National Gallery launches digital extension to long-term exhibitions

Artist Ho Tzu Nyen’s (above) three video works are in response to artworks at the National Gallery Singapore depicting tigers, such as Boschbrand (1849) by Raden Saleh.
Artist Ho Tzu Nyen’s (above) three video works are in response to artworks at the National Gallery Singapore depicting tigers, such as Boschbrand (1849) by Raden Saleh. PHOTOS: DIOS VINCOY JR FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

New smartphone app unrealised allows museumgoers to get more out of the exhibits at the National Gallery Singapore

The National Gallery Singapore launched a new digital extension to its long-term exhibitions on Tuesday.

Titled unrealised, this virtual extension can be accessed only at specific locations in the gallery, through the Gallery Explorer app on a smartphone.

It debuts with commissioned works by three Singapore artists Heman Chong, Ho Tzu Nyen and Erika Tan, with plans to add more works by other artists in the future.

The works were created in response to the gallery's permanent Singapore and South-east Asia exhibitions, with the artists responding to different aspects of the exhibition.

Ho created a series of three video works in response to artworks in the exhibitions which depicted tigers, such as Tang Da Wu's installation artwork, Tiger's Whip.

Titled Timelines, these works delve into historical narratives behind these images, powered by Ho's interest in the figure of the Malayan Tiger in his art.

Chong's work, Past, Lives (Singapore, 1819-2015), looks at the titles of exhibitions in Singapore between 1819 and 2015 and appropriates them in the form of daily tweets which Chong will allegedly post "until I die".


Artist Ho Tzu Nyen’s three video works are in response to artworks at the National Gallery Singapore depicting tigers, such as Boschbrand (1849, above) by Raden Saleh.

The tweets can also be read on Twitter (@PastLives2015) and people can choose to reply or respond.

London-based Tan is presenting a video work about an old Malay weaver, titled Apa Jika, The Mis-Placed Comma (I, II, III).

Inspired by physical spaces in the gallery, Tan filmed her videos in its exhibition spaces before the gallery was opened to the public in November 2015, while works were still being hung.

The work is now on show in Venice, Italy, as part of the prestigious Venice Biennale.

When visitors access the app on their smartphones and are standing in the vicinity of specific artworks or in particular areas of the gallery, the digital works are unlocked automatically, using proximity-based technology known as iBeacon.

For example, they can access Tan's work when they walk along the corridor near the UOB Southeast Asia Gallery.

The app can also be used on tablets that the gallery loans out for free.

Curator Shabbir Hussain Mustafa says that unrealised was not an "afterthought" to the gallery's exhibitions, but was planned as early as in 2014 while its Singapore and South-east Asian galleries were being conceptualised.

"We wanted to see how we could bring in questions that were not captured within a typical exhibition form, which largely consists of paintings and sculptures, and we decided we would begin three parallel discussions," he says.

Artist Ho, 41, says he likes that his work in unrealised "doesn't exist physically" and is "adding a voice to an artwork".

"It is like air - it's not constrained to a material form. It doesn't age or yellow. Yet, it is capable of holding so much dense information - in terms of images, sound and stories."

•For more information, go to www.nationalgallery.sg/unrealised

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 17, 2017, with the headline 'Digital artwork in the palm of your hand'. Print Edition | Subscribe