Dialogue With Time Reflections

 

1. Briefly share your experience going through Dialogue with Time. What were some of the feelings, thoughts, challenges and insights gained while role playing an elderly person? 

Role playing as an elderly person made the physical challenges faced by the body more real – many of which are otherwise invisible from the outside. We all know that the body deteriorates as you age but exactly how and the extent to which it limits your daily life’s activities, is difficult to imagine and fully understand  until you are in that position. While the experience brought dread and fear towards the physical and social challenges brought on by ageing, more importantly, it also highlighted the possibility and need for action to be taken in the present in order to prepare ourselves and plan ahead for our own concepts of “happy active ageing”. I thought it was meaningful that the exhibition juxtaposed  lifelong dreaming and the pursuit of mental and social well-being against the debilitating effects of ageing. The experience evoked feelings of ownership and responsibility over one’s ageing journey

2. Drawing on your experience, can you think and list some of the benefits inherent in the design research technique of role playing?

When employed with participants who are unfamiliar and distant from the role-play’s persona, role-playing is useful in evoking empathy. It is definitely more engaging and effective than simply spoon-feeding a passive learner information about the life of another person, since it involves the active engagement of the imagination and physical immersion to understand another’s perspective. An important benefit would be the additional  information it can capture about the physical experience, that is otherwise overlooked in just mental processes and storyboarding. For designers, role-playing can be useful to gain insights into the user’s context and experience in order to design better concept products or services. 

3. Can you think of some contexts where role-playing can be useful to help discover and define design challenges or contribute to the development of design solutions?

Contexts where role-playing would be particularly helpful are those that involve trying to understand a physical experience that is unfamiliar. It could be employed in the design of products for those with physical disabilities, for example reading tools for the blind or mobility devices and infrastructure for the handicapped. It could also apply to understand social situations of a minority or marginalised group, so as to better design a service to improve their well-being, or raise awareness for the unacquainted about their circumstances. To get a glimpse into the perspective and challenges of poverty or unfair discrimination from society, role-playing can help participants/ designers tackle the design problems with greater sensitivity and engagement. This could involve creating immersive environments that stimulate physical conditions of deprivation or abuse (in the case of poverty or dysfunctional households), or “games” where participants are confronted with circumstances and decision-making moves, to follow the complexity of thought processes for the role-play persona.

Task 1A: Exploratory Research

WHAT, WHY, WHO, HOW

1. What are some of the current issues confronting our world today? Amongst them, what is of interest and a cause of concern to you? 

Social  integration of foreign domestic workers (FDWs) 

FDWs form a significant group in our population, with 1 out of 5 households having helpers. Despite living so “closely” amongst Singaporeans – literally under the same roof as their employers – FDWs are poorly integrated into Singapore’s society. Largely, they are met with negative public perception and social exclusion, considered inferior and dehumanised. Discriminatory attitudes are most clearly manifested in contests over “public” space, where FDWs and their activities are visibly segregated from locals in the same area, or challenged on the grounds of “belonging”. More can and should be done to understand and make FDWs feel welcome in our community and accord them the human dignity and respect they deserve. These women bring with them rich cultures, stories and talents of their own too, that locals have much to learn and gain from. I believe in the need for greater interaction between Singaporeans and FDWs, in public spaces outside of the private household, whereby both parties encounter and understand each other as fellow humans. As hosts, we can look beyond nationality and the label of “maid/helper” in how we treat and care for the women who leave their homes to care for ours. It is not just employers who have the responsibility to try to integrate FDWs into their families. Regardless of whether we have helpers, as a society we should all try to help FDWs feel welcome in our community. 

Literature Review:
http://twc2.org.sg/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/FDW-Report_Final.pdf
https://www.servicedesignlab.net/service-design-for-foreign-domestic-workers
https://idwfed.org/en/resources/home-sweet-home-work-life-and-well-being-of-foreign-domestic-workers-in-singapore/@@display-file/attachment_1
https://lkyspp.nus.edu.sg/docs/default-source/case-studies/fdws_in_singapore.pdf?sfvrsn=2ac5960b_2
https://ink.library.smu.edu.sg/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=4339&context=sol_research
https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/maids-foreign-domestic-workers-singapore-necessity-families-12059068
https://www.todayonline.com/singapore/big-read-making-singapore-better-place-workers-who-come-afar-0
http://reclaimland.sg/rl/?p=1257 
https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1295&dat=19980331&id=rOYVAAAAIBAJ&sjid=9xQEAAAAIBAJ&pg=5375,6735717
https://www.jstor.org.remotexs.ntu.edu.sg/stable/pdf/2547324.pdf?refreqid=excelsior%3Ab0db7fd5013c481419b333b78e99efa6
https://tembusu.nus.edu.sg/news/2019/by-professor-tommy-koh-foreign-domestic-workers-a-suggested-rulebook
https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/14680777.2018.1513411?src=recsys&journalCode=rfms20
https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/foreign-domestic-worker-maid-human-not-robots-commodities-10844562?cid=h3_referral_inarticlelinks_24082018_cna

Neighbourliness and community (kampung) spirit 

Despite living in high density apartments, Singaporeans lack interactions with their neighbours. Physical proximity does not translate to relational closeness. I have always lamented the cold state of isolated living shaped by today’s hectic and individualistic lifestyle, and yearned for greater warmth and a sense of community in neighbourhoods. Relationships with our neighbours are ones we have lost.

Literature Review:
https://pride.kindness.sg/are-we-too-scared-of-our-neighbours-to-make-friends-with-them/
https://www.kindness.sg/neighbourliness/ 
https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/sporeans-prefer-privacy-to-mingling-with-neighbours-poll

Intercultural understanding among races

Interracial relations in Singapore is a complex domain with multiple intertwined issues, met shortly by policy on all fronts. We have recently seen more open discourses about the state of “harmony” and discrimination in Singapore. Looking at what levels I might have the capacity to address most meaningfully with design, I see the lack of understanding of other races’ cultural practices and values as an area that is important in promoting harmony. In contrast with the view that it promotes a superficial sense of harmony- especially when executed in manners typical of the one-off “market” display of cultural trivia on Racial Harmony Day- my personal experiences and research show that understanding of other races’ cultures, and the cultivation of the interest to understand, can promote a version of racial harmony that is better than what we currently have.

Literature Review:
https://www.straitstimes.com/politics/religious-and-worldview-studies-in-schools-can-help-strengthen-social-cohesion-say-experts
https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/more-needs-to-be-done-to-promote-inter-cultural-understanding-say-ngos-and-community
https://lkyspp.nus.edu.sg/docs/default-source/ips/ips-working-paper-no-35_ips-onepeoplesg-indicators-of-racial-and-religious-harmony_comparing-results-from-2018-and-2013.pdf
https://www.straitstimes.com/politics/racial-religious-harmony-in-spore-improving-but-minority-groups-feel-discriminated-at-work
https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/class-immigration-more-government-involvement-society-splits-ips-12044060

Environmental crisis: loss of biodiversity

We are into the epoch of the Anthropocene with the sixth mass extinction  underway. In recent years, we have lost species after species at an accelerating rate because of human activities. While some like Sudan the last male northern white rhino receive public sympathy and mourning on social media, some (most) disappear from the Earth without a sound. Biodiversity receives miserably little attention even as scientists warn it poses an equal threat to humanity as climate change. Putting aside the risks biodiversity loss poses to humans (food, water, health, security, etc.), I think we have a responsibility towards the lives of other creatures we share this planet with. I dismay for the thousands of exotic and wonderful creations of Mother Nature that have disappeared and continue to disappear, before humans have ever gotten to learn of them and the lessons they offer. 

Literature Review:
https://wwf.panda.org/our_work/biodiversity/biodiversity_and_you/
https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/nov/03/stop-biodiversity-loss-or-we-could-face-our-own-extinction-warns-un
https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/mar/23/destruction-of-nature-as-dangerous-as-climate-change-scientists-warn
https://therevelator.org/extinction-species-lost-2019/
https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/jul/11/sixth-mass-extinction-habitats-destroy-population
https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/earth-and-planetary-sciences/biodiversity-loss
https://www.iucnredlist.org/
2. Why is the issue important? Who does it affect and how?

FDWs play a significant role in Singapore’s social and economic development and their numbers are postulated to climb steadily with demand. It is important that we take care of their well-being and integrate them, especially since this allows them to have better work satisfaction and performance taking care of our homes (for those who need to see how the well-being of an outsider concerns them). Ultimately, it comes down to our values as a society and the kind of community we wish to build. Our treatment of FDWs tells us where we stand on issues of social class, ethnicity, gender and global citizenship. Social exclusion is not a problem exclusive to FDWs – amongst local Singaporeans even, we have fault lines along race and income. FDWs being foreign “transient” figures, does not mean they are not entitled to basic human rights and dignity Singaporeans enjoy, nor make the need to integrate them into our society unnecessary. As our city becomes even more densely populated, public spaces become an arena for contesting interests of different groups. We need to learn to negotiate and share our spaces and treat one another with compassion and respect.

3. Who do you need to communicate to, and why?

The primary target audience would be Singaporeans, to challenge their views of FDWs and encourage initiative and openness in interacting with FDWs. I might need to communicate to FDWs too, especially if I am trying to facilitate interaction and communication between the two. Rather than targeting younger children and seniors whom FDWs stretch themselves to care for at home, I wish to target youths and the working class. The prejudices of this group towards FDWs might be the strongest, but I feel they might also be potentially most open to responding to my design, and engaging with FDWs most maturely and meaningfully. Granted, the initiatives I design might communicate most effectively to those with the least prejudices towards FDWs. I can only hope that having a few take the initiative to approach and understand FDWs differently, paves the way for others, and affects the most prejudiced groups.

(Needless to say, in participatory design and research methods, communication to both FDWs and Singaporeans would be necessary to uncover the common grounds and differences between the two, and gather both sides’ views about one another and social inclusion.)

4. How has visual communication contributed to address the cause?

“Knowing You, Knowing Me” Handy Guides series 

by Centre for Domestic Employees (CDE)

The guides aim to improve employer-helper communication, understanding and relationships. The illustrations and comic book format are light-hearted and refreshing compared to other mainstream media that take instructional or other formal rule-descriptive formats to explain behaviours expected of both parties. The stories employ humour and appeal to our empathy to highlight the important messages effectively. The character of the FDW Min is also portrayed as a human with social and emotional needs. Although I think there is room for improvement: rather than just making Min look like someone who makes funny and embarrassing mistakes, they could demonstrate her capability and knowledge in other areas. Currently, the format seems to encourage reading of the guidebook by employer and helper separately, with the same comics produced in different languages in different sections. It may help to add reflection or conversation points for actual communication between employer and helper about the comics and their lessons. Aesthetically, I think the graphics can be improved and look less children’s material. It would be more appropriate to view FDWs as mature grown adults- whom we have entrusted our homes with to take care of- and design illustrations with this in mind (especially since there is criticism that some employers treat their helpers like immature children who cannot be trusted).

Volume 3 - http://cde.org.sg/wps/wcm/connect/654fc9cf-b47c-469b-bba5-91c83a1049cc/CDE+%E2%80%93+Handy+Guide+Vol3_Final+LR.pdf?MOD=AJPERES&CACHEID=654fc9cf-b47c-469b-bba5-91c83a1049cc
All Handy Guides - http://cde.org.sg/wps/portal/cde/home/learn/selfimprovement

“Just An Extra Chair” Initiative Guidebook 

by Singapore Kindness Movement 

This initiative matches members of the general public with migrant workers to play host and guest respectively for festive meals together (upcoming: Chinese New Year). It encourages interaction, understanding and the sharing of warmth and compassion between locals and migrant workers. The guidebook provides hosts from the general public with clear and relevant information: context of migrant workers and the initiative, basic phrases in their foreign languages, dos and dos of interaction, tips on how to facilitate conversation etc. The design is also clear and the illustrations convey feelings of warmth and community. The figures are however rather generic or portray Western characters and  could be designed to represent characters of migrant workers and Singaporeans more specifically to fit the context. Besides the format of the guidebook, flashcards (physical or a mobile app game) could be appropriate as a complementing media for guiding questions and conversation topics. Using simpler sentences or words for these might also be more effective in facilitating understanding and engagement from migrant workers less fluent in English. 

Guidebook for hosts (Public) - https://21vxrz3bk4un2koihuzdpvvz-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/JAEC-Brochure_A5_Public-Web-Version.pdf

The sign-up form for both host and guest can also be improved and enhanced with visuals on a portal for ease of navigation and understanding. Especially for guest sign-ups, the medium of an online Google Form seems inappropriate for reaching migrant workers who might not access it as easily. 

Sign-up Google Form: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSdBNjMLbf3n8x20fD61JZzf5BNe5JLKnjj8r6BJ8loTMhRlxw/viewform?fbzx=-2596986098811074287

“UNDER ONE ROOF” Communication Toolkit

by Kenneth Yip, Khoo Yin Qi & Cheryl Ho (Service Design Lab)

The communication toolkit is designed for the Singaporean family to guide them through building a healthy relationship, nurturing more open communication and mutual understanding with their FDW. Information is synthesised into bite-sized cards that serve as reminders and can also be used in a matching game. The format of the card with illustrations is appropriate for education and communication with the family target audience, consisting of both young and old. While the instructional language makes the learning points clear, some . A greater number of cards with different illustrations and supporting text or questions, for each existing card might help with better understanding. Take for example, the current card for “GET TO KNOW YOUR FDW AS A PERSON” with the illustration of arrows going between employer and helper, do poorly in helping the employer unpack what that means or could look like. Perhaps using a character name for the protagonist helper character might be better than using “YOUR FDW” in the titles and instructions. Attention to language can greatly change the relationships of power between employer and FDW implied:

GIVE YOUR FDW ENOUGH REST” VS “GIVE MIN ENOUGH REST” VS “DOES MIN HAVE ENOUGH REST?” 

https://www.servicedesignlab.net/service-design-for-foreign-domestic-workers

Reading Assignment: A Companion to Digital Art

A Companion to Digital Art is a collection of essays, edited by Christiane Paul that gives a good introduction to the definition and characteristics of digital art. The essays explore the histories, aesthetics, politics, and social context of digital art, as well as its relationship to institutions and its historicization, in terms of its presentation, collection and preservation.

In the section on the politics of digital art, it is covered how the “technological history of digital art is inextricably linked to the military‐industrial complex and research centers”. For some reason, this darker history of digital technologies makes me appreciate digital arts even more. Digital technologies were developed and advanced within a military context, as weapons to serve destruction and create discord between people. Digital artists take the same technologies and envision them to be used creatively for utopian ideals, to create positive social and political change to benefit mankind. Digital art is an attempt almost, to salvage the mistakes of mankind and restore faith in humanity. It comforts me to know this, as much as I am conscious of the risk of these technologies being misused and creating a dystopian climate of distrust nonetheless – unsurprisingly, this is an issue contemporary digital arts frequently address. 

___

Paul defines digital art as “digital‐born, computable art that is created, stored, and distributed via digital technologies and uses the features of these technologies as a medium.” Before, I hadn’t given much thought to the definition of digital art or new media, much less the necessity of assigning one at all. I held the reductionist view that whatever contemporary art (I had mistakenly equated ‘contemporary’ with ‘new’) that employed technology, and perhaps with mixed media, qualified as “new media” or “digital art”. However, given the ubiquitous use of digital technologies in even traditional art forms today – in photograph, print, sculpture and painting even – I have re-examined my position after learning about the inherent characteristics unique to the digital medium that, employed as a tool for creation, rather than production, make a work digital art

Of these intrinsic characteristics, Paul highlights that digital art is computational; process‐oriented, time‐based, dynamic, and real time; participatory, collaborative, and performative; modular, variable, generative, and customizable, among other things. The characteristics of digital art that pertain to time and change intrigue me the most. 

D  N A      Y I   M       C                                  DIGITAL ART

DYNAMIC: DEFINITION

With the continuously changing state of the digital medium and its methods of application, it is perhaps unsurprising that the terminology and definition for technological art forms has always been extremely fluid too. What is now known as digital art has undergone several name changes since it first emerged: originally referred to as computer art, then multimedia art and cyberarts (1960s–1990s), art forms using digital technologies became digital art or so‐called new media art at the end of the 20th century.

DYNAMIC: MEDIUM

With the medium of technology I think it is interesting that new media’s characteristic of being “dynamic” and “time-based”, evolving and advancing with time, is not limited to the understanding of the nature of a single artwork, but extended to the entire medium as well. The medium of technology itself is always changing, we hear the words “technology” and “advancement” go together all the time. This is in contrast with other traditional mediums like painting and sculpture which are not “dynamic” in relation to time. The medium itself does not continuously change and take on a different form as drastically as technology does, because the traditional materials themselves are derived from nature, while technology on the other hand is literally immaterial software “generated out of thin air”. Changes within traditional mediums involve technologies changing the way materials are manipulated and used, less so involving changes in the nature and form of the materials themselves. Time-based dynamism in media form is a characteristic unique to new media art.

DYNAMIC: PRESERVATION

“digital artworks seldom are static objects but evolve over time, are presented in very different ways over the years, and adapt to changing technological environments.” 

I find it interesting that the “posterity” and preservation of digital art differs so much from those of traditional art. While preservation of traditional paintings is concerned with protecting the original state of the work and exhibiting them in their unchanging static state – or with time-based mediums, exhibiting the work as it registers changes from the flow of time – this is not necessarily so for digital art.

“The variability and modularity of new media works implies that there usually are various possible presentation scenarios: artworks are often reconfigured for the specific space and presented in very different ways from venue to venue.”

It is easy to assume that the immateriality of technologies allows the original state of a digital artwork to be preserved for generations after easily. However, digital art is engaged in a continuous struggle with an accelerating technological obsolescence that serves the profit‐generating strategies of the tech industry. This obsolescence contrasts with the illusion of advancement with time, when one thinks of “technological advancement“. Unlike traditional media like paint, technology is less subjected to material changes like crackling with the flow of time. The changes that transform digital art from their original state (those that do not continuously reconfigure themselves over time) are instead advancements in technology driven by humans, changing not the form but the context within which digital art is displayed. This presents institutions with difficulties in the preservation of digital art.

“Probably more than any other medium of art, the digital is embedded in various layers of commercial systems and technological industry that continuously define standards for the materialities of any kind of hardware components.”

DYNAMIC??? CONTENT

One of my favourite insights I gained about digital art is how how the rapid change and advancement of the medium itself does not imply or necessitate likewise for the content and ideas behind new media works. It is true that many new media artworks explore issues that are current and pertinent to our time – especially those central to the conditions of the age of technology we live in, since the very medium makes it effective to do so. However, it is also possible for the concepts explored to date centuries back, addressed previously in various other traditional arts. Digital artists continue to address universal and timeless human concerns, with new technologies.

 

Not everything about digital art is necessarily new and dynamic afterall.

Future World: Reflections

It had been a few years since I last visited  Future World when it first opened so I didn’t have very high expectations about revisiting it this time, especially since a large part of it was designed to appeal to younger children and I was aware of how much older I was now. While the installations were intriguing for me back then, I thought I had been somewhat “desensitised” to interactive technologies, given its extensive exposure in Singapore over the past years (at iLight, Singapore Night Festival etc). So when I caught myself actually enjoying myself during this visit, I was honestly surprised. I was still fascinated by how the technologies empowered me to shape my surroundings and be a co-creator in the installations – alongside others. Revisiting Future World this time has led me to believe that every person regardless of age has an innate desire for play and impulse to create. Appealing to these instincts I think, is the greatest draw of interactive art. It has a powerful potential to engage viewers in a way other art forms cannot.

Technologies were used in different ways to encourage the participation and immersion of visitors. Different works required different extents of participation from visitors. While installations like “Sketch Aquarium” required them to simply touch the screen or colour and scan in their artwork, others demanded more physical activity and involvement of the body. In “Inverted Globe, Giant Connecting Block Town”, visitors had to physically bend down, pick up building houses, and navigate themselves within the room to build the city and its transport networks. On the floor map, roads and rivers would appear where they placed their building blocks. I enjoyed how their physical actions involved more deliberation and conscious thought, in deciding the position of their placements, compared to other exhibits like the slide where there is no meaningful control attached to the action of sliding.

Inverted Globe, Giant Connecting Block Town

The magnitude of  that change that each installation allowed viewers to affect also differed. Personally I was more emotionally gripped by those that translated my input to something of a larger scale, like when my single touch of the wall created an elephant out of thin air 5 times larger than myself, or when my simple choice of a star changed the colour patterns and sound waves of the galaxy of LED lights (interface on asm-universe.team-lab.com).

Crystal Universe

That is not to say that I also derived great delight in watching my own scanned drawing appear as part of a greater collective tapestry, or when I made more subtle interventions like blocking the way of a tiny bull projected on a table with my hand.

Sketch Aquarium: tapestry of individuals’ coloured sea creature drawings
Changes affected within the frame of a table

In trying to engage the visitor, many of the installations strove for the Gesamtkunstwerk ideal to appeal to multiple senses. A lot combined the use of sound/music with tactile and visual stimuli. Glowing balls did not only change colour in response to touch, but also sang notes of different frequencies corresponding to the colour.

Thinking about it now, despite the installations being positioned in relative close proximity to one another, especially in the last section of the exhibition, they fit together harmoniously, as a whole environment. Multiple soundtracks from different installations could be playing simultaneously in the vicinity, but they all blended together somewhat, together with the different coloured lights emanating from the different works, to form one large seamless, interactive, immersive playground.

VC1-04: Final Reflection on History of Design Lessons

I had imagined History of Graphic Design to be rather boring, focused around technical terms like serif and kerning for typography, and rules for grids and layouts. Instead I was pleasantly surprised by not only how much more there is to graphic design, but the wider scheme of cultures and disciplines it is connected to. I enjoyed how you explained the cultural background and changes in society that each artist/design was set against (although not chronologically; recognising the difficulty in doing so for design and art movements that really bounce back and forth in the time tunnel). It was meaningful this way and helped me understand how my own design practice is and should also be closely aligned with the developments in society.

Perhaps because I don’t take Typography I, I enjoyed the little insights to linguistics and semiotics gained from learning about graphic design – which I realise now is so intertwined with language, and not divorced from it just because its “visual communication” (not sure where I got that impression from). On the “visuals side”, I also hadn’t realised how closely intertwined graphic design was with fine art movements. It was interesting to see how designers responded to the manifestos of Futurism and Dada within a design framework, as opposed to painting in brisk dynamic brushstrokes or mounting urinals on pedestals.

Additionally, I appreciated how you introduced examples where links were drawn between graphic design/visual communication and other mediums, such as in the film title sequence of The Man With The Golden Arm, and the use of photomontage in poster design. Not because of the whole “T-shaped designer manifesto” the professors are trying with our History of Design education, but simply because I thought it showed how versatile and adaptable graphic design is (and perhaps the most widely applied across media and disciplines, compared to product and interactive design). I thought maybe since you showed us designers and works produced against the backdrop of the rise of corporate and identity branding, it would have been nice to have examples of graphic design incorporated into product design as well; in packaging and other paraphernalia. That might have aided my understanding of how graphic design was applied across different media.

The lessons, to my surprise, also complemented my practice in Visual Communication I. The designers and examples, ways of design thinking and design trends were valuable inspiration that I referred to in my assignments. If I had to summarise what I gained from the lessons, I think visual communication/graphic design is about the art of communicating ideas not only specific to periods, but across; each design movement or innovation being a response to another, no culture pr period excluded. Most heartwarming to know was that graphic designers are found in every aspect of society – politics, sciences, music, entertainment, sports, currency, education, you-name-it – and that they are so so important in every one of them. I am happy to be in the position of facilitating one of the most important activities of humans: communication.

 

PS: I think the use of OSS posts to consolidate reflections after each lesson was very effective in facilitating learning, not just for myself but from reading the posts put up by other classmates, and the comments/external links you put up. Also appreciate the very lovely printouts with keywords every lesson. For quizzes however, perhaps focusing on the significance of designers/the different movements and developments is more meaningful than simply recalling names and definitions.

VC1-03: Aupollinaire’s “Calligrammes”

What strikes me as interesting about calligrams is how it emphasises the importance of visual representation as a language; a means of human communication. From lecture 1 we learnt about how the written word and alphabet characters evolved from the archaic Lascaux cave pictographs and the Egyptian’s early hieroglyphs. Humans developed a system for communicating information that was not a literal image of what it represents. For the English alphabets at least (less so for Chinese characters), they look nothing like anything found in our physical reality.

Yet with calligrams, the written word and characters are arranged to evoke visual representations. Paragraphs are formatted to function like ideographs; typeface and arrangement of words on the page purposefully add meaning to the compositions of the poems they form.

I think it hits me even harder that Guillaume Apollinaire’s work, “Calligrammes”, in which this format is employed, is a collection of poems about war.

“Calligrammes: Poems of Peace and War.”

The poems in the collection revolve around his experiences as a soldier during World War I. It is as if words alone – characters divorced from all visual associations and semblance with natural reality – are insufficient to convey the magnitude of emotion and atrocities of war; that Apollinaire saw the need to further resort to arranging the words to evoke visual images of war for effective communication. It is not enough to describe the battlefields with words, he saw it necessary to create a man running away, out of words.

Apollinaire’s collection of poems contributes to the tradition of pattern or figure poetry (carmen figuratum) in which type is arranged in a configuration to convey or extend the emotional content of the words. 

The written language was invented to extend the limited vocabulary of expression that pure figurative, ideographic symbols allowed. A few centuries later, we see a renewed reverence of the expressive power of visual representation; in figure poetry, written language is arranged to form visual figures “to convey or extend the emotional content of the words.”

With further research, I was interested to find further distinctions between 2 types of unconventionally-shaped poetry:

1 Concrete poetry: in which the poem’s message relies solely on the arrangement of type and graphic spaces to be conveyed, rather than on words for the meanings they carry, versus

2 Pattern poetry: in which a poem’s message is still conveyed and retained through the words alone; the arrangement of type is but an extension and support to the expressive power of words.

Reflections on “Life Circuit: I/O” at NGS

In “Life Circuit: I/O”, I think the artists were trying to not just recreate but reinterpret the activities and chaos of daily life that surrounded people in the setting of a bar, as it did in the past era of Korea that Lee was trying to capture in his original work. Instead of noise and sights coming from the natural surroundings or participants themselves, “Life Circuit: I/O” generates images and noise from live footage and technologies, seeming to reference the age of technology and visual and media culture we live in. In the same way that present day’s immense amount of information and media overwhelms the ordinary person, the music and lights produced by the DJ (conductor of the performance) create an environment that overwhelms the viewer with stimuli. What is usually perceived as background noise (visual and audio), INTER-MISSION manipulates to grip everyone’s attention with a different perspective on everyday life. What people usually ignore, engrossed in conversations amongst themselves at a bar, the artists amplify and use to drown out conversation (I struggled to hear myself, much less my friends with all the noise). Within the cacophony of images projected in the environment, a performer also projects that of his own face through a “reinvented selfie-stick”. This particular action provoked reflection on how the individual is lost and disappears so easily within such a culture – the image of his face blending in with other lights bathing the gallery. Likewise, the disappearance and quick transitions between footage of everyday life, provoked reflection on the difficulty of reaffirming our fleeting existence – via technologies and media that made expressions of our existence even more so, fleeting. 

 

However, the context of the performance being held within the setting of another installation, just as charged with its own messages and spatial directions, I felt, undermined the effectiveness of its delivery of experience and understanding. In my opinion, if the performance had been carried out in a separate environment or dedicated space of the gallery, viewers would have been better able to focus on the essential parts of the work (music, screenings, movements etc.), without the setting of Korean bar tables and furniture confusing rather than enriching their interpretation. Personally, not knowing that the installation was a stand-alone work, not conceived specifically as a ‘stage’ for the “Life Circuit: I/O” performance, I had initially  tried to weave the (almost) distinct intentions and artistic languages of both works together to understand the performance. I ended up with guesses I was not too persuaded by myself: the artists wanted to transport viewers to Korea’s past, but also have it intersect with the multiple realities of the present live-streamed from different locations. Why bother with the Korea bit, I don’t know. I suspect I was not alone in questioning why Singaporean drinks and kueh were served at Korean tables by attendants in hanboks either. I considered things like these distracting in my understanding of the performance experience. 

The attendant in a hanbok selling the Singaporean snacks and drinks.

Although I am sure that INTER-MISSION was asked to produce a work to respond to Lee Kang-So’s installation and the setting it created specifically. The only value that I think “Disappearance, Bar in the Gallery” provides for “Life Circuit: I/O” is the spirit of experimentation and participation it embodies–which INTER-MISSION pays tribute to and expands and explores in a different form.

Lee Kang-So’s “Disappearance, Bar in the Gallery” (1973)
Participants conversing in “Disappearance, Bar in the Gallery” (1973)

Lee Kang-So was one of Korea’s representative contemporary artists who advocated for the experimental arts in his practice, combining installations, happenings and new media technologies. His work thus seems to set up a meaningful stage for INTER-MISSION to experiment with the intersections between video art, music and performance. In “Life-Circuit: I/O” as well, viewers are transformed into participants – by default – as they are recorded (without consent) on footage and screened in the environment. This contrasts with the more active nature of participation that viewers of Lee’s work had when they engaged in conversations with one another over Korean drinks and snacks. Ultimately, I think “Life Circuit: I/O” could have been designed to better relate to Lee’s “Bar in the Gallery” within our present time and space. If the confusion that arose from the intersections of multiple realities (Korea’s past referred to in the original work, the present inhabited by viewers in the National Gallery of Singapore, and the present live-streamed by the Japanese artist collaborator) was intentional however, then I guess the work was successful. It was most puzzling to interpret, notwithstanding the engaging experience it offered with blaring lights and sounds. 

VC1-02: The Elements of Euclid

This lesson covered a lot of elaborate and ornamental design styles (Alphonse Mucha and Art Nouveau, display type etc.), but the slide that caught my eye was the otherwise minimalist coloured rendition of The Elements of Euclid (1847) by William Pickering. I was curious about how this design innovation was positioned against the backdrop of art movements like Geometric Abstraction and Neoplasticism, giving the striking similarities in design language. With further research, I found out that the book was printed nearly a century before Kandinsky and Mondrian made geometrical shapes and the RBY colour scheme famous in the 20th century – not after.

It struck me that primary colours were used as the colour palette to design information on the basic geometric elements and mathematical formulas; already Pickering (together with Byrne) had made this connection that would form a key principle of the Abstract Art movement. Mondrian used only primary colours in his paintings because he felt they were the purest colours that captured the fundamentals and essence of truth and reality.

Also on certain pages, the primary colours were assigned to the basic geometric shapes by the conventions proposed by Kandinsky in his Bauhaus textbook Point and Line to Plane (1926). Kandinsky theorised a universal correspondence between the three elementary shapes and three primary colour: yellow, a “sharp” color corresponds with the triangle; red, and ‘earthbound” color with the square; and blue, a “spiritual” color with the circle. The Elements of Euclid might have very well sparked the endeavour of drawing correlations between colour and geometry that would become key in the Abstract Art movement.

Related image
Universal correspondence between primary colours and geometry proposed by Kandinsky in Bauhaus textbook.

What I appreciated most about the book was how it recognised design as an important means of communicating information. The complete title of the book is actually The First Six Books of the Elements of Euclid in which Coloured Diagrams and Symbols are Used Instead of Letters for the Greater Ease of Learners

Title page of the book with full title.

In the introduction section of the book, Pickering also highlighted the importance of design and visual representation in information communication:

“THE arts and sciences have become so extensive, that to facilitate their acquirement is of as much importance as to extend their boundaries. Illustration, if it does not shorten the time of study, will at least make it more agreeable. THIS WORK has a greater aim than mere illustration; we do not introduce colours for the purpose of entertainment, or to amuse by certain combinations of tint and form, but to afflict the mind in its researches after truth, to increase the facilities of instruction and to diffuse permanent knowledge.”

“The object of this Work is to introduce a method of teaching geometry, as well as in France and America. The plan here adopted forcibly appeals to the eye, the most sensitive and the most comprehensive of our external organs…

“…but as the use of coloured symbols, signs, and diagrams in the linear arts and sciences, renders the process of reasoning more precise, and the attainment more expeditious, they have been in this instance accordingly adopted.”

“Such is the expedition of this enticing mode of communicating knowledge, that the Elements of Euclid can be acquired in less than one third the time usually employed, and the retention by the memory is much more permanent…

The publishers purposefully broke with information design and book publishing traditions, to employ colourful illustrations rather than letters in referring to diagrams, so as to facilitate “Greater Ease” of learning for readers. Besides enhancing text with shapes and colours, attention was also paid to typography.  The book used Caslon as its typeface and started each section with decorative initial capitals.

Scanned pages of 1482 and 1847 editions
Geometric proof of the pythagorean theorem from the first printed edition in 1482 (bottom left) versus Byrne’s colorful rendition in 1847 (right).
Intro
The decorative initials were created as wood engravings by Mary Byfield in 1843. They’re a beautiful complement to the modernness of the geometric diagrams.

As one of the first multicolour printed books in the 19th century, and on mathematical works at that, I think it is an important innovation within the development and history of information design.

While researching, I found a website that digitised the book for the viewing by  today’s modern readers in the digital age. It retained most of the design elements of Pickering/Byrne’s edition (typeface, symbols and colours etc.) but added an extra “touch” for the “Greater Ease” of learning for 21st century readers: interactivity. The creator Rougeux made the diagrams interactive with clickable shapes in the descriptions, so as to aid in understanding the shapes being referenced. Clicking certain parts would highlight or conceal others for easier correlation of information.

I thought it was interesting to see how the same book was adapted and redesigned to facilitate communication of information to readers of different eras. By comparing the three different versions of The Elements of Euclid, it is possible to chart the development of design trends alongside changes in society and (media) culture.

Interactive Art: “Tape Recorders”

Tape Recorders (2011)

RAFAEL LOZANO-HEMMER

Rows of motorised measuring tapes record the amount of time that visitors stay in the installation. As a computerised tracking system detects the presence of a person, the closest measuring tape starts to project upwards. When the tape reaches around 3 meters high it crashes and recoils back. Each hour, the system prints the total number of minutes spent by the sum of all visitors.

 

 

Tape Recorders is an installation that tracks and visually represents the duration a viewer stays at the exhibit. I like how the work addressed the nature of art-viewing today–and in fact, perhaps, not just with regards to art but all stimuli in general. All too often viewers spare artworks only a glance while passing them. Stopping to look at an artwork proper for more than a few seconds is rare, much less for the duration it takes for a measuring tape in the installation to reach 3 metres and crash to the floor.  This is so especially with removed minimalist pieces or when a museum has an overwhelming amount of exhibits to visit. The viewer for whom time is of essence (in capitalistic societies commodifying time) sometimes brisk walks through even time-based video and durational performances. By creating a work that actively encourages viewers to stay (I might even use the word “beg”), incentivising them with the excitement of watching measuring tapes slowly grow and finally crash and recoil (almost like a grand prize for staying “long enough”), Lozano-Hemmer presents a unique and effective commentary on our short-attention span. I like this work even more because it was an artwork commenting about the very viewing of artworks, through a transformed viewing experience designed to engage the very-difficult-to-grab-hold-of public. In terms of effectiveness in communicating its intent, or simply engaging viewers otherwise (degree of engagement measured, literally, by the duration they spent viewing the work), I thought it was also successful for all ages. Not just adults but children also, who are arguably even harder to engage for prolonged periods, were effectively engaged in interacting with the artwork. There is something appealing about interactive art–seeing how one’s actions visually manifest and shape an artwork in real-time–that makes it worth investing time to view, or more accurately, experience. Tape Recorders is an exemplar of art that people would spare more than a glance or a  few seconds to view.