Inspiring young minds

Inspiring young minds

A Thai artist's installations help foster creativity at Gallery Children's Biennale in Singapore

ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT
Inspiring young minds
Compound. (Photos: National Gallery Singapore)

Children are the future of the nation and art serves as a powerful tool to nurture and channel their creative potential. Recognising this fact, the National Gallery Singapore has been organising "The Gallery Children's Biennale", an art event specifically designed for young people, since 2020.

For its fourth edition, Children's Biennale uses questions like "What kind of world do we live in today, and what kind of world would you like to live in?", to craft its theme of "Let's Make A Better Place". Each artwork is tied to one of four core values -- Care, Collaborate, Imagine and Respect.

Tawatchai Puntusawasdi, a renowned Thai artist, was invited to create two artworks -- Compound and Optical Paths for Children's Biennale. Tawatchai has received several prestigious awards including the Silapatorn National Award in 2022 and the OSAKA Triennale Bureau contest in 1995. Despite extensive experience, he was excited to create Compound and Optical Paths because it was the first time he had designed artworks specifically for children.

"These works are different from my usual creations because young audiences can enjoy and be inspired. I was curious whether I could achieve this goal and whether young visitors would engage with the art," said Tawatchai.

Tawatchai is famous for creating wood and metal sculptures that skew and distort recognisable forms. Optical Paths invites children to challenge their understanding of physical space and depth. He uses lines, colours and space to create perspective illusions which may make objects appear smaller or bigger than they actually are.

"The idea of Optical Paths was inspired by paintings during the Renaissance era when artists created an optical illusion. An artist painted a room where one person appeared larger than usual even though they stood at the same distance," explained Tawatchai.

Children interact with Compound.

Compound is a colourful sculpture which was inspired by drawings of a house and a watering can.

"Using visuals to communicate with people is the easiest way. It does not have to be a complicated image. I decided to combine outlines of a house and a watering can and create them as a sculpture with two different layers," he explained.

Tawatchai uses mechanical drawing to ensure his sculptures come out as accurate as the original designs.

"Mechanical drawing is an engineering skill which requires mathematical calculations to create sculptures. It is a tool for communicating with builders to ensure clarity and accuracy. While calculating a sculpture may initially seem complicated and time-consuming, it ultimately allows the final piece to emerge precisely as planned," he said.

Creating art for children was new for Tawatchai and he admitted that he could not predict the audience responses. Working with people at the National Gallery Singapore allowed him to learn how to create artwork that is safe for children.

"Compound and Optical Paths are the result of team effort. I worked with designers, engineers and a safety team at the National Gallery Singapore. Their suggestions led to refinements in the artwork. We had to use non-toxic colours, so children can touch the art safely. The metal edges of Compound's house sculpture were rounded, so that young children would not hurt themselves. The slopes around Optical Paths are covered with soft materials in case children roll on them. I was glad to see young visitors interact with my works," said Tawatchai.

Optical Paths. 

Both Compound and Optical Paths were also inspired by three-dimensional cartoons Tawatchai read when he was young.

"A three-dimensional image was created from warm tones, such as orange, red and dark blue by overlapping lines. This prevents cartoon readers from focusing on a specific point and results in the emergence of a three-dimensional image," he explained.

"From three-dimensional images, I cannot tell that an image that I saw a minute ago is the same image as I see at this moment. If people have negative thoughts, they should step back and look at the same thing from a different perspective. A change in attitude can change the world. It is a hidden message that young visitors may learn from the exhibition."

When asked if it is possible for Thailand to have a large art event specifically designed for children, Tawatchai responded that it is indeed possible. However, he pointed out that it may not be appropriate if a government agency organises this kind of event.

Tawatchai Puntusawasdi. 

"If a Thai government agency organises a children's biennale, people have to wear formal attire at the opening ceremony and children of government officers may have to attend the event. It should be arranged at a venue like Suan Siam or a theme park, but people have to understand the difference between a playground and an art event," Tawatchai commented.

"A children's biennale shouldn't be another playground where children just come to play. It should also provide them an opportunity to engage with thought-provoking installations which could spark their imaginations and encourage them to ponder issues like ocean conservation."

Tawatchai has earned international recognition from the Venice Biennale in 2000, Jakarta Biennale 2009 and Biennale of Sydney 2006 and 2018. He embraces exploration and continuous learning through his participation in many artist residencies. He revealed that his favourite residencies were in the US and Japan.

"I sometimes spent three or six months in the US and Japan. These extended periods allowed me to live like a local. I learned how to survive in a different environment and make new friends. When living abroad, limited access to equipment forced me to use my creativity and explore new forms of expression. This led to improvement in my work," Tawatchai explained.

As a veteran artist whom young artists look up to, Tawatchai advises that they should find balance in their lives.

"I used to work relentlessly day and night, but the heavy workload left me exhausted, sick and lacking in creativity. After I realised that poor health cripples everything, I began to find balance in life. When we achieve harmony between ourselves and our work, positive energy will arise naturally, resulting in a better outcome. The final result will attract more interest in our work," he said.

"Additionally, between the ages of 30 and 40, I actively sought scholarships and was not afraid of going out into the world. I was not worried about language barriers as my mindset was that I would learn it in the future. It is great to feel the excitement of discovering and learning new things," Tawatchai concluded.

The Gallery Children's Biennale runs at the National Gallery Singapore, 1 St Andrew's Road, until March 31. Admission is free. For more information, visit childrensbiennale.nationalgallery.sg.

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