The Bras Basah and Bugis precincts were transformed during August from a bustling arts district by day to one bathed in brilliant, vibrant rays of light by night. Heritage buildings became giant canvases brightened by colour; while performers, musicians and artists roved the streets and staged shows to entertain inquisitive onlookers. Welcome to another edition of the Singapore Night Festival.
Organised by the National Heritage Board (NHB) and supported by the Ministry of Culture Community and Youth, the Singapore Night Festival launched in 2008, and has grown the arts community and environment in the Lion City ever since.
As with the 2017 iteration, the NHB chose international experiential marketing firm Auditoire as the lead event agency, tasking it with planning, executing and managing Singapore’s largest outdoor art festival––one that featured 16 light installations by local and international artists and 52 performances across different art genres.
“Festivals on this scale contribute to Singapore’s front as a digitally and technologically advanced nation,” says Carol Loo, Auditoire executive director, Asia.
“Its inclusiveness of foreign artists and cross-collaborations highlights the nation’s multi-cultural and ethnic backgrounds. Being held in the last weeks of August also makes it a perfect ending to the nation’s birthday [August 9], giving pride to locals. In time to come, the festival could even become a destination event for tourists.”
The role of the festival was also, as Loo points out, to “create more common platforms for people of different walks of life to meet and communicate, and to work with local music and theatre groups through a ground-up approach.”
The NHB deliberately chose performances and acts that got close to festival-goers, producing a more immersive experience for visitors.
Among these were FierS à Cheval, 3.5-metre glowing horses that weaved through the crowds, a piece by Company Quidams, a French outdoor theatre troupe. A festival village with 40 stalls also staged music from around the world.
The festival represented a midsummer’s celebration, one with cross-disciplinary influences and practitioners including artists, designers, architects and engineers. A number of firsts helped challenge perceptions and provoke discussion.
Jervais Choo, programme director of the Festival, says: “The outcome was really encouraging, with some unique collaborations. We have taken active steps to encourage more local participation. The Night Lights Open Call initiative, which started in 2016, received 33 submissions in 2018––the most we’ve ever received.”
A festival highlight, the Night Lights are installations that appear throughout the district, or turn façades into transitory, ephemeral works of wonder. They are familiar buildings whose role in the fabric of society is temporarily re-positioned through the clever, creative use of light and imagery.
The lawn of the National Museum of Singapore became a forest below the sea in the ‘Acquatic Dream’ installation co-produced by Auditoire and Singapore-based design practice Lekker Architects. Graffiti in an alley near Armenian Street came to life, illuminated by RGB spotlights controlled by integrated motion sensors.
“We are always pushing to develop creativity and we encourage the artists we collaborate with to do the same for the festival,” says Loo.
Jazz dance group EV Dance and local engineering firm Hope Technik worked together when the jazz dancers wore exoskeletons, a piece of equipment usually worn by workers when lifting heavy items.
Interactive installations also helped to bridge the gap between performer and audience. Automatarium, by Spanish artist David Berga, was inspired by the coin-activated fairground attractions of the late 19th century. Here the figure inside the box would mimic the stilted movements of the automatons, exploring comedy, storytelling, song and mime.
While the event certainly posed challenges, including arranging such a complex, diverse event, and the coordination of security (road safety, crowd control, bag checks and more) and licensing approval, the goal to promote creativity and the arts in Singapore turned out a success.
“We are sending the message that creativity is not a trait that only artists possess,” Loo says.