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ArtScience: A Journey Through Creativity - permanent exhibition

ArtScience: A Journey Through Creativity - permanent exhibition

17 February 2011
The ArtScience Museum
Singapore, SG

Travelling the Silk Road exhibition

19 February-27 March 2011

The ArtScience Museum
Singapore, SG

Museum website: http://www.marinabaysands.com/singapore-entertainment/activities/art-science-museum/

Reviewed by Stella Veciana
Research Arts Institute
Berlin, Germany

sv@researcharts-institute.org

The first ArtScience Museum of the world recently opened in Singapore. It has evoked strong public curiosity but also controversy. The museum is comprised of an exhibition space of over 4,600 square meters distributed among 21 galleries over four floors. The symbolic framework of the museum is embedded in an architectural form reminiscent of a lotus flower. It is intended to represent "The Welcoming Hand of Singapore". The corresponding 10 "fingertips" of the welcoming hand are open windows to the skylight. Natural light illuminates the impressive curved interior walls if the curtains are not closed, as during the inaugural shows. However, Moshe Safdie also knows how to integrate his innovative principles of sustainable design into the original symbolic forms of the museum’s architecture. For example, the central atrium at the roof of the building allows rainwater to channel into a reflecting pool and, in this way, recycle it for use in the building’s restrooms.

Within this environmentally friendly space the museum aspires to become "the heart of the growing ArtScience movement," as announced in the visitors’ guide. A permanent exhibition "ArtScience: A Journey Through Creativity" presents the core philosophy of the museum. Furthermore, three renowned international touring exhibits illustrate the corresponding key concepts. The main idea of the permanent exhibition focuses on the "power of creativity" of the ArtScience field to be subdivided into three galleries: Curiosity, Inspiration and Expression. The "journey through creativity" starts along a staircase where some general questions are projected on the wall: "Are the artistic and scientific processes so different? What possibilities arise from the merging of the two?". Once upstairs the main foyer is dedicated to the "Curiosity" area where a few drafts drawn by Safdie, the museum's model, and some public feed-back monitors are placed: "Where do great works of art or science begin? Do they originate from a common source, or do they spring from distinct places on the landscape of mind?".

Turning right to the "Inspiration" gallery, the visitor encounters big kinetic inventions hanging from the ceiling as the MIT developed robotic fish that perhaps will help one day to inspect pipelines. On several touch screen monitors, short descriptions of "great ArtScience ideas" from a few almost too well known "ArtScientists" as Leonardo or Einstein can be searched for. Once selected, the information on the monitor gets projected on a curved 60-meter high wall to be shared with other visitors. More interactive touch screens should inspire the visitors to create and send by Internet "their own work of ArtScience", as email postcards to be made out of some preset forms. Finally, the Expression gallery presents a six-minute long promotional video as an "emotional and impassioned demonstration" of how artists and scientists have made their ideas real and how common themes have emerged out of their practices. An example is the "Curiosity" about the "machinery of nature" that becomes it's "expression" in a mechanical horse and cart created by Lu Ban, a photographic technique to study movement developed by Eadweard Muybridge or a walking sculpture build by Theo Jansen.

Besides the permanent show, the first three "temporal blockbuster shows" that have been on display simultaneously are "Travelling the Silk Road," "Shipwrecked: Tang Treasures and Monsoon Winds," and "Genghis Khan: The Exhibition."  All three exhibits were intended to evidence the idea of "cross-roads" by visualizing the contrasting parameters of east - west, past - present and art - science. For instance, the Silk Road show organized by the American Museum of Natural History in collaboration with many other international museums started with some stuffed camels inviting the visitor to follow the trading route of east - west exchange. The show cases were also conventionally arranged as in almost any Folklore or Ethnography Museum. The dark illumination in the galleries accentuated fancy but trivial floor projections and sadly enough ended up dissolving in its shadows any hint of architectural reciprocity with the show. Probably more than in any other standard interactive media driven exhibit design, here the high tech approach is focused on simulating the integration of the exotic or unknown in an all encasing experience. It becomes evident by the way the metaphor of the "cross-roads" of exchange or mutual learning gets loaded emotionally and how this historical antecedent proposes an enthusiastic view over the main theme of the museum: "the fusion of art and science".

Briefly, the Silk Road exhibit constitutes a collectively well-known unique cultural heritage theme. In fact, it is not the actual content, but the emotional experience of this travel, that is reinforced. And this emotional experience is based on a common interpretation ground of symbols that plays within an always contrasting conceptual framework, as east - west. The contrast is actually increased by restoring a past, distant, exotic, foreign human activity to a present, proximate, close and almost touchable all encasing experience. In conclusion, we can assume that the much acclaimed new parameters to define an innovative ArtScience Museum are actually borrowed from the modern theme parks design. Sure enough, these key characteristics have already been developed in the 19th century for envisioning the first World's Fairs. Its strategy embraces a universal theme as a playground to combine amusement and emotional involvement with international trade, cultural exchange and technical fascination. All three temporal shows follow these parameters in a similar way.

Not that this should come as any surprise, considering the museum’s location within the Marina Bay Sands business-oriented resort. As the first ArtScience museum of the world, it becomes an anchor and part of the entertainment program for the large-scale gambling and shopping area. The exhibits need to be as appealing as cultural magnets as they can probably be. Repeat visitors, from teens to whole families, in sum mainly non-experts, is the target group. Therefore, the exhibits need to be as easily understandable as possible. Summing up, the critical press talks about "lots of museum, not so much ArtScience".  Anything highbrow will not attract enough clients. Hence, the question that needs to be confronted by the contemporary practicing "ArtScience" community is related to how the parameters of "nascent ArtScience museums" are going to be set, whether inside or outside any resort context. And another unsolved problem underlying this issue is how a general public concern and genuine interest about the complex issues emerging out of the field of "ArtScience" can be actually created.


Last Updated 3 July 2011

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