Art What! Arts Preview

Art What!: ArtScience Museum Asks ‘How Are You?’ with MENTAL – Colours of Wellbeing

ArtScience Museum invites visitors to embark on an intimate and personal journey that explores mental health and wellbeing. Making its Asian premiere, MENTAL: Colours of Wellbeing will be a welcoming space which offers different perspectives and stories across the mental health spectrum through the interplay of art, science, and technology.

Co-curated with Science Gallery Melbourne, MENTAL will present over 20 interactive exhibits and large-scale installations by international artists, makers, scientists and designers that confront societal biases and stereotypes about mental health. In addition, there are seven artworks by Singaporean and Southeast Asian artists that explore mental health from uniquely Southeast Asian perspectives.

The artworks featured in this exhibition take on serious topics in an accessible way. Rather than dwell on mental ill-health, treatments or cures, the exhibition will embrace the diversity of the human mind and its complexities. The works will challenge visitors to reflect upon, question, and empathise with what it means to be human, potentially changing their perspective of themselves, others and society as a whole.

“We are delighted to be collaborating with Science Gallery Melbourne on such a significant and timely new show, which focuses on one of the pressing issues of our time – mental health. MENTAL: Colours of Wellbeing upends our assumptions about how an exhibition on mental health should look and feel. Rather than focusing on illness or treatment, it instead celebrates the kaleidoscopic spectrum of mental wellbeing. It will surprise and delight visitors through out-of-the- box artworks that address serious topics head-on on in an accessible manner. The strikingly contemporary multicoloured exhibition design also creates a space of joy, empathy, and care where we can sensitively tell stories of resilience and survival in a creative way,” said Honor Harger, Vice President of ArtScience Museum and Attractions at Marina Bay Sands.

“This is a show that is very close to the hearts and minds of our teams at ArtScience Museum and Science Gallery Melbourne, who have worked together with passion and energy to bring it to our visitors in Singapore. Our hope is that it will inspire families and friends to talk about mental health with their loved ones, express their feelings, and become more in tune with their inner wellbeing,” she added. This exhibition is a culmination of ArtScience Museum’s Season of Mental Wellbeing – a year-long series of exhibitions, education activities and public programmes that has sought to raise mental health awareness.

Dr Ryan Jefferies, Director, Science Gallery Melbourne, said the work with health and lived experience experts from the University of Melbourne and other universities played a crucial role in developing the exhibition. “The themes presented in MENTAL came from ongoing conversations with young people, supported by the expertise of academics and practitioners to help us explore the topic at an even deeper level,” he said.

First presented at Science Gallery Melbourne at The University of Melbourne in the earlier half of 2022, this exhibition was originally developed in consultation with a group of young adults in Australia alongside experts and academics from the sciences and creative arts. Taking inspiration from the lived experiences of young people, the exhibition offers a sensitive exploration of mental health from various perspectives.

MENTAL will be a dynamic and colourful playground where visitors can explore different ideas and perspectives surrounding one of the greatest challenges of our time. From a human-sized rainbow wheel and a mirror that reads emotions to a giant balloon trapped in a pink cage, the exhibition will feature projects that are experimental and interactive, asking questions and encouraging visitors to explore and contemplate the human condition through science, technology and creativity. At ArtScience Museum, this new version of the exhibition combines art, science, and technology alongside a dramatic exhibition design by local production company SPACELogic. By drawing on the understanding generated by science and the emotional impact of artists’ work, the exhibition tackles weighty topics in a thoughtful and caring manner. The exhibition encompasses four broad themes – Connection, Exploration, Expression, and Reflection – with each of the two dozen installations and interactive artworks posing a question to the viewer. They challenge visitors to consider, question, and empathise with what it means to be human, to accept their inherent fallibility, and ultimately change their perception of themselves, others, and society as a whole.

Model: Kitchen (2022)

One of the highlights of MENTAL is a newly commissioned multi-media installation by Singaporean artist Divaagar. Opening the exhibition, the installation highlights the importance of food in Singapore as a unifying cultural thread, where asking if someone has eaten is a way of showing care. Divaagar’s new work, Model: Kitchen (2022), explores the ideal household kitchen beyond its functional design as it forms the communal heart of any home, especially in Singapore.

By capturing daily motions of care within the kitchen through digital scenes, Divaagar’s homely and familiar space reveals the various intimacies of food preparation, family dynamics, and care. Divaagar is part of a group of Singaporean and Southeast Asian artists participating in the exhibition, who explore different care practices and ways of being. There are works by Alecia Neo (Singapore), Lee Yi Xuan (Singapore), YANGERMEISTER (aka Tan Yang Er) and Yunora (Singapore), Shwe Wutt Hmon (Myanmar), Tromarama (Indonesia), as well as a presentation by local arts organisation, EYEYAH! that features 20 digital artworks by young artists from around the world.

Wheel (2021) by Hiromi Tango, Dr Emma Burrows and Dr Tilman Dingler, Installation view at Science Gallery Melbourne. Image courtesy of Alan Weedon.

MENTAL: Colours of Wellbeing embraces the notion that every mental health journey is unique. The exhibition has been designed so that visitors can chart their own path through the varying installations, in the same way that each person’s journey is unique and personal. There are no set routes to follow, and visitors can decide how, and in what order they would like to experience it.

Many of the installations in MENTAL: Colours of Wellbeing encourage interaction, allowing visitors to become part of the works themselves. Key examples include an enormous rainbow-shaped ‘hamster’ wheel titled Wheel (2021), a collaboration between renowned artist Hiromi Tango and researcher, Dr Emma Burrows from the Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health. This work examines how colour, playful spaces and exercise can influence mood, as well as how social rewards affect one’s commitment to exercise. A giant, brightly coloured wheel and wheelchair-accessible exercise machine are connected to a collective trip odometer that counts the distance clocked by visitors over the exhibition run. Viewers can also join the action online by watching a livestream of participants’ hands or feet and cheering them on from the sidelines through a ‘like’ button. Ultimately, the installation explores the commitment to staying motivated through this ‘mood medicine’.

Mirror Ritual (2021) by Nina Rajcic and SensiLab. Installation view at Science Gallery Melbourne. Image courtesy of Alan Weedon.

One of the exhibition’s key works is Mirror Ritual (2021) by Nina Rajcic and SensiLab, an interactive artwork that appropriates an everyday object – a mirror – and augments it with artificial intelligence (AI) to foster both literal and metaphorical reflection. The mirror ‘speaks’ to the viewer by assessing their emotional states from their facial expressions and generates a uniquely tailored poem in response. Instead of dictating how a person feels, the installation provides an opportunity for the viewer to reflect on their internal disposition, emphasising harmony or conflict between both their intentional and unintentional expressions.

Between Earth and Sky (2018) by Alecia Neo, video still from Frank M’s performance. Image courtesy of the artist.

In Between Earth and Sky (2018), Singaporean artist Alecia Neo works with the movements and perspectives of a community of caregivers for persons with mental illness. They make visible the contributions and needs of caregivers who often deal with the emotional and financial weight of caring for loved ones with mental health conditions. This multi-media installation is a culmination of a year-long project, comprising a performance video in which the caregivers use their bodies as a central axis for expression to create narratives and expressive movements based on their caregiving journeys. 14 kites, shaped like shields, accompany the video. Each kite bears photographs of clothing taken close-up from each caregiver and their loved ones. Together, these kites form a collective body and symbolise both vulnerability and freedom. This work also momentarily re-centres the attention on the caregiver who has long learned to bear weight but may have forgotten how to give weight. In many ways, Between Earth and Sky (2018) is an intimate portrait of faith restored in times of profound loss, within oneself and in society.

State of Mind (2021) by Lee Yi Xuan. Image courtesy of the artist.

In art therapy, circles are commonly used to help clients process and express their innermost feelings on a deeper level, but emotions can sometimes be too overwhelming to contain. State of Mind (2021) by Singaporean artist, Lee Yi Xuan, seeks to submerge viewers in a scenario where no words suffice to describe such feelings, with the notion of ‘drawing in a circle’ providing a visual containment to vocalise one’s thoughts and emotions. The act of ‘scribbling’ within the circle is a representation of the artist’s contained state of mind – where words fail, the scribbling process allows her to confront her inner chaos. While pleasing to look at, closer inspection reveals the artwork’s more turbulent and complex nature.

Distorted Constellations(2019)by Nwando Ebizie. Installation view at Science Gallery Melbourne. Image courtesy of Alan Weedon.

Distorted Constellations (2019) by UK artist Nwando Ebizie, submerges visitors in an immersive sensory environment that draws on a rare neurological syndrome known as visual snow. Through visual and auditory distortions, the work defies the idea of a ‘normal’ brain in favour of understanding reality as a subjective experience within a wider spectrum, enabling visitors to feel what it might be like to live in someone else’s shoes.

Thoughtforms

Elsewhere in the show, visitors can contribute to a growing collection of 3D-printed thoughts generated by brainwaves in Thoughtforms (2021) by Dr Kellyann Geurts and Dr Indae Huang. Visitors can also write friendly letters to real people in Kind Words (2021) by Ziba Scott, observe a giant balloon trapped in a pink cage in Zhou Xiaohu’s captivating work, Even in Fear (2008), as well as meet the large inflatable characters, Telly, Birdie and Teddy in Go Mental (2021), a surrealist environment created by Aboriginal artist, Josh Muir.

In conjunction with the opening of MENTAL: Colours of Wellbeing, ArtScience Museum hosted Conversations: Headspace, a symposium that brings together researchers, artists and curators behind the exhibition to talk about a range of perspectives on mental health and wellbeing that took place on 3 September, featuring Dr Ryan Jefferies (Director of Science Gallery Melbourne), Tilly Boleyn (Head of Curatorial at Science Gallery Melbourne), and Titus Yim (Co-Founder of MENTAL Health Collective) alongside artists and scientists from the exhibition, including Divaagar, Nina Rajcic, Rachel Hanlon, and Dr Emma Burrows.

As part of the Season of Mental Wellbeing, ArtScience Museum is also launching a series of online and on-site programmes throughout October that encourage visitors to take a pause and reflect on their mental health. A variety of workshops, talks, films, drop-in activities, and masterclasses will be offered, addressing various aspects of wellbeing, from physical, mental and emotional health to caring for our environment.

MENTAL: Colours of Wellbeing runs from 3rd September 2022 to early 2023. Tickets and more information available here

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