Art Interactions In A COVID-19 World
Have you ever seen an artwork and thought, "I could do that!"? How is that art? Can anything be art? But "what is art?" is too lame a question to ask, so instead we raise you one better.
"WHO. IS. ART?"
As part of international PARK(ing) Day, we took over a parklet with Bold At Work in Jurong (Singapore) for 4 hours. PARK(ing) Day is a worldwide movement to challenge and repurpose urban space by temporarily transforming metered parking spaces into public parks to perhaps even reimagine social interactions.
We set up a neighborhood museum with art inside at the back of a mini cargo van. Participants could come in groups of 1-4 people and they go through a guided art appreciation process. We had audio instructions, a guided pocket guide (the Paw Cat Guide!) which they can take home after, and in-person instructions from us as well.
For this session, the 'art' piece was one of the people sitting on a chair labeled "You Is Art". They only found out after they took a seat and finally noticed the label.
The person who is the 'art' then proceeds to hold up a gold frame around them so the rest of the group can make observations about them and draw out insights about this artwork in a fun way.
For people who came solo, we set up a mirror that framed their faces and they could look at themselves and fill in the Paw Cat Guide.
What do you think is the heaviest thing they can lift with their pinky (little finger)? What does the shape of their ears remind you of? (Dim sum? Seashells? Cat paws?) How many strands of hair do you think they have on their head?
As they got comfortable in their little bubble, we found them smiling, sometimes observing and sometimes joking as they went from question to question. As simple as the questions seemed, each group took about 20 minutes to look at just one artwork - without anyone telling them how to look at it.
This is an achievement! When was the last time you observed one thing for longer than a few minutes? Even if it was in a museum?
By the time they are done, they would have swapped stories or noticed little things about themselves or the people next to them that otherwise would have gone unnoticed because life moves too fast for us these days. They came out of the van wearing stickers on their shirts that said: "You Is Art".
While we left each group to create their own little bubbles inside the van, we took a picture for each group and printed them out on the spot for them to take home the memories as a little parting gift.
When we were planning this, we fully expected the public to be skeptical of a sketchy black van parked in a neighborhood lot inviting people to go on it. We really didn't expect much, we created this mostly because it was fun for us. We hoped people would join in on the fun. Our expectation was to serve and create this experience for at least 12 people during the 4 hours. At the end of it, not only did we run out of all the Paw Cat Guides we printed (we printed 30!), we had to rush to make more. We served more than 40-45 people! I am thrilled, humbled, surprised, and pleasantly taken aback that people enjoyed this. It was incredibly fulfilling to see people want to make art a part of their lives and see them take that home with them.
The most surprising part was seeing people willing to wait for their turn patiently. We even saw some people get comfortable with a book as they waited for their turn to go in.
Creating art experiences for neighbourhood communities
When designing this experience, we wondered if English as a language might be a barrier to some neighbourhood residents participating in this experience. With our limited resources & skillsets, we managed to translate the full experience, all the way from the audio guides to the Paw Cat Guides to Mandarin.
I acknowledge merely translating to just one other language for Singapore’s multicultural neighbourhoods may not be enough. Many minority communities would enjoy the experience with translations in their own languages.
I am hopeful that we will be able to take this project on a ‘road trip to more neighbourhoods in the future - a time and opportunity to increase the number of translations then.
With this project, we sought to give people a way to connect art to themselves, and hence with others. This increased ability to make art part of people's everyday life and relevant to them makes them more engaged.
Safety concerns in a COVID-19 world & things we contemplated about and learned along the way:
- Think of it as occupying a table when going out to a restaurant. There is more safety if the groups don't mix as much with each other. So people who went in the van all either came from the same group of people they already knew or went in on their own.
- We set aside a budget for sanitization products. We had everything from air sprays, to liquid disinfectants, cleaning cloth, and sanitization wipes. We cleaned after each group - everything that was touched would be sanitized.
- People checked into the little station using a QR code - so there is a way to know who came before them, and who came after them.
- People had to sanitize their hands before entering and touching anything inside.
- As normal rules apply, everyone had to be wearing a mask.
- The van was well ventilated, with the windows all kept open.
- We made up for the alcohol smell with a nice scented candle!
We found the people understood these rules and embraced this (willingly or unwillingly) as the new normal. Even the kids were compliant and understood this was necessary for their safety. They waited patiently in socially distant lines, for the van to be sanitized before they got on.
If you could describe your Parking Day experience in one word, what would that be? Why?
Anya: Moved. I was incredibly moved at how people seemed to engage with the art and the 'neighbourhood museum' idea. We saw friends make new memories, giggle at the little things they learnt about each other as they looked at each other in new light, kids playing and engaging in active discussions despite the abstract nature of the artwork, parents or siblings come in with their loved ones to spend their precious time together.
Ri: Surprised. I wasn't expecting such warm responses for an arts installation right out of Covid, and in a neighbourhood. We fully expected people to find our installation shady, but in fact many people approached it with curiosity instead of judgement. It really flipped my impression of how Singaporeans value art in their lives.