In 200 years from now, the world will be ___________. What word would you use to fill in the blank? In conjunction with the Singapore Bicentennial, which looks at our historical past, the ArtScience Museum’s new exhibition 2219: Futures Imagined invites us to move forward to explore a Singapore 200 years in the future. Rather than a sterile, technologically-controlled dystopia, the exhibition, inspired by the work of local poet and writer Alvin Pang, evokes an intimate, self-reflexive musing of human life though five acts which take you from the present to the year 2219.
2219: Futures Imagined is on from 23 November 2019 to 5 April 2020, and entry is FREE for all students studying in local institutions. There are 10 main exhibits by 30 artists, architects, designers, and writers. These are some that my children really liked.
Act I — Arrival
We’re still here in 2019 and the world, as you know, is far from pristine. The effects of global warming are starting to be felt. We sit and watch their rippling effects in Purple, an immersive experiential installation that surrounds us in this colour of mourning in Ghana, where UK artist John Akomfrah was born.
Six massive screens lining a curved wall project scenes of wilderness and human communities. It appears to be an elegy to the planet. Water runs over aged photos, juxtaposed with desolate landscapes. A haunting soundtrack adds to the sense of loss and despair. Everything that we see on the screens has disappeared, or is disappearing. Art reflects life reflecting art. We are struck by the ephemeral nature of both.
Kid review: Really makes you think, said the older child.
Act II — Home
We are in the middle of the 21st century. Global warming and extreme weather conditions have changed the way we live and move. At this reconstructed void deck of an HDB block, you may notice new modes of transport — a tall bicycle (all the better to navigate flood waters, eh) and a kayak.
Mitigation of Shock invites us to step into the HDB flat of the future as envisioned by Superflux (UK/India). Home to a family with a young child, it is also a microcosm for different species, from plants to crawlers. Recipes pasted on the kitchen cabinet suggest that the new superfood of the future may be cockroaches!
Remember to look out of the window for a glimpse into what a future HDB estate may look like, and peruse The Strange Times either in the flat, or outside at the reading area.
Kid review: I like this one. It’s eco-friendly because there are a lot of plants. I like newspapers of the future too. They are more interesting that the ones we have now, the younger child said.
Act III — Underworld
It is the year 2060, and living conditions have deteriorated. The Earth’s surface is inhabitable for humans and we have moved underground. Subterranean Singapore 2065 is an architectural installation envisions what an optimal living environment could be then.
Singaporean artist Donna Ong’s instillation, The Forest Speaks Back (II), consists of about 5,000 green glass bottles placed in columns. These structures remind us of a fragile forest of sustainable trees and the lights twinkling though make them very Christmassy indeed. Listen out for the insects too. Note to parents: Watch the kids around these. You don’t want any of these ‘trees’ to be accidentally felled!
Blooming (2018) by Lisa Park (USA/Korea) is one of the more interactive pieces in the exhibition. Remove your shoes and your socks, and stand next to each other on the circular metal plates. Touch your fingers together and watch how the cherry blossom tree on the screen in front of you responds. Hug, and see it bloom. It’s a beautiful reminder of the importance of human relationships in a disconnected world.
Kid review: It (Subterranean Singapore 2065 ) reminds me of that book we just read (The Wandering Earth by Cixin Liu), said the older child. I like how the colours on the tree change when we touch each other, the younger one said.
The Library of Necessary Books at 2219: Futures Imagined
Located between Acts III and IV, this presents a selection of books that may be valuable to people of the future as they look to the past to understand their present. There’s a section curated by librarians, as well as a section of books that have been donated from the public. Submissions can be made during Library Hours (23 Nov and 7 Dec 2019; 4 Jan, 1 Feb, 7 Mar, and 4 April 2020, 12 – 2pm).
Kid review: This is my absolute favourite, said the older child (caveat: normally loves books anyway so is probably biased). It’s like a time capsule of books for the future generation. How do you choose which ones to put in there?
Act IV – Adaptation
We are now in 2119 and rising sea levels have forced humans to adapt and adopt very different ways of living. In win > < win, groups of nine enter a black box, put on headphones, and listen to instructions.
This 16-minute interactive theatre experience by Rimini Protokoll (Germany) is probably the most confrontational experience in the exhibition. Although all you have do is sit, listen, and watch, what you see and hear sends your mind reeling. No spoilers here; suffice it to say this was the one that we walked out of with our perspectives displaced.
Kid review: I feel that this exhibit is designed to pose questions about our existence on this Earth and humans as a species. It contrasts humanity as a species compared to less developed organisms, namely moon jellyfish. The exhibit invites us to think about which species will truly be dominant in the future. As the climate warms up and humanity’s destructive impact on nature continues, jellyfish may be the overall winners and that is what this exhibit reminds us: that though we are currently superior to lower organisms, we may not be in the future, said the older child.
Act V – Memory
Singapore begins to commemorate its Quadricentennial. It is 2219 and the worst (we hope) is in our past. Freed from having to deal with practicalities we search for meaning in our lives and find this in the customs, domestic crafts, and rituals that have endured. These traditions, passed down generation after generation, are the real survivors of time.
Our strings to the past seem almost tangible, and it is comforting and assuring to realise that these intimate legacies that seem so small, so pedestrian, so everyday, are indeed the knots that we weave into the lifelines of our times, and which each generation will continue to do so, into the future.
2219: Futures Imagined is on at the ArtScience Museum from 23 November 2019 to 5 April 2020. Tickets from $12 (child, 2-12 years), $16 (adult, Singapore resident), $45 (family package, Singapore residents) are available online and at the museum. More details at the website.
Header and featured images: Finbarr Fallon