Amidst a dark year, there is always an opportunity to find light. That’s something the students of Nanyang Technological University’s (NTU) School of Art, Design and Media (ADM) have done in the latest graduating batch’s final showcase, with the annual NTU ADM Show, themed ‘In New Light’.
Running at Gillman Barracks till 23rd May, this year’s theme centres on the idea of out with the old and in with the new – more specifically, shining new light and providing fresh ways to approach and see the world around us. New light can also be taken within the context of the global pandemic, where the various lockdowns have given the world time to reflect on this period of uncertainty. Perhaps, in this case, design thinking is here to save the day, with a greater need to find creative solutions to the barrage of problems we are beset with.
As such, this year’s show is essentially a message of hope and encouragement, to see with brand new eyes that allows the graduating batch to forge ahead in their practice. Moreover, this batch also encapsulates the ‘new’ in new light, as they are the pioneer batch of ADM’s new BFA curriculum, which allows students more flexibility in choosing a range of subjects within and outside their Majors (Design Art and Media Art) for a broad range of knowledge and expertise.
They are also the first to emerge from the school in the post-pandemic ‘new normal’. It is a long and arduous road ahead, but they remain bold, as they navigate all the changes and ambiguity, and use their skills to transform the world around them.
The works presented showcased a significant range of ideas and inspirations across disciplines, starting with the BFA Media Art section. Loke Mun Mun Jade’s Recurrence In Formation (which snagged the Judges’ Choice for the Sustainability Award 2021) investigates the human dependence on the natural environment to sustain itself. In her photography, she showcases close up photos of dried fish, midway through the process of salting. With how the salting process resulted from a solution to food scarcity, we are reminded of mortality, leading this work to reflect on the food cycle, life cycles, and the ephemeral state of existence itself.
Athirah Anissa’s I tried to remember but I can’t similarly deals with the topic of existence, where she attempts to understand memory, conformity and reclamation through staged photographs and performance.
One of the highlights of the show was the short film section, where many of the works impressed us with their creativity and technique used to craft them.
Leong Bei Yi’s 2D-animated Spinning Dreams tells the story of a young boy struggles between his dream of joining the circus as an acrobat and his duty to his family business.
Renee Chua’s track n field is an experimental animation about school-level track and field competitions, bringing out feelings of nostalgia, and the pain of losing and fear of being unaccomplished.
Hell’s Bride is an experimental stop-motion animation which hopes to hand you the history behind a macabre and little known Chinese custom called 冥婚 (ming hun) or Ghost Wedding. With the marriage of paper props, sinister puppets and a beautiful bride, the stage for an uncanny wedding is set.
On the live action front, each film was helmed by a group of students, some of which feature prominent local actors. In Writings On The Wall, Peter Yu plays a man dealing with the abrupt death of his son, and seizes a 15 year old vandal at his doorstep, and drags the boy along on a journey to unravel the cause of his harassment.
Family, as always, features prominently across the films. In Take Me Home, a family on the verge of falling apart attempts to smuggle their dead grandmother across borders after she dies on their holiday in Malaysia, making for one unusual road trip.
Elsewhere, the theme of family collides with the Singaporean landscape and the constant change we experience, and our need to hold on to the past. In The Pieces We Keep, while in the midst of an en bloc sale, an estranged mother and son decide which of their deceased father’s belongings to bring to their new house.
The diversity of the Singaporean identity is explored in Go Home, where two friends from diverse backgrounds examine the state of their friendship and explore what having a Singaporean identity means to them, all while waiting for their passport photo to be printed.
Even taboo subjects are given their fair share of screen time; In Tune deals with a repressed single mother as she find out her son’s female piano teacher has a romantic interest in her.
Elsewhere, we see design works that wind up more abstract and experimental in form. In Dion Chew’s Kinematics, the student crafts a book that allows viewers to better understand and look at the elements of dance, as it reimagines how dancers can develop their individual styles and attitudes towards their practice. In particular, it explores the idea of spontaneity and imagination by isolating these elements without a body by which to express it, by which readers are allowed to interpret them in their own way.
Design is never purely an art – sometimes it comes from math and science as well. In Yong Kai Ting’s brand concept A Cup of Coffee, the designer uses basic mathematical operations as a form of design aesthetics, using equations, formulas and bar graphs to visualize information and create a visual language. All of this from her inspiration of something as simple as crafting a cup of perfectly balanced coffee requires a degree of arithmetic mathematics and quantification.
There are projects in the lineup that serve a practical purpose, beyond aesthetics alone. Daphne Ngatimin’s DU:SK, for instance, attempts to use technology to improve the quality of our sleep. Particularly in a fast-paced country where anxiety and stress are at all time highs, DU:SK engages the five senses before bed whilst incorporating a guided routine throughout the evening to help prep for the night, slowing down brainwave activity to help users relax.
And of course, no design show is complete without a nostalgic throwback to our Singaporean icons. In Gan Yu Zhen, Dawn’s Stories Under The Sun, she attempts to provoke personal storytelling through a series of theme-curated boxes, playing on ‘old school’ designs and getting users to interact with the items in the box through all their senses. This then, may just get them to share why each item has such strong significance to them, and prompt reflection and sharing.
By the end of the exhibition, one would have seen a huge variety of ideas and designs, each one unique and showcasing the distinct perspective of each student. Does it provide the light of hope? Yes – one that guides us into the new normal, with these bright young minds as they’re sent into the great wide world, and bettering our lives with art and design.
NTU ADM Grad Show 2021 runs till 23rd May at Gillman Barracks, Block 7 #01-13 and Lock Road #02-21, and #03-21/22, Singapore 108936. More information on their website here