Critical Playbook Journal #1
Creative Intersections @ Funan Mall
Before the Creative Intersections field trip, I had only ever went to Funan mall for Little Caesars and McDonald’s so I was pleased to have the opportunity to perceive this public space in an entirely new light. I had browsed through the e-booklet of the exhibition beforehand to get a sense of the theme and it was clear from the choice in artwork icons, even without reading the blurbs, that the artists and curator were inspired by the Year of the Tiger. The vibrant colour scheme and visual keys also excited me as it went well with Funan’s futuristic and funky design, and I took it as a sign that much care and consideration was put into harmonising the exhibition with the mall, rather than the two working in isolation against each other. I had been to many ‘site-specific’ exhibitions that could still easily exist when taken out of their sites, so Creative Intersection’s synchronicity made me have high hopes to clearly see Funan’s identity within the exhibit.
To be transparent, I only did a quick scroll throughout the booklet as I was more interested in exploring the exhibition with fresh eyes. But what did catch my attention was Heather Teo’s fictional narrative weaving the brands’ and artists’ collaborations together, thus leading to a sense of community-building within the team. I initially wondered how these artworks would work together as a cohesive exhibition since the theme could possibly be taken as restrictive or being too vague, but I realised that letting the collaborations go reign-free would have led to chaos and dissent, which would then evoke no initiative from the audience to understand the exhibit as a whole.
II. During the Field Trip
My friend and I had some difficulty pinpointing the locations of the different artworks throughout the mall, which is why Teo’s writing on the weariness of walking echoed in my mind throughout the journey. I had also hoped to see her narrative take form in the physical space within the exhibition, with each chapter dedicated to the respective artworks, but I must have missed it or it was not printed out at all. Had its presence been made, I believe that it would have definitely helped with the navigation of the exhibition during my journey throughout the mall.
Though frankly, had we consulted the e-booklet, we would have had a much easier time. But we wanted to get the fresh experience of an uninformed visitor as it seemed that the choice in this mall as the exhibition site stemmed from wanting to expose these collaborations to the everyday public who do not usually invest their time in the local arts. This choice strongly appealed to me as, even though I had been involved in the local arts for the past decade, the thought of entering a private place for an exhibition had always been daunting.
With this approach, we managed to wander into 6 different artworks within the hour.
As I did read through the e-booklet briefly, in spite of my desire to experience this exhibit untainted, I possessed the right pattern recognition to comprehend the artworks in the framework that the collaborators desired, mainly through the theme and the brand message. The awareness of Teo’s narrative also added to another layer of interpretation which heightened my appreciation of the artwork. However, I was curious about other visitors who did not possess this pattern recognition as they were unaware of the context behind the artwork and/or failed to explore the rest of the exhibit. If I were to understand Brehm’s words correctly, a lack of pattern recognition consistent between the curator, artists, and audience would lead to a loss in a shared element, albeit the possibility that the audience might still be able to derive their own ‘personal and organic connections’ on their own (Lim, 2021).
An example of an artwork that could be misinterpreted or overlooked is my favourite: Bubblemania by Sebastian Mary Tay in collaboration with LiHO TEA. It was plastered on the floor right in front of the bubble tea store, where the customers would be queuing. When I first looked at it, I was quite dubious of its sentiments, especially as it was all dusty and dirty with numerous shoeprints and also a bit sticky because of some spilled boba. Even after reading the information on the poster, I still felt hesitant towards any attachment to the piece.
But it was after I went back and forth around the area and spent more time around Bubblemania, I began noticing how exactly the piece interacted with the space and unknowing participants, being that the act of walking over the print was part of the creative execution of the piece as it was reminiscent of how a tiger leaves its prints on soil and history, which was also likened to how bubble tea cups leave watermarks wherever it’s placed due to the condensation. It was amazing how far a simple print and an awareness of the site’s daily activities could go!
Still, as stated in the APPETITE reading, ‘each visitor’s experience is uniquely determined by what they latch onto when they linger in the venue for an extended amount of time’ (Lim, 2021). I doubt that many visitors had the lack of urgency to stick around and appreciate the artwork fully, especially if they were only there to grab their bubble tea and run off. Furthermore, the site was crowded with other eateries that created overlaps in brand messages with LIHO. Regardless of the new ‘personal and organic connections’ that the audience may create, it may still be an inadequate experience overall or even a case of FOMO, as there was a breakdown of communication between the artist and the audience.
III. Post-Creative Intersections Thoughts
After returning from the exhibition, I still felt deeply impacted by what I had experienced. I thought of Buckminister Fuller’s theories on how Design and Art work together. In his words, Design ‘maximizes function and augment human experience, adjusting behaviour’ while Art ‘makes us question and build awareness of the world’ (Lim, 2021). These definitions brought me to the conclusion that individually, the art pieces of the exhibit had the suitable Design (Framework influenced by the brand) to complement their respective Art counterparts (Intentions of the artist), which created the perfect blend of artistic vision and brand image. Prior to the exhibit, I had expected the artworks to be consumeristic and acting more as marketing materials of the brand but instead, none of them turned out to be transactional in nature.
But this blend of Design and Art could not be said the same for the overall exhibit, and this lack can be explained by the lack of wayfinding. The limited guides for navigation fractured the linear narrative experience of the exhibition as visitors would not be able to get the true satisfaction of having visited Creative Intersections from the exchange with Deborah Lim (Curator of Creative Intersections), I learned that the lack of guides was mainly due to budget restrictions from Funan and possibly due to worries of disrupting the visitor traffic with alternative guides that might have been too distracting.
Learning about the bureaucracy that needs to be dealt with throughout the creative and production process was very eye-opening. It must have been draining for the artists as every small thing had to go through multiple liaisons to attain approval. I had an inkling that there must be compromises to be made due to different key performance indicators and expectations held by the stakeholders, but I wasn’t aware that handling temperaments is also key to successful exhibitions until I heard about how the predecessor, Creative Unions, left a bad taste in some of the collaborating brands. Luckily, temperaments can also act as a leverage with how Creative Intersection’s team was able to utilise Funan’s excitement over the new connector to Capitol to expand the exhibition.
I look forward to experiencing more of the local arts after experiencing Creative Intersections. See you in Critical Playbook Part II!
Lim, D. (2021) ‘APPETITE: On the Outskirts, A Design for Change’. So-Far Collects. Taken from https://so-far.online/weekly/appetite-on-the-outskirts-a-design-for-change/#