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Huang Lijie
Thursday, May 1, 2014

Luxury, Singapore

Don't turn museums into amusement parks

The Straits Times | Huang Lijie | Thursday, May 1, 2014

The Singapore Art Museum.

Dead and dangling from the ceiling of a second-floor nook at the Singapore Art Museum, tree branches stripped of leaves shape an interactive feature for the exhibition Unearthed.

The show, which opened at the museum last month, sheds light on the uneasy relationship between man and nature.

A sign next to the tucked-away corner asks visitors a playful question inspired by the title of the show, "What would you like to unearth?"

Paper tags and pens are provided and visitors have responded by writing down their thoughts and hanging the tags on the suspended branches.

This curious display held my attention far longer than some pieces of art in the show and who could blame it for stealing the thunder?

I enjoy looking at art with my ears wide open, picking up furtive comments and whispered opinions of fellow viewers, relishing glimpses of dialogues that happen in secret between a work of art and its viewers.

This interactive feature is museum voyeurism at its best, egging on visitors to make public their private thoughts and reactions towards art.

Some viewers, responding directly to the theme of the exhibition, aspire to discover new ways of sustainable living.

Others, so distressed by the tension between man and nature and the sombre mood of the show, dismissed the question completely to voice their fraught emotions. A tag remarked, "came in happy, left depressed".

A cryptic note that piqued my interest read, "crap masquerading as art". Open for interpretation as a response to the question posed by the museum or as a personal evaluation of the show, there was, however, no mistaking its vehement tone, which sparked a mini-discussion among strangers to the show.

A visitor who read the note as a personal assessment of the show responded with, "Wow! That's brutally honest!" and an arrow indicating that his comment was directed at the note in question.

The tag on the other side of the note chorused with the scribble "I.K.R.", shorthand slang for "I know, right". A third tag, hanging from the same branch, chimed in with the charge that the author of the loaded comment could be close- minded and biased.

Other visitors who also spoke from the bottom of their hearts had less strident comments. Some wanted to dig up happy childhood memories while others sought lost innocence and passion.

One ticklish comment had "daddy's belt" accompanied by a simple drawing.

The mix of responses also included generic wishes for health, peace and stellar examination grades, which blissfully ignored the premise of the interactive feature and took cues instead, from the popular practice of writing one's wish on paper or cloth and tying it to a tree branch.

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