Editor’s note: One of the festivals named in this article, I Light, has been canceled due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
Like at festivals worldwide, light projection mappings have become popular attractions in Singapore, as two local artists who’ve lit some of the city-state’s most iconic buildings can attest.
Brandon Tay and Safuan Johari, both 38, are the creative minds behind this year’s Art Skins on Monuments spectacle, a headlining visual display as part of the recently concluded annual Light to Night Festival.
“During the opening weekend, we have like the city tiles submissions like almost reach close to 4,000. So that is quite encouraging for just two nights,” Safuan told Coconuts Singapore in a recent interview. The event opened on Jan. 10.
Safuan and Brandon worked together to source, curate and design the animated graphics that are then mapped onto some of the most intricate facades in downtown Singapore, including the National Gallery, which was built during British colonial rule in the 1930s.
The duo’s work this year featured, for the first time ever, an interactive segment called Metapolis: City Tiles, during which visitors can interact with the work by scanning a QR code.
Light projection mappings are a hit among locals, including art enthusiasts and, of course, those seeking the perfect Instagram photo. But that doesn’t mean it takes the spotlight away from other more meaningful forms of art such as poetry readings or plays.
“I think with the Art Skins, as the name suggests, it is just a ‘skin’ on the building right. But then as you go into all the different monuments for example like that Arts House they have like other exciting poetry readings like book performances within the Arts house so it’s just like as our works go on the facade you pass through the facade, you discover more of the festival,” Safuan said.
“Maybe that is one of the purposes of the Art Skins on Monuments is to kind of like create like a landmark or waypoints for other people to kind of investigate what is going on in the gallery as well,” Tay chimed in.
Not only are light projection mappings popular in Singapore, but they also appear to be the most accepted form of art in a country where there are laws governing creative expression in public places and those found guilty could be fined up to S$2,000 for vandalism. And artists have been prosecuted.
For instance, street artist Samantha Lo, who goes by the moniker SKL0, was in 2013 sentenced to 240 hours of community service for spraypainting “My Grandfather Road” on Telegraph Street and “My Grandfather Building” on the wall of the Realty Centre.
In 2017, artist Priyageetha Dia was forced to remove gold foil she covered a staircase with at a public housing block.
“It is a matter of permanence isn’t it,” Tay said. “It’s like projection is a temporal art form like it doesn’t stay there forever. I mean I am not one to kind of dispute this kind or discuss the legality of graffiti or not. But I feel they are completely different art forms.”
This week, Singapore’s Sentosa island launched a new light and music show where colorful light and animation is projected onto a 400-meter stretch of Siloso Beach. There is also the I Light Festival followed by the Singapore Night Festival light extravaganza that usually takes place at the end of the year with light projection mappings on the façade of the National Museum, among others.
There are heaps of opportunities for light artists looking to shine their artworks. Both Tay and Safuan are also grooming future Singapore light projection mappers under a two-month mentorship program with Nanyang Polytechnic students.
“What we have seen, like all these young talents, technically they have got it sorted. They can really do great works in terms of animation,” Safuan said.
“It is just a matter of us guiding them with like concepts and how to technical debrief and how to make their work more relevant to the festival theme so I guess our advice is to keep on doing it and these days in Singapore there are a lot of opportunities for them to get their works featured on,” he added.
But there’s still a lot of work to do, according to Brandon.
“A lot of projection mapping, new media work is based on exploiting or exploring like new technologies. I think projection mapping is at a stage where it can be more, it can start having more complex competitions,” he said.