeans from different communities.
“We seriously feel that art cannot be an elite enterprise,” he said. “The challenge is how you can provide multiple access points to different audiences.”