Sunday, April 26, 2009


We went to Singapore for a couple of days at Easter. As it happened the hotel we wanted wasn't available and we ended up at the Carlton, which is right next to the new Singapore Management University. This was of interest only because a few years ago me and a classmate, Connie Chu, won a competition to design an art installation for the SMU Library which was funded by Li Ka Shing.

We were originally set the competition brief as an assignment for a typography course and after we had completed it we thought we might as well submit it to the competition as we had already done the work anyway, and we won.

The original design was a large-scale interactive installation (the competition theme was 'Knowledge Reshapes Destiny') where people walking onto the space generated ripples of knowledge in the form of quotations which floated down to reshape the cityscape. The design was technically ambitious and would have been expensive to implement so it was no surprise that when we met the representative of the competition organisers (a well-known HK artist) he said that they liked our design but wanted to explore some alternative ways to implement it. Weirdly, he suggested a mosaic, which is perhaps the dumbest way to implement an interactive installation you could imagine.

Anyway, we went away and spent a lot of time researching other ways to implement the installation that overcame the technical challenges and were low maintenance but retained the interactive element. Most of them were cheaper than installing a mosaic. At our next meeting Mr W asked straight away to see 'the mosaic'. It became clear that the decision had already been taken that the installation would be a mosaic and he wasn't at all interested in the other designs so we rattled off a mosaic design and hoped that we would be able to meet the real decision makers at the site visit we had been promised and change their minds. Of course the site visit never materialised, we never met the organ-grinder, and after some time the installation size and location was also changed at which point I lost interest in the whole thing and pretty much forgot about it.

So when I ended up in a hotel next to the SMU I thought I'd wander over and have a look. Four things struck me about the completed installation:

1) Yes, it's a freakin' mosaic.

2) I guess you could get some limited sense of the original intention of the piece if you step onto the 'ripples' but of course they have put pot plants at either end of the mosaic to discourage even that limited 'interaction'.

3) They have, of course, changed many of the quotes we had originally suggested (in fact, we had originally suggested that there be an input terminal so that students using the library could input their own quotes but we knew that was never going to fly in Singapore). The quotes were from famous thinkers and philosophers but only three thinkers were deemed to be sufficiently important as to warrant more than one quotation, the great thinkers Aristotle, Einstein and ...err, Li Ka Shing, sponsor of the library.

4) The mosaic is pleasant enough but could have been done by any interior designer; why did they bother inviting people to create artwork if that's all they wanted? They could have saved everybody a lot of wasted time by just asking an interior designer to make a mosaic for them in the first place.

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