The Arts House, Singapore’s home for the literary arts, will be lit from both within and without this January. Taking place in conjunction with the National Gallery Singapore’s Light to Night Festival (as part of Singapore Art Week), Prologue marks the start of the Arts House’s 2020 season, presenting a ‘sample platter’ of activities and programmes to look out for in the year to come.
Speaking to Alicia Chong, the Prologue programmer and curator shared how this year’s theme was conceptualised and solidified into a working programme. “Prologue follows this year’s Light to Night theme of Invisible Cities, which itself was inspired by the Italo Calvino novel of the same name,” says Chong. “And for us, that was an opportunity for our programme to deconstruct and imagine the city as a physical space inhabited by living things. We want to probe visitors’ imaginations to consider the city from different angles, as they explore the construct of a city in all its aspects.”
“Take By Candlelight: Beethoven’s Fidelio, for instance,” she adds; “which will be a special 1-hour adaptation of Beethoven’s only opera. While people might think it’s just ‘classical music’, it’s still ultimately a text-based and story-driven performance. It also ties in with the theme because of how it’s set in a prison, which one could interpret as its own kind of city with its dynamics, rules and communities. We’re stretching the idea of a city, and the idea of imagined spaces.”
The programming for Prologue is multidisciplinary in nature, combining performances, installations and interactive activities that grapple with our evolving sense of urbanism. Alongside the unveiling of Nuraliah Norasid’s newly commissioned sonnet “The Roadmaps of Districts”, visitors to the Arts House can also look forward to activities ranging from spoken word poetry in Note for Note: Stop, Look & Listen, to the second instalment to Goddesses of Words featuring local Indian actresses responding to local poets Pooja Nansi and Deborah Emmanuel (as a preview to the Arts House’s Textures in March 2020), to a photography exhibition in the form of Marjorie Doggett’s Singapore: A Photographic Record, giving visitors an unvarnished glimpse of Singapore as seen through the lens of the titular pioneering local woman photographer.
Even the kids have something to look forward to, with Future Cities—Printmaking for Kids. In this free drop-in printmaking workshop, embark on an imaginative journey into the future with sea-painter and arts educator Ly Yeow. Whether it is a sprawling city of towers or an amphibious urban archipelago, explore and create cities yet to come as childlike imagination turns into vivid reality.
“The Arts House’s foundational medium is literature, but our aim has always been to see how we can use our programming as a means to create new ways of experiencing it, and the written word” says Alicia. “And by riding the wave of Light to Night, a family-friendly event, we’re hoping to attract more visitors here with our diversity of programmes. It’s often very intimidating to enter a space like a colonial building, especially since it’s usually so quiet. But thanks to the festive atmosphere, people are likely to be curious and come over, especially with how the festival spreads across the whole Civic District, from the Padang to the lawn outside Victoria Theatre.”
“There’s this very casual environment to Prologue where people don’t have to feel obligated to stay or commit themselves to a full-length performance,” adds Alicia. “We noticed that because of the Art Skins on Monuments, where they project a video on the Arts House’s facade, people tend to just stand outside without daring to come in. So we’re making the effort to create more interactivity and break that barrier to entry, where we’ll have crew to usher people in, a bookstore on the porch, and two interactive art installations outside that coincidentally, both deal with Japanese author Haruki Murakami.”
These two installations are specifically, the next edition of The Arts House’s whimsical Open Books series, taking the form of two visual dioramas. Created by Ly Yeow and Tell Your Children, and co-designed and built by The Merry Men Works, these larger-than-life installations bring to life the otherwordly landscape of Murakami’s fiction, as inspired by the magical realism of the novels “Kafka on the Shore” and “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle”. Visitors will even get a chance to enter each of these works – one a well with a cave door one can enter, and the other shaped like a book, with doors on either side one can open and find themselves in a fascinating other world.
“Since Light to Night and Singapore Art Week are kind of about visual art, we want to plug the gap with performing arts as well,” says Alicia. “And especially with how our spaces lend themselves to intimate performances, we want to offer this creative space for meditation, thought and contemplation. The challenge for us as programmers is really thinking about how reading is a solitary activity, and how to make that a communal one with different programmes and meaningful experiences to bring people together and talk about these words and books and performances.”
As a “sampler” of the Arts House’s season, visitors attending programmes such as By Candlelight or A Novel Idea can expect to see more editions of each one continue to be presented at the venue throughout the year and beyond. The latter especially should interest theatre fans, with renowned local actors Janice Koh and Daniel Jenkins performing dramatic stage readings of either John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men” or Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” – which one they will perform is completely up to the audience’s vote. “A Novel Idea especially has been something we’ve seeded over the last few years, and director Samantha Scott-Blackhall is open to using new actors in the next few editions, so we’re excited to see how it goes as we continue to programme it in our calendar,” adds Alicia.
“We’re also bringing back local quintet Varsha to perform, sort of like a throwback to the 2019 SIFA where they also performed, much like how we brought back Sky Kave for our 2019 edition of Prologue, which showed at the 2018 SIFA,” says Alicia. Varsha’s performance, titled Reflections, is set to present a unique fusion of rock and Indian classical music as they perform material from their upcoming EP. Expect bold re-arrangements of classic jazz standards in an eclectic combination of English, Tamil, Telugu, and Hindi.
As Prologue excavates urban landscapes and imagined communities, starting off the Arts House’s year on a high note, Alicia expresses her own hopes for the venue in time to come, saying: “Literature is a mirror to the world around us, a medium to communicate, and capture experiences that are universal but also personal. With our programming, I hope we can create meaning for both local and international stories, and for visitors to better appreciate power and beauty of narratives and learn more about themselves in the process.”
Prologue 2020 runs from 10th to 19th January at the Arts House. Admission is free, for more information, visit their website here