FYP Ideation – Expiry Date: Preservation of Traditional Asian Theatre

Expiry Dates are something we encounter in our daily lives but take little notice of. This project aims to discuss the idea of loss through exploring the notion of “Expiry Dates”. What does this expiry mean to us? When we stamp on an expiry date or seek an expiry date in our lives, what exactly are we looking for?

  • What does the expiry date mean to the individual?
  • What narratives can a “date” inspire?
  • How are these narratives related to one another?
  • How does the concept of “preservation” link to expiry dates?

The issue to be focused on will be the loss of Traditional Asian Theatre forms in contemporary society. Possible traditional Asian theatre forms to be explored are, but not limited to:

  • Kathakali
  • Puppetry
  • Wayang-kulit
  • Chinese Opera
  • Japanese Noh Theatre
  • Kabuki Theatre

How is contemporary society’s reception of traditional Asian theatre forms? With many Asian countries facing an ageing population, these traditional art forms face an impending “expiry”. What are these practitioners doing to reconnect these forms with contemporary society? Will these art forms be completely lost one day? How does technology affect the preservation of the traditional theatre forms? Were any of these theatre forms specific to a particular area or religion in Singapore?

Initial Idea

During the final presentation on 25 April 2018, I talked about wanting to find narratives of individuals in society and connecting them with the idea of “expiry dates”. However, I realised that it was a very broad scope and I needed to narrow it down further. I think that it is important for me to narrow down and be as concise as I can with my project so that I can better develop the project.

While preparing for the presentation, I did some field research by speaking to individuals about their concept of expiry dates (contact me for more information). I also visited a few exhibitions locally to find out more about how I can take this idea further.

One of the exhibits I visited recently was Lucy Davis’ Migrant Ecologies Project, held at Tanglin Halt. I think it was really informative and helped me better connect with the community there. Prior to my visit, I was stressing over how I should present my works and it did not help with conceptualising my project. The visit also connected me with some of ADM’s alumni members. I feel that at this stage, it is more important to plan the development of the project.

I feel that the Gantt chart I created for the first phase of my FYP can still be applicable to this new direction I am moving towards. The visits to the various exhibitions and artists’ talks during the semester has helped me realise that passion for a project is really crucial. Although I was ambitious and wanted to work with as many groups of people as I could, I feel that it is also important to be realistic and not be too greedy. For this, I have contacted a few theatre practitioners and will be contacting a few more to ask if they would be interested in my project. I will then be conducting in-depth research through interviews and workshops with these groups of people.

I will also be conducting lab sessions in collaboration with a local theatre company during the summer break to find out how interactive media can help with bringing more awareness and understanding towards traditional Asian theatre forms.

Moving on, I will be researching on public art and level of site-specificity this project could be brought to. For example, how did these traditional theatre art forms arrive in Singapore and which areas  in Singapore was known to hold these performances for the members of public. There are three forms of traditional theatre forms I wish to research on in Singapore:

  1. Chinese Opera
  2. Puppetry
  3. Kathakali

I have previously contacted and had lessons with some of these practitioners, thus I feel that this would be a good direction to work towards.

Outcome of the Project
As I have mentioned, I wish to find out how I can work on interactive site-specific works in the community. I also want to explore this with the people I am planning to work with so that the process will be a more organic one. I do not want to force the outcome of my project onto the people I will be working with.

Emergent Visions: Symposium 31 March 2017 (with Suhwee)

(Note: Haphazard organisation of thoughts)

The session by National University of Singapore Professor, Audrey Yue, raised many questions and thoughts about Ambient Participation and Placemaking. She cites Alan Brown’s 5 modes of art participation to further explain and put forth the relationship between placemaking and ambient art participation.

The classifications transcend discipline, genre, cultural context, and skill level and include the following:

1. Inventive Arts Participation engages the mind, body, and spirit in an act of artistic creation that is unique and idiosyncratic, regardless of skill level.

2. Interpretive Arts Participation is a creative act of self-expression that brings alive and adds value to pre-existing works of art, either individually or collaboratively.

3. Curatorial Arts Participation is the creative act of purposefully selecting, organizing, and collecting art to the satisfaction of one’s own artistic sensibility.

4. Observational Arts Participation encompasses arts experiences that an individual selects or consents to, motivated by some expectation of value.

5. Ambient Arts Participation involves experiencing art, consciously or unconsciously, that is not purposefully selected—art that “happens to you.”

Source: Alan Brown, A Fresh Look at Arts Participation

Throughout the presentation, I found myself questioning the meaning of placemaking and how it relates to Singapore. A quick search online defines placemaking as:

Placemaking refers to a collaborative process by which we can shape our public realm in order to maximize shared value.

Source: Project for Public Spaces

Land is scarce in Singapore and the landscape is ever-changing. There is constant rebuilding and re-evaluating the value of a place in this country. This then become a catalyst for conversations and debates. The potential in placemaking here is high because of the multiracial, multi-religious, multicultural background of Singapore. Placemaking also ensures continuity in any given type of art creation.

Finding New Ways to Evaluate Impacts of Placemaking
Yue also brought up the importance of finding other ways to evaluate impacts of placemaking and enhancing cultural impact. What determines the success of a placemaking project? How to we define its success beyond footfall and participation results? I think we need to constantly re-evaluate the way we approach the art-making process and our definition of a “successful” work of art. For example, in Singapore, the term “Community Art” has a negative connotation to it. Placemaking encourages community art-making, however, over the years, artworks that were created for the sake of it started to replace the space that once was “community art”. Community Art is deemed as something done for “charity”, where art works are created to meet certain organisation objectives and Key Performance Indicators (KPI). This defeats the purpose of placemaking because it does not have continuity and works are produced against time, often resulting in works that do not hold much meaning and thought.

Friends in the art industry often lament about the lack of time in the process of art-making. Once given a grant, the organisation sets deadlines for the artist to meet and the work must result in a physical work (e.g. exhibitions). The organisation then determines if the project is successful through its KPI, such as crowd numbers and public reaction. If it fails to meet the KPI, it is then deemed a “failure” and the possibility of holding a similar project is reduced.

How to “Measure”
I agree with Yue when she suggested other ways of “measuring” the success of such a project – that is to create focus groups and use qualitative surveys. This requires time and effort. If we are always in a hurry to see results, we will not be able to witness a project’s true success. We are always too quick to nip an “unsuccessful” project in its bud, without giving it time to develop into something more.

I feel that this topic is very relevant to the creative industry in Singapore. As an art student, we have to constantly reflect about the state of the arts in Singapore. When it comes to art, numbers and results should be secondary to the process of art-making. It should create a safe space for dialogue and discussion to happen because ultimately, placemaking gives meaning to a space and helps us realise that we are inter-connected through a network of relationships.

Examples of Placemaking in Singapore

Two Separate Evenings with Rose Bond & Matt Adams

Listening to the talks by Rose Bond and Matt Adams made me wonder about the type of art I want to create. Both their works reflect what they believe in and are passionate about.

Rose Bond
At first glance, one may think Rose Bond’s work is a simple animated projection on a building. However, there is more than what meets the eye. I was surprised to know how each project had a particular narrative to convey. I also did not expect the amount of research the artist had put into each of these works. I have always had the impression that such projections were only for aesthetic purposes and did not have much meaning. I am interested in the research process behind the works of Rose Bond and how the concept is realised. I like her earlier animation works as of it showcased her style. I also like that the imagery is only accompanied by music and the work is left up to the viewers’ interpretation.

Matt Adams
Matt Adams started off making a statement:

interactive = unfinished (works)

Our work in interactive media is never completed because it is heavily dependent on the users’ interaction with it. I think this is something I can learn from because I am always overly-anxious to complete a project. An unfinished work does not mean it is a failure as a project because there is always room for improvement for every creative project.

I was surprised his initial interest began with theatre because it was something I was interested in as well. His reference to Jean Baudrillard’s Simulacra and Simulation was something that struck a chord with me and helped me better understand the inspiration in many of Blast Theory’s works. While talking about Desert Rain, Matt Adams posed a question to the audience, “How do we make sense of the world when all our political knowledge is mediated?” This made me question the type of art I want to create. As aspiring creatives, I feel that it is important we know what kind of experience we wish to give our users / target audience. There are many levels of mediation and information becomes lost in translation. Thus, we have to be even more careful about the message we want to bring across to our audience.

The two projects by Blast Theory that I was very inspired by was “Can you see me now?” as well as their recent “2097: We made ourselves over“. In Can you see me now?, Blast Theory explores the irony of the internet. Although it has helped connect people on many levels, it has also disconnected them. With the game it is even more apparent when the real life is faced with other forms of obstacles and interruptions that the virtual map cannot replicate.

In Blast Theory’s recent two works Karen and 2097: We made ourselves over, they tried to talk about issues that the world faces with the advancement of technology. With the increased use of Facebook, profiling and big data becomes tools of marketing and control. Our experiences on the internet becomes more and more mediated. Matt Adams ends his keynote with a few pointers that I think we should think about:

  • Bringing change through art
  • Interactivity becoming your agency

interactive = unfinished / agency / political

I think that art and life can never be apart. Art that aims to reflects life can never be apolitical. If art cannot speak for the masses and the oppressed, who can?

Designing for the Digital Age by Kim Goodwin

“Design is the craft of visualising concrete solutions that serve human needs and goals within certain constraints.”

It is always refreshing for me to read articles about design and relearning the concepts of design. In a competitive time-constraining work environment, the designer sometimes create to please the client, often neglecting the needs of the end-user.  The design process is often skipped to meet deadlines as designers rush to solutions.

I think that the design process is very important in achieving the goals of the design. An aspect of understanding the design process that I have not gotten the hang of is the understanding of the user demographics through the creation of user personas. Taking an Interface Design module has helped me understand how user personas help refine the research process. I noticed that my design process comes with loopholes because I do not understand the users well enough. However, with user personas, I have a better understanding of how to craft questions and interviews to aid in my research findings.


As with any design process, it takes time to come up with a solution. In the battle to meet deadlines, is there a way to achieve a goal-directed design process without compromising any aspect of it?

I also appreciate the emphasis placed on each aspect of design and the way the design process is broken down in this reading. I feel that user-eccentric design is also achieved through interactions (such as interviews) with the user group itself. Research is a process that can take months and years. When does the designer then determine that the research done is enough to support their work?

I remember I was once brainstorming for a project at  an internship company a few years back. I started to work on my sketches but  halfway through, my art director told me there was no need to delve too deep into the design. He said it was common practice to skip the sketches and head straight into the artwork. To me, sketching was a way to plan and The process of design has always been a conflicting experience for me. Although I enjoy researching and the planning, I often find that I do not have the luxury of time. How do we then, as designers strike a balance between the research and the implementation of the design?

Cinerama: Maze Out & Falim House

Cinerama at the Singapore Art Museum @ 8Q was a thought-provoking exhibition for us on many levels. At first glance, one would not have imagined the depth of the stories behind each of the artworks. Each artwork questioned our understanding of the countries these art pieces derived from. Two artworks that caught our attention were oomleo’s Maze Out (2017) and Hayati Mokhtar’s Falim House: Observations (2013 – 2016).


Thoughtful Interaction Design by Jonas Löwgren and Erik Stolterman

As designers, it is important for us to understand what our role and responsibility is about. Regardless of our disciplines, it is important to know the difference between being a designer and an artist. A designer is often given a brief and a problem to solve using design solutions, with each of these challenges targeted at a certain group of people. This reading further elaborates on the role of a designer as a problem solver and a mediator between the client and the users.

It is easy to forget the role as a designer when the workload becomes overwhelming. Many of us tend to choose the “easy” way out, using existing design solutions to fit into a new client brief so as to complete the project within the stipulated time frame. The reading emphasises that no design process is the same and the outcome is never perfect. Designs are solutions to the environment and society that is constantly changing with time. Therefore, a design that solves an existing problem may not necessary solve another problem of the same nature.

Ninshin Baaji – Japan’s Maternity Badge
An example of an artwork I find thoughtful and reflects the concepts discussed in the reading is the design of maternity badges in Japan and South Korea.

Photo Credit: Yuya Shino / REUTERS / 達志影像

As a move to encourage working mothers, these badges serve to better the experience of pregnant women in their workplace and public spaces. On a public transport, these badges inform those around them to be more aware of them and give up their seats so that they will have a more comfortable ride to work. It also helps in an emergency, as a medical personnel will be more mindful of their unborn child should they have to exercise medical attention.

Photo Source: https://woman.mynavi.jp/article/160106-124/

Pink Light – South Korea

Source: http://english.busan.go.kr/bsnews01/795567

In South Korea, a similar system was rolled out on the public transport. A pregnant woman with a badge triggers a sensor on the train that will alert a fellow consumer so that they will be given a seat on the train. The visual cue alerts commuters of a pregnant lady on-board the train.

With such a small badge, it is easy to go unnoticed in a crowded train. This Pink Light system better alerts commuters of a pregnant woman during a peak hour. Commuters who are engaged with their mobile phones will also be able to respond faster with such an alert.

In Relation to Core Concepts
In this example, the society has to adapt to the digital artifact (the badge). This artifact also seeks to improve the lives of a targeted group of people – in this case, pregnant women. It solves current issues of pregnant women who may be in their early stages of pregnancy or when their belly are not as obvious. Both badges (Japan and South Korea) help fellow members of society become more aware of pregnant women in the public. Both design process are unique in their own way and its outcomes vary in relation to the environment they were designed for.

I think this reading serves as an important reminder for us all in the design process and this is what sets us apart from artists. It summarises the role of a designer in a succinct manner.

“The designer…has other considerations as well. [..] A designer is also a citizen in a society and a member of a group that possesses specific professional knowledge.”

Designers are not just tools of creativity. They are problem solvers and educators. The end goal should not be a design that feeds our ego but a design that seeks to improve the lives of fellow humans, however minute it may be. It is crucial to understand this concept so that we will be able to create a thoughtful design for others.

The Oceanic Afterthoughts

The Oceanic exhibition and lecture series at the NTU Centre for Contemporary Art discusses the issues pertaining to the ocean that the world currently faces. The provocations and case studies presented by the panel raised awareness about the relationship between the people and the environment, giving insights to the indigenous folks whose livelihood depended on the ocean. Dr. Cynthia Chou, an anthropologist, in her case study sums up an interesting point about space, that it is a “range of knowledge, history [and] resources”, “a condition for biological survival…shaped by historical experiences of ancestral estates”. The study of the Orang Suku Laut brought about new understanding in the history of Riau, Indonesia. It made me question the relationship between humans and the environment. Although we do not depend on the ocean for our livelihood, our actions directly impact its ecosystem. What role does the artist then play in the environment? Is law the only way out in preserving the spaces of indigenous folks and the ocean?

The artwork (installation and video documentary) by Laura Anderson Barbata presented in the exhibition shows how performance can indirectly communicate a message with the audience. Her research at the expedition led her to create several pieces of costumes (inspired by the traditional indigenous costumes) to be worn by performers for their performance at the United Nations Plaza in New York. Her chioce of location placed emphasis and importance on the first UN Ocean Conference held in New York City. It was a work that shows our physical and emotional relationship with the ocean and combined spoken word, dance, procession, music, and costume. She describes this piece of work as a protest.

Her description of her work came as a surprise to me. Can something as beautiful as a dance piece be a work of protest? The dancers’ costumes were created by the artist after her stay during the Kula Ring Expedition. I find this aspect interesting because the materials she used for the costumes all derived from the expedition. Sometimes though, I wonder if more could be done for the communities that we create the artworks from. Besides taking their narratives and turning them into artworks for the masses, is there anything else that we can do to ensure continuity of a project with the community?

Ocean Calling is inspired by all the forms of life that make the ocean their home, as well as by the people, the histories and the cosmography of the communities that for millennia have lived in close relationship with the ocean. The work will unfold in an urban environment highly dependent on the health of the oceans, even though it may not be overtly obvious to our urban communities. Ocean Calling will invite audiences to first acknowledge our intersecting identities and then, to celebrate and honor them by changing behaviors to protect our oceans.
(Source: http://www.worldoceansday.org/)

Our attention span has shortened with the advancement of technology. However, such a performance captures your interest and the curiosity of the performance encourages you to find out more about the artwork as well as the underlying issues that it is trying to put across to the audience. I think the presentation medium is an important aspect of any art process. The outcome of a project should be dependent on the process. The process should not be forced upon the outcome.