A sneak preview of “Unseen: Constellations”, an art show slated for March 2016 at Objectifs Gallery in Singapore by Alecia Neo featuring seven visually-impaired kids.
Text: Kelley Cheng
“Art can function as a powerful means towards reconciliation. In my work, I have always been motivated to uplift the image of the underdog, for I see that individuals often possess much more potential and possibilities than they are perceived to.”
– Alecia Neo, artist
Giving back to the society is so often lacking in most people’s minds as they deemed too much work above the stress and pressures of their everyday life. Being able to help the less privileged as one does what one loves is perhaps an ideal situation but how many of us bother to think about this possibility and make effort to create a framework and an opportunity to do this? One artist, Alecia Neo did exactly that, out of passion and compassion. Art can heal and connect, but it does not happen overnight. Dedicating two years to guide seven visually impaired kids to achieve their dreams is the premise of Alecia’s work “Unseen: Constellations”.
Through “Unseen: Constellations” Alecia Neo hopes to tap into the potential and possibilities of what one might brush off as the impossible. Featuring seven visually impaired teenagers from Ahmad Ibrahim Secondary School, “Unseen: Constellations” is a 2-year long art project which saw Alecia working closely with these kids, identifying their ambition and guiding them on a journey towards this dream.
The idea for this project was inspired by Alecia’s month-long residency at Bamboo Curtain Studio in Taipei (2012), where she collaborated with members of the Visually-Impaired Service and Development Division of the Eden Social Welfare Foundation to create a one-on-one photography workshop for six visually impaired participants, one of whom was blind. Asked how the outcome was like, Alecia said, “Even though they could not comprehend the image wholly, in spite of aids, the participants enjoyed the process of engaging in dialogue about their lives. Post workshop, the participants gave me feedback on the workshop, and how we might translate the images into tactile form, which led to my installation work Unseen: Touch Field (2014).”
Realising that one month was not enough for a project of this nature, Alecia decided to continue her exploration with the visually-impaired with “Unseen: Constellations” shortly after she returned from Taipei. For the following one and a half years, Alecia conducted workshops for the seven kids and found mentors for each and every one of them based on their ambitions and dreams. The final presentation of this journey will be housed in 7 tents, individually designed by each of the students, with each tent showcasing each kid’s creative journey and installations. Apart from these installations, there will also be live performances during the opening by the 7 students, as well as workshops by the students, talks and sharing sessions by the students and collaborators, and you can even join a blindfolded tour in the Bugis precinct! As part of the art project, Alecia will also launch her debut documentary film about the project.
As it is a 2-year project, the biggest challenge for Alecia is to raise funds to support the operational costs of the process and the production costs for the works to be featured in the final exhibition. Though extremely difficult, Alecia is happy that the participants and collaborators stuck to it to eventually see the results, “Some of the students have discovered new dreams for themselves, and the project and time has brought them and all of us involved to very different places from where we began. I think these changes are good and important. Because it reminds us that nothing is constant, and perceptions and positions can change and be shaped,” said Alecia. On the other hand, the biggest challenge for her participants is mobility, an area Alecia hopes to explore in her future projects. Being independent and being able to stand on their own two feet, despite their handicap, is both a challenge and a dream for the participants.
Having developed closeness to the kids in this 2-year journey, Alecia shared some fond memories. When one of the participants, an aspiring musician, Nurul’s original composition “Protecting Star” was transcribed by her mentor, Zaidi Sabtu-Ramli, and performed for the first time by the Singapore Polytechnic Symphonic Band, everyone was moved to tears as it was hauntingly beautiful. Recalls Alecia, “It was a great collaboration, and showed how art and music can bring people together.”
Besides Nurul, Claire is another participant who loves to perform, but for her it is the love of dance. Described by Alecia as an ambitious and independent young lady, Claire showed herself to be fearless in her dance lessons with her mentor Sharda Harrison, which inspired her to develop her experimental films focusing on themes of love, danger and freedom. Not surprising, Alecia and those who witnessed Claire’s progress are deeply moved by her desire to perform against all odds.
Alecia hopes that in the end, the participants will be proud of what they have created and achieved through “Unseen: Constellations” and that art and creativity will remain as part of their lives for a long time as a means of self-expression and reaching out to others around them. As for herself, she said that the experience has taught her to be humble and how to push and pull, and back off sometimes, which she likened to “tai chi”. More importantly, the most valuable lesson she learnt and would like to share with everyone is, “The more we give, the more we will receive.”
Kelley Cheng is an architect turned Jill-of-all-trade – the Editor-in-Chief of Singapore Architect magazine, she also runs her own publishing & design consultancy The Press Room, designing everything from books, graphics to spaces. As an educator, she teaches at Nanyang Technological University and Glasgow School of Art Singapore, sits on the advisory pane ofl LaSalles College of the Arts and Singapore Polytechnic. A much sought-after public speaker, she also serves regularly on the judging panels of local and international design competitions such as Red Dot Awards, Nagoya-Do!, Design for Asia, Creative Circle Award, James Dyson Award, etc.