Words in visuals
Literary works are turned into artworks to help the public appreciate Singapore writers
If you are a regular jogger at Punggol Waterway, a flash of colour may distract you from your morning exercise.
The bold lines and comic-book colours of a newly painted mural at Sunset Strip depict seven robots who, at first glance, seem to be your usual hollow-hearted tin toys. Take a step closer and you will notice something strange: The robots are in love. As a pair of droids give each other sidelong glances, evocative lines in text bubbles hover over their heads: "STUMBLED OVER YOU," says one.
"COULDN'T GET UP," confesses another.
The 16m by 4m mural, titled Accident, is the work of Sonny Liew, an illustrator and comic book artist. It is based on a poem of the same name by Gilbert Koh, a lawyer who published his first poetry collection, Two Baby Hands, in 2009. Accident is one of four works commissioned under Project Lava, an initiative by the National Arts Council, in partnership with the Housing & Development Board, National Parks Board and National Library Board.
The project aims to engage audiences through artworks that visually reinterpret local literary works, and which will be placed at prominent locations around Singapore.
Mr Paul Tan, director of Sector Development (Literary Arts) at the National Arts Council, said: "Project Lava hopes to build greater awareness of the interesting Singapore writers in our midst and inspire greater appreciation for the literary arts."
The other three works are The Point Of Arrival by Tania De Rozario, based on Cyril Wong's poem of the same name; Born Of Paper by Charlene Shepherdson, based on Catherine Lim's short story Paper; and Choice Cuts by Amanda Lee and Winnie Goh, based on original texts by Singaporean authors and industry professionals such as Alvin Pang, Ng Yi-Sheng and Life! writer Corrie Tan.
These works are smaller installations displayed at community libraries since last month. They will be moved to a new library each month and remain up until March next year. Liew's mural will be at Punggol Waterway until May 2014 and there are currently no plans as to what will happen after that.
The process of painting the mural was not an easy one for Liew (above), who received the Young Artist Award from the National Arts Council in 2010.
Earlier this month, someone defaced the artwork with a black crayon and scribbled over two of the seven robots.
"I was a little upset as I had spent many hours on the mural, but I realised I can't control it," said the 38-year-old. The work took two to three months to paint, with the help of about 20 friends.
Liew had to repaint over the crayon marks, but he acknowledges that to reach a wider audience, certain risks have to be taken with the artwork.
Putting art in public places is like "taking an expensive handbag from a shop and putting it outside on the street", he said.
"If it's in a gallery or a collection, most people won't be able to see the original pieces."
De Rozario's work features two chairs and a table, all in clinical white, and close to 500 pins spread out in a grid-like pattern along the table top. Around these pins, thin white thread is looped to spell out the last four lines of the poem.
Explaining the process of re-interpreting an existing literary work, the assistant lecturer at Lasalle College of the Arts said: "As an artist and writer, it has been an interesting experience for me, trying to create an art object that evokes an emotion similar to the one I first had when I read The Point Of Arrival."
The 31-year-old added: "I think we use different parts of our brains when we create or react to words or images or objects. It is interesting exploring that space in between both these languages."
Liew agreed that a fusion of the visual and literary has its advantages.
"To me, part of what makes comics interesting is that the interaction between the visuals and the text makes new meaning. When you combine them, you get something new," said Mr Liew.
Fortunately for him, the poet who supplied the text was pleased with the final result.
"I did meet Gilbert afterwards to ask him what he thought. I was worried because while everything in his poem was in lower-case, I made everything upper-case and broke up his poem into word balloons. Luckily, he still said he was quite happy as he had never seen his work in a visual form before."