16 December 2014

Creative Community . . .


I love working with people. I'm much better at active and participatory work then anything else. So if someone gives me the opportunity to work with a large number of people on an art project, I'm gonna do it . . . 

Back in May, I was asked to work on two major community projects. One in the Bedok neighborhood in Singapore and one in the Bukit Batok neighborhood. Both projects were extremely exciting to be a part of . . . More recently--in August--I was asked to rebuild the Bedok project and begin a new project in Toa Payoh. 

What happens in Singapore with these types of projects is the artist is just sort of the maker of the project and has very little input in the planning, brainstorming, and organization of the project. I find this a bit problematic because the artist will be able to help navigate the facilitation and completion of a project better if allowed to be more of a voice behind the work. In this blogpost, I hope to highlight both the spectacular nature of working on community projects, as well as some of the challenges that are important to reflect upon. 


The first project I was asked to be a part of was a bottle cap mural at Bukit Batok. Apptly titled Color Field, this project was located on the front facing side of cement seating at the neighborhood sports plaza. The project was approved and started about a month before they wanted to show it for display. This was a giant project. And there was a lot of responsibility left up to the community and residents of the neighborhood: collection of bottle caps and volunteering of their time to work on the project. When so much of the success of a project is put on the shoulders of a community, there is a lot of risk involved. Two things happened: there were not enough caps collected and not enough people volunteered their time to help put the mural together. Both challenges pushed the project back several months. Additionally, I felt like there were some major communication issues within the sponsoring party of this project. I was under the impression that they were rounding up lots and lots of volunteers, as one would do with a giant project such as this. But every time I showed up to work, there were only 6 - 15 people there. This was a huge project! 15 people help, but we definitely needed more. Maybe close to 50 people that could rotate their time. And the collection of the caps should have started in January, several months prior to the project. As it was, we did get a great portion of the work done, but the project wasn't officially finished until National Day (4 months later). It still won an award at the Works of Wonder presentation in early September. But it felt a bit bittersweet . . . Especially since none of the community showed up to the awards ceremony. Celebration is such a huge part of these types of projects. But I don't think there was enough motivation and excitement behind this project to make things happen.




The second project I was asked to be a part of was Origami Hut (Woven Hut of Hearts) in the Bedok neighborhood. This was a fantastically fun project with lots of enthusiastic volunteers! This project also won a Works of Wonders award, and I was even asked to rebuild it at the actual awards ceremony in a very high traffic area of downtown Singapore. So if you are wondering if I am skilled in weaving huts together, I am now an expert. Ha!! The initial hut was built in early June of 2014 (see above). The following pictures show the project as it was rebuilt for the awards ceremony, over the course of 2 days, in August 2014. I really, really loved working with the seniors on this project. They were so energetic and excited! It was so much fun to meet all of them, and watch them help to bring this large structure to life! I really don't feel like there were any challenges with this project except that there were some misleading factors. The original hut was made of recycled fabrics and t-shirts. But the re-built hut was not, although they still advertised the second hut that was created as "recycled". There was also some strangeness where the award was concerned. The community didn't really think that I should be a part of the receiving end of it. So I had to sort of fight my way into the pictures. I mean doesn't the person whose concept it was and the person who built it deserve some sort of recognition? I thought so . . . It was also very strange and manufactured to me that as the prime minister of cultural affairs walked around, when he came to our project, one of the main community members from our group immediately made some people start weaving on the hut, as if they were naturally engaged while he was walking through our structure. It felt very forced and odd. Other than those quirks, I would totally do this project again . . . It was an incredible project to be a part of!


























The third community project that I was asked to complete for 2014 was a water bottle recycling project with the Toa Payoh neighborhood in celebration of the Moon Festival (Mid-Autumn Festival). This was also a project working with several seniors in the community. It was quite fun to work on, but I felt like this time the community didn't have much of a say as to what they made or what material they used . . . They were utilizing plastic water bottles, but did they want to use water bottles as a material? Who knows? All I know is that the water bottle usage seemed very questionable . . . For one, I think a portion of the water bottles weren't even recycled, but the water just poured out and used (insert Home Alone surprise face emoticon here). The plastic bags were legit and turned out beautifully. They reminded me of horse manes as I sliced them up and bunched them together . . . But they were super tricky to install in the wind. They would blow around and because of static electricity would stick to everything!! Argh! The water bottles we ended up cutting into loops and stringing together. I loved how it ended up looking, but it was super difficult to install. You would think that staples would be able to hold these light little rings together but they wouldn't! Every time the wind would blow, they would snap apart . . . So we had to go around and staple everything like a thousand times to get it to hold! But it all came together in a crazy plastic light fantastic when the disco lights were installed. So much fun! And doesn't it resemble bubbles? I couldn't help but think of the plastic bottle loops as floating bubbles!

But I vowed never to work outside again after this project . . . I say no more to rain, no more to wind, and no more to heat! Give me an indoor space and air conditioning any day of the week . . . Ta-da! 





















Additionally we ended up finishing off the community mural this year with my home neighborhood of Kallang. And we have started a new project with them: I am co-facilitating a lantern parade with Sarah Johnson. We have 11th graders building lanterns for their community service project and they are assisting younger students who we have taking a co-curricular class on Thursday afternoons. It's really coming along quite well! I can't wait to post more on this magical project as it blossoms! I adore working with 11th graders!!! 


It's been a very busy year out in the Singapore community . . . Indeed!! To many, many more fun opportunities in 2015!! Hooray!