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Writing For Art

There’s so much more than meets the eye when you look at an art piece. How much more? Eight DTVM students got some answers when they were selected to attend a three-day workshop by the Singapore Art Museum earlier this month (November 2013). The Young Art Writers Programme is organised in conjunction with the Singapore Biennale 2013.
For a start, all you have to do is sit down and listen because there’s a story behind every art piece. When you really discover the message, it can be quite overwhelming, in a good way, said Rachel Wong, a Year 1 DTVM student.

An Unforgettable Story
Rachel and her friends were asked to sit on sofa chairs designed in the shape of forefingers. The Vietnamese artist behind the installation wanted to tell an important story. During the Vietnam War, uncles and brothers of the artist would cut off their forefingers to avoid conscription. Without their forefinger, they wouldn't be able to pull the trigger during war and therefore, would be useless in the army.

Rachel said “This story sent chills down my spine when I heard it. I felt lucky and sad at the same time. Lucky because I had never experienced such an awful thing and sad that other people had to experience it. War is a terrible, terrible thing. This will definitely be a story I cannot forget.”

Art of Writing, Writing for Art
Such a discovery is one of the aims of the Young Art Writers Programme, which wants to stimulate creative thinking through Contemporary art. That’s why participants learn differences between Modern and Contemporary art, how to use Contemporary Art as stimuli in Creative Writing, Art Journalism and Writing from different perspectives and for diverse audiences.

DTVM Year 1 student Vera Sng said “The three days were very tiring, full of times where we had to think on our feet and come up with a creative piece of work on the spot. From poems, to prose, to our personal response towards a certain exhibit, we had to write our way through the workshop.”

Analyse this
One activity got the participants to choose an exhibit to review and interview the artists. They then had to share their main points with the writers and critiques in a very relaxed discussion.

The artwork that caught DTVM Year 1 student Laura Ng’s eye was entitled ‘Exorcise Me’.

'Exorcise Me'

She said “It is an exhibit in a little room, tucked away into the back of a corridor. When you walk in, you are immediately surrounded by two-minute videos that fill the four walls around you. Languid, listless teenage girls stare defiantly at you, their faces covered with make-up, not lipstick, or mascara, or eyeliner but black and white paint, coating their visages. “

Laura said she identified with the teenagers in the exhibition.

She added that “Perhaps this make-up, instead of hiding their flaws like conventional make-up, reveals what they truly are inside. The title of the piece also raised questions in my head: What needs to be exorcised? Who is the exorcist? Is it the girls themselves, or someone else? Why does it – whatever it is – need to be exorcised? It truly is an intriguing piece of art.”

For another Year 1 DTVM student, Nurul Nadhirah Binte Mohamad Khalid, she was attracted to a very different installation entitled ‘The Sick Classroom’.

Nadhirah learnt that to fully interpret the artwork, ”I’d have to criticise the artwork from a larger scale, view it from a different perspective, recognise and read into the relationship it has with the space around it.”

'The Sick Classroom'

Year 2 DTVM student Lakeisha Leo said “I think the workshops helped us to look at the art from the artists' point of view, because Southeast Asian art has a lot of social issues and history tied to it, so it helps us to think how these issues influenced the way the artists came up with ideas and created their art.”

No Rhyme, Just Reasons
Participants were also taught how to write poetry and prose. In one activity, participants had to write a poem to describe an exhibit that was yellow. However, they could not use common words associated with the colour, such as sun, sunflower or lemon.

DTVM Year 1 student Nadia Sadimin said “We were encouraged to use metaphors, similes and assonance as an alternative. This allowed us to use our creative juices which I think is important, since I am in this course.”

Her classmate, Nadhirah, said “I’ve learnt that the best way to get ideas flowing to pen a poem is to analyse a piece of artwork by listing its parts by looking at nouns, verbs, adverbs or adjectives.”

Rachel added that “For poetry, each word has a 'feel' to it and if you place one word that doesn't sound right, the whole poem will sound a little off.  You could even change the entire meaning of the poem.”

A Journey of Discovery
She realised that despite discovering so many new techniques, this was just the beginning and she feels that there's so much more learn.

For Vera, she always liked visiting museums but now, she has learnt to look at the exhibits in a more critical way, which has made the visit so much more interesting and engaging.

She said “Throughout the workshop, I had so many emotional moments, whether when viewing artworks or during the writing process, that I went home feeling absolutely drained yet filled with such an enriching and rich experience.”

DTVM Year 2 student Nicole Ong agreed.

She concurred “The art pieces were extremely thought provoking - it was a wonderful and intense experience at the same time.”