Otherworlds: Technology Transcends Reality in this Physical and VR Exhibition

Do you remember being told stories by your parents, grandparents, or even great-grandparents about the struggles they had in, and I say this in their words, their times? They might have talked about their experiences during World War II, the Japanese Occupation, or just the simple struggles like not having technology or needing to walk kilometres to go to school? I’m sure they always added at the end of their story, “Things are easier now. You’re lucky you don’t have the same nightmares we did. Be grateful.”

Well, it looks like we’re facing our very own nightmare right now – the COVID-19 pandemic.

We’re going to have so many new stories to share with our younger generations about the struggles we’re facing right now. But what will your story be about?

You see, the pandemic may have put some things on pause, but it never stopped one thing – the drive to keep learning, growing, and thriving. We, as individuals, have to keep our minds and bodies active to make these stories count.

And that’s what the Otherworlds: Non/Digital Realities exhibition has showcased – stories of those who faced challenges during a dark time, and rose above them.

As part of Singapore Art Week (SAW) 2021, this exhibition was live from 28-31 January 2021 at Gillman Barracks. Co-represented by Altermodernists and supported by the Singapore National Arts Council, this mixed-realities exhibition documents artworks that express the struggles we face in our current pandemic-stricken world, done by artists who put their own stories into their artworks.

Otherworlds: ‘The Intersection of Worlds and the Unbreakable Bond’
‘The Intersection of Worlds and the Unbreakable Bond’, by Yeoh Wee Hwee, tombstone-like structures pay homage to those who passed on due to COVID-19.

This exhibition opens up a whole new realm created by technology, as you find yourself reminiscing the times of physical freedom and real human interaction, while also admiring the products of other humans’ inventive minds. Here, eight artists put together artworks incorporating VR immersion and interactivity, as they recall how the pandemic has impacted their lives.

The exhibition was free-to-roam, so scanning a QR code upon entry (no, not SafeEntry) opens a document that became our very own virtual tour guide. (The QR code was microscopic and did not catch my eye initially, but it was there!)

Every artwork had its own story to share, with its own take on technology and its role in the pandemic and our Circuit Breaker.

Otherworlds: ‘Avatar’ by Yim Sui Fong
‘Avatar’ by Yim Sui Fong, a 25-minute-long sound and video installation, with the theme of “companionship” as it reflects on the nature of human relationships.

A few of the artworks opened my eyes about how our world runs and how it’s changed over the course of the pandemic. It’s pushed my knowledge of art beyond the textbook definitions of what it encapsulates; not just some paint on a canvas and photographs in a frame but the real magic of our imagination. It’s taught me that there is no limit to one’s creativity, unless you place oneself. 

Otherworlds: ‘Mind Ink Printing Machine (MIPM)’ by Yeo Shih Yun
Set-up of ‘Mind Ink Printing Machine (MIPM)’ by Yeo Shih Yun

The first artwork that really blew my mind was the MIND INK PRINTING MACHINE (MIPM), by Yeo Shih Yun. The brain is the most powerful, yet the most mysterious organ of the human body, and it never fails to intrigue even the brightest. Yeo’s curiosity and her inability to travel to her studio to create art led her to explore a whole new realm of ink art. 

Yes, her paintings are made of brainwaves! Human brain waves are translated into digital ink paintings in real-time via a computer programme! Insane, right?

During a time of uncertainty and societal volatility, Yeo found peace in meditation, as she used a mobile app that tracked her brain waves. This artwork of hers results from her determination, fascination and passion for revolutionising the world of ink art. We’ve done nothing but complain about situations we have no control over and what we wish they could have been, when all we have to do is open our minds a little, and make the most out of it.

Otherworlds: ‘Gradient Nations and an Unsynchronised Uncertainty’ by Gabriel Leung
‘Gradient Nations and an Unsynchronised Uncertainty’ by Gabriel Leung

Another incredible artwork that engages not just your sense of sight, but also the importance of hearing, is the GRADIENT NATIONS AND AN UNSYNCHRONISED UNCERTAINTY, by Gabriel Leung. You see large flag-like structures hanging from the ceiling with the brightest gradients. At first, you would think it’s a painting made with paint and brushes.

Think again. These are gradient colours depicted from still images of crowds from the pre-pandemic times. The memory of these once-ordinary daily instances now seems like that of another time. They seem so surreal that we can’t even remember the last gathering we had freely, without masks, without a metre of social distancing. 

As you walk closer, you will hear sounds from two speakers – one on your right and another on your left. The sounds you hear from both ears are different, expressing the uneasiness and confusion we’re all feeling on the inside. This artwork depicts the chaos and disorder that is our world right now, as we speak. Truly brilliant. 

There were eight artworks by eight talented artists, including Ivy Yuen, Elaine Wong, Debbie Ding, Yim Sui Fong, Urich Lau and Yeoh Wee Hwee.

Otherworlds: ‘The Unknown Garden’ by Ivy Yuen
‘The Unknown Garden’ by Ivy Yuen, an interactive archive of flowers that represent the union and connection of two countries – Singapore and Hong Kong

Each of these artists has mind-provoking artworks that range between various genres. They have so much more to offer beyond this exhibition, and you can stay tuned to learn more about them!

I left the Otherworlds: Non/Digital Realities exhibition venue with a renewed sense of art, the capabilities of the human brain, and increased awareness of the world around me, for these are the stories these artists have weaved on their own to share with the world, and our younger generations. 

So, how do you want to be remembered by your descendants? Someone who gave in to the obstacles that came with a pandemic, or someone who embraced every challenge to create a better version of themselves? 

What is your story? Have you started yours, or is it yet to see a beginning?

Photos by Darren Chiong of the DANAMIC Team.

Baani Kaur

Aspiring to achieve great heights like every human in the world, but till then, enjoy the most dramatic and sarcastic person you will ever read from.

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