Art Beyond Borders

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Left: Volunteer Rosalina and French visitor, Paul.

Art Beyond Borders

Plastic milk bottles are transformed into stunning doves in a collaboration between French and Singaporean artists that champions sustainable art and a regard for the environment.

By Melissa De Silva. Photos by Ted Chen

F

ive young people from France and their Singaporean peers are absorbed in cutting wavy shapes traced out on plastic bottles. Their aim is to transform these empty two -litre plastic milk bottles, which ordinarily qualify as trash, into objects of beauty — doves in flight in an installation ‘Soar’, presented at the I2Hub launch to guest of honour ESM Goh, who christened it “Boleh Voler” (“can fly” in Malay and French). The Singapore International Foundation have been supporting the collaboration between the French artists and their Singaporean peers from The Living! Project.

Khor Tuck Kuan, an artist with social enterprise The Living! Project, has been volunteering with the Christian Outreach to the Handicapped (COH) since 2006. Today, he is at the Emmanuel Activity Centre in Toa Payoh, run by COH, to teach these people with special needs how to create art from

throwaways. The plan is that armed with this knowledge, they will in turn teach others to do the same through workshops in schools and corporations.

In one secondary school they visited, Khor recalls, the students were very rowdy and noisy. Their teacher scolded them, to no effect. Even Khor scolded them and they didn’t listen. But when a person with special needs began struggling to talk to them, they grew silent and listened. “There were probably lots of things happening within the students when they saw that,” says Khor, “so people with special needs can achieve a lot we can’t.”

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Above: Khor Tuck Kuan, artist volunteer with the Living! Project.
Below: Artists Khor and Valerie.

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In December 2011, The Living! Project became the first Asian artist collective to show at the famed Fête des Lumières (Festival of Lights) in Lyon, France. Usually held in December, the festival features theatre performances, modern art and light shows and draws crowds in the millions. City monuments are lit and people decorate their window sills with tea lights. Shaun Chui who is autistic and hearing-impaired Valerie Wong were part of the team of Singaporean artists who travelled to France to demonstrate to children at the festival how to make windmills from discarded bottles to create the installation ‘Helix.’

The following year, 2012, Shaun and Valerie were joined at the festival in Lyon by another person with autism, Joyce Goh. Led by Singaporean artist Sun Yu-Li, this project eventually culminated in the stainless steel sculpture, Wishing Tree. Visitors could write their wishes on a strip of shower curtain material and throw it up into the structure.

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A volunteer with special-needs artist Cheah Tat Hiang and French visitors.

They also visited l’ULIS du lycée du Premier Film, Lyon (ULIS High School First Film, Lyon) to demonstrate to the students how to make art from recycled materials. It was there that the Singaporean special needs artists first met their French peers.

Kenny Eng, co-founder of The Living! Project, says, “The arrival of the French at Shawn and Valerie’s home in Singapore this past June, completed a circle that began as a little dream three years ago.”

Of the visit by their French counterparts to Singapore, Khor says, “The key thing is to teach the French how to do this [make the art] so…we can collaborate and they can go around France to teach others. We want special needs people to teach others. That’s important. Whether in factories or in schools, they will be the ones to teach. Even for those who cannot move their hands, they can be the ones to speak.”

Simon Jurine, artistic manager of Compagnie Ecarts en Cours (ECC Association), an organisation that aims is to involve artists and special needs adolescents in international cultural and artistic events, says, “We started this because we wanted to create events for people of different cultures and backgrounds. For example, people with autism – we organise events in which autistic people are the artists, so we reverse the process. The idea is to make society realise that art and culture can make people have a different point of view by placing those people in the centre of the artistic process.”

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Tracing the dove template on an empty milk bottle.

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In 2011, Singaporean artist collective, The Living! Project presented the recycled art installation ‘Helix’ at the renowned Lyon light festival in France.

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A young visitor to the 2011 Fête des Lumières in Lyon, France shows off his addition to the art installation, ‘Helix’ with special-needs artist Shaun Chui.

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French artist Alex “Ziska” and Singaporean special-needs artist Joyce Goh.

Samuel Koh, executive director of Christian Outreach to the Handicapped, says that people with special needs are also inspiring and have inspired him personally, like Shaun, who runs the Standard Chartered marathon. “Shaun inspired me to run a marathon! I did it in 2011 and said, that’s the first and last time! But the next day most of the aches were gone and I did it again in 2012. People with special needs are able to contribute but society has still not been able to recognise that. We need to recognise that they are part of the eco-system.”

Christophe Coindard, co-founder of Compagnie Ecarts en Cours and the teacher of the special needs class at l’ULIS du lycée du Premier Film, Lyon (ULIS High School First Film, Lyon), France, says, “This trip was very important for the students first because it was a very good experience to discover a new country, new food, new things. For autistic people, this is very difficult. Also, we like the spirit and the work of Khor because he can do beautiful things with handicapped people. The students are very proud when they cut the bottle and in the end it’s a dove.”

The French and Singapore teams hope to take the collaboration further. Says Jurine, “We hope to create a merged cultural space for people with different special needs to make this sort of exchange. I hope we can come back to Singapore again and they can come to France again and create synergy in the long-term.

While ostensibly the project is about sustainability, there is a deeper significance to it. Says Khor, “This project is not just about recycling, but discovering your full potential. For example, the plastic bottles. You can realise its full potential, like turning it into a dove or a flower.”


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