THE ART OF TECH­NOL­OGY

Honor Harger, Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor of the ArtS­cience Mu­seum in Sin­ga­pore, tells Joanna Lee about the fu­sion of tech­nol­ogy and art in these ever-evolv­ing times.

The Peak (Malaysia) - - Contents - IM­AGES MA­RINA BAY SANDS

Honor Harger, Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor of the ArtS­cience Mu­seum in Sin­ga­pore, tells ThePeak about the fu­sion of tech­nol­ogy and art in these ever-evolv­ing times.

How did you be­gin your jour­ney in art? Did you have an interest in sci­ence from the start as well? My whole ca­reer has taken place at the in­ter­sec­tion be­tween art and sci­ence, and art and tech­nol­ogy. It is where I have been work­ing cre­atively for the bet­ter part of 20 years. I stud­ied Art His­tory, Phi­los­o­phy of Sci­ence and His­tory of Sci­ence at univer­sity in New Zealand, so this fas­ci­na­tion with both art and sci­ence was with me from an early age.

Be­fore I be­came in­ter­ested in art, I actually wanted to be a ma­rine bi­ol­o­gist, so the sci­ence actually came be­fore art. But most of my ca­reer has been within arts or­gan­i­sa­tions. What’s been dis­tinc­tive about my work in the arts is in­te­grat­ing sci­ence and tech­nol­ogy into cul­tural con­texts, such as cu­rat­ing art and tech­nol­ogy pro­grammes and elec­tronic mu­sic at Tate Mod­ern, ex­hi­bi­tions in Ber­lin and Barcelona that ex­plored in­vis­i­ble in­fra­struc­tures such as the ra­dio spec­trum, and, in my final post­ing at Light­house in Brighton, UK, I com­mis­sioned projects by artists and film­mak­ers on top­ics as di­verse as ge­netic sci­ence, sur­veil­lance, big data and as­tron­omy. I have pas­sion for sci­ence but, at the same time, I find the work of artists, film­mak­ers, mu­si­cians and designers end­lessly in­spir­ing. What is a typ­i­cal day like for you at ArtS­cience Mu­seum? There is such a huge di­ver­sity in what we do that there is re­ally no typ­i­cal day. What we are en­gaged with varies ac­cord­ing to what ex­hi­bi­tion is be­ing con­cep­tu­alised, designed and set up; what pro­grammes we are de­vis­ing and de­liv­er­ing, and which part­ners, spon­sors and stake­hold­ers we are li­ais­ing with. There are times that we have to work through the night and, espe­cially in prepa­ra­tion of up­com­ing ex­hi­bi­tions, it is very com­mon for me, and mem­bers of my team, to work week­ends also. What are your thoughts on the arts scene in South-East Asia? Do you think it is evolv­ing? There’s an in­cred­i­ble di­ver­sity of

out­stand­ing art be­ing pro­duced across South-East Asia, by artists work­ing in all dis­ci­plines. The prac­tice of artists like these shows just how dy­namic the arts sec­tor in the region is right now. In Sin­ga­pore, in par­tic­u­lar, we’ve seen al­most un­prece­dented growth in the arts sec­tor, from the in­flux of in­ter­na­tional art ex­hi­bi­tions and fairs, to the de­vel­op­ment of ma­jor new in­fra­struc­ture and in­sti­tu­tions, in­clud­ing ArtS­cience Mu­seum as well as Na­tional Gallery, Esplanade and many oth­ers. There is also strong progress be­ing made in arts ed­u­ca­tion with LASALLE Col­lege of the Arts and Nanyang Acad­emy of Fine Arts. Do you think tech­nol­ogy will over­take art one day? I don’t be­lieve there’s any great di­chotomy be­tween art and tech­nol­ogy, or art and sci­ence for that mat­ter. Think­ing of sci­ence and tech­nol­ogy ex­ist­ing at one end of the creative spec­trum and art at the other, of­ten leads to all sorts of fears and mis­con­cep­tions. Given that artists are of­ten de­vel­op­ers of new tech­nolo­gies and cer­tainly amongst the first to demon­strate the creative, so­cial and con­cep­tual uses of hard­ware and soft­ware, I don’t think there’s much dan­ger that tech­nol­ogy will some­how over­take art. If any­thing, artists are em­brac­ing ad­vances in ma­te­ri­als sci­ence, like 3D print­ing and nan­otech­nol­ogy, to cre­ate ever more in­trigu­ing phys­i­cal forms. What are the chal­lenges that you face as Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor? How do you over­come them? A key chal­lenge is pro­vid­ing in­spir­ing, in­no­va­tive and rig­or­ous ex­hi­bi­tions and pro­grammes for the public, while tak­ing care of my very tal­ented and hard­work­ing team. Balanc­ing these pri­or­i­ties, while keeping the mu­seum on-mis­sion and sus­tain­able, are the chal­leng­ing parts of my role. We also keep our au­di­ences in mind and try to learn from them. Keeping our au­di­ences in­tel­lec­tu­ally and aes­thet­i­cally chal­lenged, while in­spir­ing them to come back again and again, is a big chal­lenge. As a mu­seum that op­er­ates at the in­ter­sec­tion of art, sci­ence, cul­ture and tech­nol­ogy, we try and sign­post new trends and in­no­va­tions, and that means be­ing tuned into new de­vel­op­ments in mul­ti­ple dif­fer­ent fields. Who is your favourite artist? Choos­ing a favourite artist re­ally is like choos­ing a favourite child. It’s quite im­pos­si­ble. Maybe I can share some­thing about a few artists who are in­spir­ing me right now. Trevor Pa­glen is an Amer­i­can pho­tog­ra­pher and ex­per­i­men­tal ge­og­ra­pher, who uses the tech­nol­ogy of as­tro­nom­i­cal pho­tog­ra­phy to al­low us to see phe­nom­ena that are or­di­nar­ily out of view. I also deeply ad­mire Dra­gan Zi­vadi­nov, who is one of the found­ing mem­bers of Slove­nia’s leg­endary art move­ment, NSK. He is also one of the only liv­ing artists to have trained as a cos­mo­naut. I also adore the work of Sin­ga­porean artist, Ho Tzu Nyen, who we are wel­com­ing back to the mu­seum this month as part of the film and video pro­gramme, Look at the Earth from the Uni­verse. What do you hope to achieve at ArtS­cience Mu­seum? ArtS­cience Mu­seum has be­come some­thing of a cul­tural icon in Sin­ga­pore, and our build­ing has even be­come an in­te­gral part of the vis­ual iden­tity of the city. That means the mu­seum has a big re­spon­si­bil­ity to keep de­liv­er­ing in­spir­ing and en­gag­ing sto­ries about art and sci­ence us­ing a com­bi­na­tion of in­tel­lec­tual dis­cus­sion, ed­u­ca­tion, beau­ti­ful de­sign and in­trigu­ing con­tent.

Since its open­ing in Fe­bru­ary 2011, we have staged large-scale ex­hi­bi­tions by some of the world’s ma­jor artists, as well as ex­hi­bi­tions that ex­plore as­pects of sci­ence. We have hosted ma­jor in­ter­na­tional ex­hi­bi­tions from renowned mu­se­ums and galleries around the world. We have also orig­i­nated and cu­rated our own ex­hi­bi­tions and this is some­thing we want to do more of. We co-cu­rated our lat­est show, The Uni­verse and Art, with the Mori Art Mu­seum in Tokyo and we hope to be able to de­velop more cu­ra­to­rial part­ner­ships with like-minded or­gan­i­sa­tions.

We also want to con­tinue to grow and de­velop our pro­grammes. We run a full pro­gramme of ed­u­ca­tion events, film screen­ings, per­for­mances and learn­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties for a wide range of au­di­ences, which touches tens of thousands of vis­i­tors per year. Pro­grammes like ArtS­cience Late provides a monthly plat­form for local and re­gional per­form­ing artists like Angie Seah, The Ob­ser­va­tory, Syn­di­cate, Arts Fis­sion, Bani Haykal and more to be able to de­velop new work and share it with the public.

So, balanc­ing our po­si­tion as Asia's pre­miere venue for art and sci­ence, with our role as a key part of the local and re­gional arts ecosys­tem, is some­thing we will be very fo­cused as we navigate the near fu­ture. Where do you look to for in­spi­ra­tion? Na­ture, usually. As Leonardo da Vinci once said: “Hu­man subtlety will never de­vise an in­ven­tion more beau­ti­ful, more sim­ple or more di­rect than does na­ture, be­cause in her in­ven­tions nothing is lack­ing, and nothing is su­per­flu­ous.” What does art mean to you? Art is a way of ex­plor­ing and un­der­stand­ing the uni­verse. The Sin­ga­porean poet Alvin Pang put it quite nicely when he said: “Sci­ence is what the uni­verse tells the hu­man mind. Art is what the hu­man mind tells the uni­verse.”

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