Artist Journal: Being Resident at Singapore's National Design Centre

In August of 2018, I was invited to set up my art studio at The National Design Centre in Singapore. This two week period of being resident at the historic building culminated in participation in 'The Playground of Infinite Happiness' exhibition, and a permanent sculpture installed on the 2nd floor of The National Design Centre.

The piece I developed while there was called Unexpected Happiness and is now on permanent display. Also exhibited as part of the exhibition was my piece Human Archive Project.

Here are some words, images and a video from my time developing Unexpected Happiness.

About the artwork…

My time creating the installation at National Design Centre was intense, surrounded by stories of unexpected happiness. I had been working on the digital side of this project for the six months prior to working on site, collecting an archive of stories, all expressing a moment of serendipity for anonymous individuals. To do this I had used my online platform, which is the cumulative product of my creative journey with strangers' voices so far. It maps different types of human experience via the anonymous online portal, and I had designed a callout specifically for moments of ‘unexpected happiness’.

By time I got to the National Design Centre, I was full of words, other people's innermost thoughts, private moments, glimpses of the world through other people’s eyes. Time and time again I feel so privileged that people choose to share their life stories with me. The flood of emotion and human shared connection is amazing, and I think that the participants in the artwork as well as the audience of the work can sense this too.

The work I was designing was to be unveiled for the opening of a showcase at National Design Centre called ‘The playground of Happiness’, reflecting joy, happiness, rainbows and wonder. I spent a long time trying to plan how I could portray these kinds of human stories through sculpture in a meaningful way that goes beneath the superficial. However, I found a challenge that, in my Human Archive, the words which conveyed this kind of joy really only occurred in the face of something challenging. By its nature the work I do is quite cathartic to my participants, and so it leads to an honest sharing and opening up about difficult subject matters rather than day to day emotions. The rainbows and unicorns which we see adorning every t-shirt and greetings card just don’t feature in the deeper level of human emotions. This lead me to investigate those moments of unexpected joy I had collected in the Human Archive - what were they? This unexpected happiness was powerful, perhaps more meaningful than day-to-day happiness, and certainly memorable.

Unexpected happiness became the focus of research, leading to a new colourful text sculpture which was a continued narrative from my previous works at Singapore Art Museum, illuminating the ongoing journey towards happiness.

Working on site at National Design Centre…

Working in the outdoor art space at National Design Centre I was surrounded by the sound of the hot, busy city and tropical air. My spray cans rendered the text of this sculpture in layer upon layer of enamel. My work is usually metallic, neutral, or earthy in colour - telling raw stories of reflection. But for this work I took the chance to leap into colour, finding exactly the right rainbow to match the sense of euphoria these words conveyed.

One of the stories featured in the work tells a moment in the life of a woman who nearly lost her sight returning home from hospital and glimpsing the purple petals of crocus flowers in her garden, and she describes the elation and thankfulness and the wave of unexpected emotion that brought. Purple was my starting point and from that the colours flowed in relation to the stories and relation to certain icons in Singapore culture.

Souvenirs From Singapore   Book by Edwin Low, Published by Supermama Books

Souvenirs From Singapore Book by Edwin Low, Published by Supermama Books

This city is full of colourful buildings, brightly painted shophouses, and colourful objects which slowly get faded and bleached in the sun. I found a fantastic book by about the sub-culture and heritage of Singapore in a time before I lived here. In this book I found some specific rainbows which have a deep nostalgic resonance with society in Singapore :

  1. The colourful rods which were used to cane children in days gone by, at the time taking on a fearful form but in hindsight they have transformed into a nostalgic object.

  2. The memory of childhood contained in colourful sweets and rainbow magic spring toys.

  3. Colourful clothes pegs used to keep fresh clean washing from the faux pas of falling onto your neighbour’s balcony: In Singapore there is an iconic sight to behold at the back of a traditional HDB apartment block, in the form of long poles of laundry which are extended from the back of every apartment - in blocks of hundreds. From a distance it looks like a forest of flags.

Below are some images of inspiration from the book ‘Souvenirs from Singapore‘ by Edwin Low, published by Supermama Books

Installing the artwork….

The artwork’s shape was informed by the architecture of the space. Winding around a pillar. These stories kept on growing and winding, and the artwork grew outwards like a tree, filling the ceiling as well as the pillar. I enjoy the dance people do when reading words on a ceiling, following the line with upturned faces.

You can read more about this project and see images of the final artwork here

Web_Edited people looking at Unexpected Happiness.jpg