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).
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.