Meet. Play. Move

Published on 2 October 2014

Expect to be a part of the action these days, as more and more productions try get audiences to participate and not just watch.

TEXT BY JO TAN

Art appreciation sounds leisurely enough, calling up images of perching leisurely on a soft seat, genteelly observing a painting or performance. Forget that idea. Increasingly, art-makers want you to work for, if not be part of, your evening’s entertainment.

DJ-cum-director Danny Yeo co-directs a – let’s call it – a play at the Arts House next month as part of the Singapore Writers Festival Fringe. Body X is a whodunnit, which is not new, except it makes the audience explore the old colonial building while trying to pinpoint the murderer.

Inspired by the murder mysteries of Japanese author Keigo Hashino, audiences are taken back to 1974, where a groom is murdered during the wedding rehearsal in a colonial house. As the suspects disperse to different venues in the building, guests can tail the candidates of their choice to see what they did on the day and what might have driven them to kill. They can even interact with clues they find, such as incriminating letters, or bloodstains.

“We were very concerned if audiences would be willing to travel with the characters, what if someone said we paid for the ticket and we want to sit down in cushy seats?” says Yeo with a laugh.

I WILL FOLLOW HIM The play Body X plops you in a house containing one dead body and many potential murderers. Dog your suspects’ footsteps, discover clues and determine if, and why, they killed.

“But I’ve experienced productions where I feel more involved because I am literally physically involved, like Sleep No More which I saw during a directing trip to New York,” he says of an intensely interactive piece based on Shakespeare’s Macbeth, where audiences in an old hotel can open doors, chase characters up stairs, and try to unlock briefcases to get an insight into the protagonists’ minds. “I’ve seen, and been involved in creating similar site-specific pieces in Singapore, but not very many. I’d like to pursue this more. I feel having to activate my body awakens my senses. ”

Body X is not alone on the interactive art front. Nightmare on Armenian Street at the Substation, is a screening of local artists’ film interpretations of hell, while a live band, Sa Trio, improvises the soundtrack based on your reactions and the ambient construction sounds.

Then there in Sensorium 360°, an art exhibition which you should go see, or rather, touch and smell, before it closes October 22.

Being held at the Singapore Art Museum, Sensorium involves appreciating art with all your senses beyond the famous five. Some exhibits demonstrate how we sense movement, or pain. Again, you can’t just sit back and stare: exhibits require you to feel, sniff, jump up and down in front of and otherwise interact with the artworks for an immersive experience.

Says Joyce Toh, lead curator of Sensorium, “It’s a very unusual exhibition because we are primarily a visual arts museum. But during a brainstorm, we thought: babies have their little smelly pillow, even adults have their inexplicable attachments to objects. What are our relationships to things around us, beyond one of sight? We thought of the senses, which are what really helps us locate who and where we are in the world. And that’s what art is about, our relationship to the world.”

Highlighting that relationship with visceral exhibits that require you to feel mystery objects, smell perfumes that were inspired by emotional music compositions, feel Braille artwork and sprawl amongst soft cushions meant to recall female breasts, has paid off for the museum.

“We’ve been very pleasantly surprised at the amount of word-of-mouth on social media, and the numbers of people coming including many first-time vistors. Many of the exhibits encourage interactivity and play, which reaches out to people of all ages, and touches them. At the perfume exhibit, a visitor who had just gone through a rough patch told me experiencing the scents moved him deeply.”

BE NOSEY The museum is alive with the smell of music, thanks to this art piece inviting you to sniff out fragrant creations inspired by different musical compositions.

“And that’s the thing about works that create a deeper involvement with art beyond sight. Appreciating through your senses is so intuitive, that even people who usually feel they don’t understand visual or contemporary art can enjoy it, and then begin thinking about bigger ideas the art deals with, like psychology or philosophy. And being that pathway to ideas is also what art is about.”

Sensorium 360 and Nightmare on Armenian Street are now taking place at the Singapore Arts Museum and The Substation respectively; see Listings, p19 for details. Body X plays at the Arts House from 7-9 November, as part of the Singapore Writers festival.

SOOTHE THE SAVAGE BREASTFind calm in the bosom of art with this installation that you can lie around in, inspired by the female breast.
TAKE PAINS Test your empathy with agony at this installation, which had the artist using her solar plexus to balance her whole weight on the tip of this pole for hours.
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