As we emerge from the chaos of the past two pandemic years, it finally seems that there is light on the horizon. But as to whether that light is one of searing hope, or just a faint glimmer still remains to be seen. Whichever it is, it’s certain a beam of light that the annual NUS Arts Festival returns this March, with a slate of 21 performances, art installations and events in both live and hybrid formats with over 400 student artists, professional arts practitioners, as well as leading researchers and thought leaders in NUS.
With an interdisciplinary approach to drive the creation of artistic works, this year’s festival takes on the theme Shades of Light(ness), inviting audiences to contemplate the multiplicity of Light – one of the most powerful life forces known to humanity. Light itself has long fascinated the human mind, and is a source of inspiration for artists, philosophers and scientists alike. Da Vinci’s invention of a drawing technique called “sfumato” and his assertion that “no substance can be comprehended without light and shade” strongly suggests that human perception must embrace not just light, but the shades in light to be complete.
It is this light(ness), or quality of light, which the artists and academics in this year’s NUS Arts Festival plumb for meaning and motivation in a greater search for answers to navigate the dark, complex, and uncertain post-COVID world we presently live in. that prompt reflection and broaden thinking on issues pertinent to this generation. Ultimately, the festival aims to encourage positive change and action that will impact communities around us.
“We find ourselves increasingly challenged to look beyond black-and-white paradigms, and contend with the shades of grey in-between,” said NUS CFA Director, Sharon Tan. “This year’s festival theme is most apt, as is our multi-disciplinary creative approach which brings together student artists, professional art practitioners, as well as leading researchers and thought leaders in NUS to explore how the arts can help us better appreciate and negotiate ambiguity.”
One notable set of inter-disciplinary collaborations showcased at NUS Arts Festival 2022 is with the NUS College of Design and Engineering, who are participating in the festival for the first time. This will take the form of a series of interdisciplinary art installations, exploring the relationship between technology and art. The installations feature the participation of students and faculty from NUS College of Design and Engineering, in collaboration with visual artists such as Ryf Zaini.
These exhibitions include Somewhere in this Fog of Memory, which features a visually imposing journey into the mind of a person living with dementia; In Living Company, which repurposes disused household appliances as light-controlled planters that grow edible plants; and A Close Eyecounter, a collaboration between artist Ryf Zaini and students from the NUS College of Design and Engineering, educates viewers on how our eyes constantly translate degrees of light, shade and colour to become images that are consumed, filtered and stored within our visual memory.
Said Professor Aaron Thean, Festival Creative Partner and Dean of the College of Design and Engineering: “The synergies between science, technology, and the arts are often overlooked. By bringing together creative elements from a technological perspective, we hope to interpret contemporary societal experience to generate inspirations for all of us. This collaboration between CFA and the College of Design and Engineering expresses our aspiration to further the spirit of interdisciplinary learning and research.”
Another first for this year’s festival is the debut of new festival director, Jobina Tan, who takes over the reins from arts veteran Mary Loh. “It has been an insightful journey to work closely with our student artists, academic partners and notable arts practitioners who serve as our artistic directors, such as Cultural Medallion recipients Mrs Santha Bhaskar and Mr Thirunalan Sasitharan,” said Jobina, “Each and every one of our collaborators brings unique interpretations of the festival theme that you will not be able to experience elsewhere.”
NUS Arts Festival 2022: Shades of Light(ness) will feature a total of eleven live performances, four in-conjunction events, three films, one short film, four interdisciplinary art installations, three Critical Conversations between arts practitioners and academics, as well as an online literary collection of reflections – established as Musings – contributed by staff from the Department of Communications and New Media.
Light, for example, plays into the film industry. From lighting up a scene, to capturing and developing the celluloid, to the projection room, the use of light is inextricably bound to the moviemaking process. Shadows and light can create a suspenseful atmosphere or a dreamlike romantic mood, it can heighten the story’s narrative and manipulate our emotions. This is exemplified in The Projector’s lineup of films in conjunction with NUS Arts Festival, including Millennium Actress (2001), The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness (2013), and Last Film Show (2021).
As for the live performances, look out for festival opener Incandescent – A City That Never Sleeps, by NUS Dance Synergy, featuring NUS Guitar Ensemble (GENUS), which investigates why we can’t see the stars with our naked eye anymore. NUS Indian Instrumental Ensemble presents Bodhi – The Awakening, a work in progress presentation which explores a person’s journey through the dichotomy of light and darkness towards enlightenment, incorporating Indian classical music and theatrical elements in storytelling and movement. NUS Stage presents Blackout, a black comedy directed by award-winning theatre-maker Chong Tze Chien, where lead character Justin wakes up after blacking out without any recollection of who he is.
NUS Chinese Dance presents Perception. 幻.悟 ., with two exciting new works by acclaimed choreographers Jenny Neo and Xiao Jing, exploring the gift of light in life through dance and discovery. NUS Symphony Orchestra presents Radiance of Hope, a two-concert series with music from Mussorgsky, Beethoven, Rossini, Saint-Saëns, and Brahms, that aims to inspire hope and spark joy during troubled times. Finally, NUS Indian Dance presents Thanmai, which, under the late NUS Indian Dance’s Artistic Director, Mrs Santha Bhaskar, explores the complexities of human’s physical and spiritual relationships with light in its many forms.
Under Critical Conversations, the NUS Arts Festival unpacks the ways in which the myriad of student group performances and projects harness light to illuminate rich refractions of creative expressions, philosophical musings, and critical explorations. Through the discussions, audiences are encouraged to view light in a different light, and through its many potentialities: embodying transcendental qualities, treated as material for art, and as a way of accessing meaning in this world. Here, light that is ubiquitous and often taken for granted, takes centre stage. This series features conversations between academics and artists, covering a range of topics pertaining to the festival theme, such as What Is Light? , Light as a Material For Art, and Light As Meaning-Making, moderated by Dr Kamalini Ramdas, the NUS Arts Festival Academic Advisor.
“This year’s festival theme is especially poignant,” notes Festival Creative Partner, Professor Audrey Yue, who heads the Department of Communications and New Media, “The shades of lightness have always underpinned the production and reception of arts and culture – from the invention of the camera as a light-machine, to the new media light projections, the lightbased entertainment of arts and culture that have opened up new ways of seeing, feeling, and becoming.”
NUS Arts Festival 2022 – Shades of Light(ness) runs from 18th to 27th March 2022. Tickets and full programme lineup available here