Putting the ‘Art’ in Heartland

Published on 25 November 2014

The arts have become even more accessible with travelling performances and installations popping up at residential enclaves.

TEXT BY JO TAN

Five minutes from the MRT, 10 minutes from schools and shops. You love the location of your heartland home. And now, with an increasing number of installations and performances travelling to neighbourhoods all around Singapore, your home is also, quite possibly, located within a walking distance from art.

“It’s important to take art into the community and increase arts awareness among people who might never have come to the theatre,” says an affable Catherine Wong, Education and Outreach manager of award-winning stage company, The Theatre Practice. “But because these performances are often free ones in open areas, with people wandering in and out of the space, it’s best to have interactive performances which passers-by can immediately connect with. That’s why, as part of the National Arts Council’s Arts In Your Neighbourhood (AYN) programme, we take our Story Challenge to the heartlands. It gets audiences to volunteer familiar story titles, like Three Little Pigs or Toy Story, from which actors improvise to create a brand-new story. For example, our Hunger Games story is about a weight-loss contest.”

Indeed, AYN’s objective is to provide opportunities for bonding, self-expression and creativity at your doorstep. Accordingly, the art commissioned is often interactive to allow maximum public involvement. The neighbourhood art installation 2-Pianos — by artists Vertical Submarine, Lim Cheng Jun and Syamil Dasuki — is an intriguing centrepiece that invites, and even requires, interaction. Here, pianos ‘disguised’ as an ice-cream stand and a birdhouse-support draw curious onlookers and even our feathered friends to poke around and, hopefully, make some music.

Says Vertical Submarine’s Joshua Yang, “We saw children going up to one installation and, when they found it was a piano, playing ‘Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star’. That is wonderful. For us, the highest form of people ‘getting’ art is participating in it and in that way, completing the work. What’s a piano if no music comes out of it, even if it’s only a nursery rhyme?”

ART IN YOUR AREA Catch diverse performances from The Theatre Practice’s Story Challenge (above), the Shanthanjali Festival (bottom left) and Sa (bottom right), all coming to a heartland near you.

2-Pianos also encourages community bonding, another aim of AYN. “Although they’ve been left in the open, we’re not overly concerned about the pianos being subjected to damage, [because we think] the community around them has begun to build a shared ownership of the piece. Anyway, it’s now entrusted to their care.”

Just because it’s accessible doesn’t mean the arts have been dumbed down. At Tanglin Halt, AYN presents Sa, an up-and-coming trio of young classical Chinese musicians making decidedly non-traditional music. “We use electronic pedals on our guzheng and other Chinese instruments, producing sounds that can be unrecognisable to the audience. We also play improvisational pieces that react to the environment,” says Sa member Natalie Tse. “It might not be what the everyman is used to, but taking art to the heartlands is also about developing art-appreciation levels, right?”

AYN is not alone in promoting arts in the heartlands this fortnight. Indian arts organisation Temple of Fine Arts (TFA) presents the Shanthanjali Festival in Chinatown: a potpourri of performances that includes flamenco, student showcases and Indian traditional arts, just to name a few. Explains organiser Ramanan Thiagarajan, “We made this festival free for anyone walking by to enjoy, because we think it’s important that different people get exposed to different types of art they might not usually get to see. Each art form can be appealing to many demographics; TFA, for instance, has several Chinese students. By taking different arts out of the theatre or the temple and into the neighbourhood, you give people there the chance to experience them, and to be surprised when they realise they appreciate them.”

Sa Live and Story Challenge play at Tanglin Halt on 29 & 30 Nov respectively. 2-Pianos will be at Mapletree Business City and Boon Lay Shopping Centre till 30 Nov. The Shanthanjali Festival takes place from 28-30 Nov at Hong Lim Park. 

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