Contemporary Art for Kids – Imaginarium: Over the Ocean, Under the Sea

Over the weekend, the kids and I were invited to attend the opening of the Singapore Art Museum’s annual contemporary art exhibition for children, Imaginarium: Over the Ocean, Under the Sea. This is the sixth edition of the children’s season over at SAM at 8Q, and we always look forward to the many beautiful, thought-provoking and inventive art installations on display each year.

During our exploration of Imaginarium, we were very privileged to have the opportunity to meet with the artists (you can see some of them in the picture below) and find out more about their creative process.

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The exhibition is very thoughtfully curated this time to provide a fully immersive experience. As we were moving from one level to the next, it actually felt as if we were deep sea divers swimming from the bottom of the ocean to the surface!

We started out in a room full of kooky and colourful sea creatures knitted out of yarn, floating over a crocheted seascape. This was definitely Thumper’s favourite room as he was free to crawl around and over all the soft sculptures and play with the hanging mobile fish and octopi.

The installation, entitled Dimana Mogus? or Where is Mogus? is created by the Indonesian artist Mulyana. Mogus, according to the description of the artwork, is an imaginary octopus who is exploring the underwater dreamscape with his friends. When I asked Mulyana which of the sea creatures present in the room was actually Mogus, he cheekily replied that ‘Mogus’ is represented by anyone playing inside the room and experiencing the different textures and colours. “Mogus is me, Mogus is you, Mogus is everybody in the room playing together,” Mulyana said quietly, with a soft smile.

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Dimana Mogus? by Mulyana, and ADA by Karina Smigla-Bobinski

J’s favourite piece was definitely ADA by Karina Smigla-Bobinski, who designed and built what she lovingly referred to as an ‘Art Making Machine’ inspired by bioluminescent deep sea creatures. Karina also told me that the phosphorescent flickering reminded her of the LEDs on electronic devices turning on and off in a darkened room which is how she sees ADA, a giant glowing helium balloon studded with charcoal spikes, bobbing about, leaving long black lines on the walls, floor and ceiling in her wake.

The children loved chasing ADA around the room – although it was sometimes hard to tell if ADA was actually the one chasing them – and at the end of it they emerged from ADA’s lair with charcoal smudged hands and faces like little chimneysweeps!

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Damien, I’m Famished (After Damien Hirst), Bryde’s Fountain (After Marcel Duchamp), and Surrealism Spiced (After Salvador Dali) by Krit Ngamson

The next room we visited had these cheeky kinetic sculptures by Kris Ngamson, a Thai artist who combines elements from iconic surrealist artworks into his work to demonstrate the juxtaposition between the rural and urban societies in Thailand.

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Plastic Ocean by Tan Zi Xi

Our favourite installation is definitely the Plastic Ocean by homegrown artist, Tan Zi Xi. This was an amazing maze of tunnels made entirely of over 14000 pieces of non-biodegrable waste products suspended in a room dimly lit from above. Zi Xi explained to me that this was a recreation of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, an island made entirely out of nearly 300000 tons of plastic debris adrift in the Pacific Ocean, and it only took her a month to amass this quantity of items from her circle of friends and interns. Yikes!

Underneath the sea of plastic garbage are a few wooden blocks for undersea explorers to rest upon and contemplate the impact of all this trash upon marine life.

J and Little E were most impressed by this installation, as well as by the accompanying series of art prints that show our puny efforts to try to clean up the ocean.

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An Effort Most Futile by Tan Zi Yi

Afterwards, Little E remarked upon the importance of recycling plastic and reducing waste whilst J was appalled by how much light was blocked by just a few layers of plastic.

Suara Muara (The Sounds of the Estuary) by Papermoon Puppet Theatre from Indonesia was definitely a room that provoked a visceral reaction in me. The installation tells the story of Lasem, a tiny town that used to be an important port, where old secrets hide beneath the everyday surface.

I was both intrigued and repulsed by the completely immersive experience that the room provided, with each sculpture accompanied by gentle tinkling music and the quiet roar of the waves. Watching the cloth sea billowing and listening to the recorded sounds through the headphones made me feel as if there was a whole secret history that I was somehow missing.

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Suara Muara (The Sounds of the Estuary) by Papermoon Puppet Theatre

In one piece, an elderly man and a woman sit quietly in their house surrounded by old photographs, whilst behind them, a small man peers out at them from the inside of a porcelain vase. I asked one of the Papermoon artists who the creepy vase man was, and he replied, ‘Oh, that’s their neighbour.’

I had a cold shiver up my spine.

To round off our visit, we spent some time in the Submaroom, which features periscope stations and origami folding consoles as well as some beautiful paper origami sea creatures on display in shadow boxes.Submaroom-origami-Imaginarium

We weren’t able to visit every one of the installations in one morning, but we will definitely be back for another visit. We might try to see if we can take part in the artist-led workshops, storytelling sessions, or perhaps join Imaginarium Curator, Andrea Fam, on a special family night museum tour! See you there!

Mummy Tip: There are no covered walkways from the busstops, MRT stations or carparks surrounding SAM at 8Q, so bring your umbrella with you! We learned this the hard (and soaking wet) way.

Imaginarium: Over the Ocean, Under the Sea is open at SAM at 8Q (8 Queen Street, Singapore 188535) from 14 May 2016 – 28 August 2016. 

Opening Hours: Saturday to Thursday 10am – 7pm, Fridays from 10am – 9pm. Admission is free for children under 6 as well as for Singaporean Citizens and PRs.

  • Family Night at the Museum with Andrea Fam: Wed, 1 June, 7-8pm
  • Edible Art Workshop with Janice Wong: Sat, 11 June, 2-4pm
  • Storytelling with Rosemarie Somaiah: Fri and Sat, 17-18 June, 11-11:45am
  • Knots Workshop for Junior Explorers: Sat 23 July 1-3pm
  • Illustration Workshop with Zi Xi: Sat 30 July from 2-3:30pm, Tues 9 August from 10.30am -12pm
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