P/M Day 5: From Idea to Art

posted 8 May 2018, 11:32 by Daniel Teo   [ updated 8 May 2018, 22:46 by ADN Admin ]
Dialogue with Jean Low
Dialogue session with multidisciplinary artist Jean Low (centre).

- Dialogue with Jean Low
- SIFA Performances: 0600 / The Blues Project

“At the end of the day, it’s about ideas. And if you have a good idea, figure out how to execute the idea.” This was the advice graphic designer-turned-multidisciplinary artist Jean Low had for the Performance Making (P/M) participants, which she herself had received from friend and photographer Lenne Chai.

Low was with the P/M group in the Festival Living Room sharing about how she had conceived the idea that was to become SKY KAVE, an installation which helps visitors ‘feel’ sound.

The idea first came to Low in August last year when she was at a concert by American ambient pop band Cigarettes After Sex at the Capitol Theatre. The floor of the venue was hollow to store the theatre’s seats, and so conducted the bass and drum sounds very well. Low decided to do the best idea that came to her at that moment – she lay down on the floor.

“It was amazing to just lie down [there], feeling the vibrations. And then I looked up – and the ceiling was very uninspiring,” Low said to laughter from the group. “So I thought, ‘If only there were a huge projection above, that’d be really quite amazing.”

And that’s essentially what SKY KAVE is about. Sited in The Arts House Play Den, the space is dark, solely lit by the glow from a projector casting videos on a large screen overhead. The floor is filled with what looks like blocky, wood deck chairs. Visitors lie on the chairs, feeling the vibrations caused by the audio playing coursing through their bodies.

The SKY KAVE setup.

But SKY KAVE would not have happened until Low had one more ingredient – purpose. 

“What is the point of sending people to [the artwork]?” she said, explaining why she had sat on the idea for some time. “What is it I want them to take away?”

Purpose came to her in a Buzzfeed article featuring a profoundly deaf music fan who enjoyed pop concerts through the vibrations produced. For Low, SKY KAVE could help build bridges between the deaf and able-bodied “hearing-centric”, by demonstrating to the latter how the former experiences sound.

The first prototype for SKY KAVE was a flat wooden platform which transmitted sound frequencies through embedded tactile sound transducers. Her first test audience were the deaf members of hip-hop dance club Redeafination, who promptly commented how uncomfortable the flat surface was.

But they also had one more request which Low told the P/M group: “Could we feel the different layers at the different parts of the body?”

This informed SKY KAVE’s current form – individual wooden recliners with some cushioning, and transducers placed at different locations transmitting different frequencies, from high frequencies at the palm rests, to low frequencies at the foot rest.  

 “I felt like I was floating in SKY KAVE,” Tan Liting said about visiting the installation prior to the dialogue session. “I appreciated that it allowed me to engage my other senses while experiencing a work. The reverb quite literally shook my core.

“The discussion led me to question what collaboration means, and the power structures involved in collaborating with others.”

Tan was referring to a discussion about disability and ethics towards the end of the session, sparked off by Victorian Chen and Shannen Tan who were working with disabled people in art projects. With Low, the group talked about the unequal power relationships in artistic collaborations with the deaf and disabled communities, and how to negotiate them sensitively and with the intent to empower.

Cara Ann Lee was left pondering after the dialogue session: “What are the ethics surrounding such collaborations and how do we then critique the result?”

But Low seemed clear with the intent of her work. “There’s a very fine line between pity and empathy,” she declared.

With SKY KAVE, Low hopes to help able-bodied people understand how the deaf navigate the world. She said, “Art is such a good medium. It’s about communication. It creates a conducive environment for discussion.”

In the evening, the P/M group divided and conquered - half watched 0600 at the National Gallery, and the other half were at Victoria Theatre next door catching The Blues Project. They swap shows tomorrow evening.

UPDATE (09 MAY 2018, 1.45PM): Added final paragraph on the SIFA performances the P/M group watched.