My second post about Singapore Night Festival 2023, or SNF 2023, which is happening at the Bras Basah.Bugis Precinct from Aug 18 to 26.
I’ve already posted extensively about this major “summer” Singaporean event. Posted, as in I didn’t write my previous post. Instead, I shared official write-ups about the various night lights and mapping projections with photographs that I took.
This post will therefore focus on the art installations that I enjoyed most as well as my thoughts about them. The usual before I start: I’m not in any way stating the following installations are the best ones and what’s not to be missed. I think what’s always great about an arts festival like the SNF 2023 is that everyone will have their own favourite moments.
As an event celebrating Singaporean history and culture, it’s great too that the organisers and presenting sponsor Samsung paid homage to Singaporean mythology. The legend of Sang Nila Utama and Badang the Strongman and all that.
We don’t have many such myths. Fanciful as they might be, I feel all provide historical insight. Thus why I feel it’s so important that we use every opportunity to preserve these stories.
SNF 2023: 5 Favourite Installations
700 Years by Zizi Majid, Muhammad Izdi, Jérémie Bellot (AV Extended)
Location: Façade of National Museum of Singapore
700 Years is the feature mapping projection of SNF 2023 and is described as the first time a Night Festival projection is taking on a “theatrical narrative and approach.” The six-minute projection is also a synopsis of the festival theme. That of Singapore, the Great Port City.
I enjoyed it, even though 700 Years lacks the sort of visual grandeur of past SNF projections. The mythology fan in me was thrilled by the (rather comical) mention of Sang Nila Utama, the mythical prince who supposedly gave Singapore her modern name. The appearance of Maya in the story frame also infused the tale with a certain dream-like quality; I presume the Maya here is the Hindu Goddess of Dreams.
To me, the story further implies that the legend of Singapore is itself a dream. Not as in wild fantasy but how seven centuries of heritage and belief created an international city that is vibrant and thriving today. In other words, a dream come true.
Cherish this dream and we can look forward to more beautiful years. Embrace our heritage and we’ll have the tenacity to shine brighter.
Time is a Black Circle by Dawn Ng
Location: National Museum of Singapore, Gallery Theatre
Dawn Ng’s Time is a Black Circle is the ticketed, “Highlight Act” of Singapore Night Festival 2023. Visiting it is a little confusing because there are different tickets and timings.
In essence, if you wish to skate, you need to purchase a SGD 27/- ticket. Even if you do not wish to skate, you still need to buy a ticket at the same price. (It’s a different ticket, though)
However, the installation is free to enjoy, without skating, between 10 am and 4 pm.
Ticketing complexity aside, I think Time is a Black Circle is well worth your time if you love the Swinging Sixties and disco culture. Yup, even if you don’t intend to skate. Upon stepping into the gallery, I was instantly reminded of American and European music shows from the ’60s that I watched on TV so many years ago.
The pastel colours and hazy mist generate a certain retro feeling too, which is so apt for the era represented. Oh, watching skaters go round and round invokes memories of, you know, vinyl record playing. That’s another way this brilliant installation encourages reminiscence.
A Global Bugis Phinisi by Tay Swee Siong
Location: Stamford Arts Centre
A Global Bugis Phinisi enjoys its own display chamber at Stamford Arts Centre and I loved it the moment I stepped in.
Might not be what the artist intended but the kaleidoscopic motifs and neon lights instantly gave me the impression of an enigmatic alien space vessel full of secrets and wonders. Each of those intricate panels also felt like they could contain distinctive worlds, with their own gravity and ecological spheres and all that.
Am I reading this magnificent masterpiece the wrong way?
Well, according to official descriptions, A Global Bugis Phinisi pays homage to a traditional Buginese sea vessel and is a testament to the craftsmen who “weaved together” the essence that fueled Singapore’s maritime success. I kinda feel this is not too different from mile-long spaceships in science fiction that transport colonists to strange new worlds.
But never mind, I’m just being geeky here. I tend to be whenever I see an astonishing art masterpiece.
A Stone’s Throw (Away) by WY-TO Group
Location: National Museum of Singapore lawn, beside Banyan Tree
Just like 700 Years, I love A Stone’s Throw (Away) because it’s inspired by mythology. Specifically, the tale of Badang the Strongman.
Being a young country descended from immigrants, Singapore has very few myths that she could claim as representative. It’s thus great to see artists and the Night Festival devote effort to showcasing whatever little we have.
And like the official programme states, hopefully, this showcasing inspires interest in hidden stories of Singapore, i.e., other local myths. To share, despite being a huge fan of mythology, I didn’t know about Badang till seeing an art projection featuring him in the 2019th edition of Light to Night Festival. Neither did I know about other local myths such as Attack of the Swordfish until I read about them this year. What piqued my interest in these tales was art features like A Stone’s Throw (Away).
Don’t be like me. While there aren’t a lot, there’s still quite a collection of exotic, magical Singaporean tales out there waiting to be remembered. If you’re visiting SNF 2023, spend extra time at A Stone’s Throw (Away). After which, check out the many resources in our libraries featuring other local folktales.
PORT CITY 2.0 @ The Peranakan Museum
Being able to visit local museums after dark is a huge attraction of the Singapore Night Festival. But in 2019, the Peranakan Museum closed for renovations. Then the pandemic came, after which the Philatelic Museum was also permanently closed for conversion. For over four years, the Armenian Street and Coleman Street area was silent during the Night Festival, despite having some art installations nearby.
Well, both museums have reopened and festivities have returned to the area. The freshly restored façade of the Peranakan Museum is nothing short of breathtaking when illuminated, doubly so with that lion gateway erected for the festival. (Is it a lion?)
I love the ambience so much that I lingered in the surrounding festive village longer than I did at the main one. Naturally, I didn’t miss the opportunity to visit the museum at night too. Though the exhibits are the same, somehow, they feel magically different when viewed in the evening hours.