Authorisation does not kill creativity

Far left: Mr Tan with his authorised Chinese New Year handiwork at a Woodlands Street 13 carpark. Left: The spotlight on unsanctioned public displays was sparked by retired contractor Or Beng Kooi's pagoda-like tower of items in Yishun Ring Road. The
The spotlight on unsanctioned public displays was sparked by retired contractor Or Beng Kooi's pagoda-like tower of items in Yishun Ring Road. The installation was removed over fire safety concerns. All Mr Or has now is a memento from that display.ST PHOTOS: LIM YAOHUI, FELINE LIM
Far left: Mr Tan with his authorised Chinese New Year handiwork at a Woodlands Street 13 carpark. Left: The spotlight on unsanctioned public displays was sparked by retired contractor Or Beng Kooi's pagoda-like tower of items in Yishun Ring Road. The
Mr Tan with his authorised Chinese New Year handiwork at a Woodlands Street 13 carpark. ST PHOTOS: LIM YAOHUI, FELINE LIM

One resident who sought official approval for his displays even got support from the town council

The authorities must be informed if artists want to build public displays responsibly, said Woodlands resident Tan Koon Tat.

The 56-year-old carpenter has been constructing festive displays at the carpark near Block 179, Woodlands Street 13, for the past decade, even making artificial snow last Christmas.

All these were done with the blessing of the Marsiling-Yew Tee Town Council, said Mr Tan.

In Mandarin, he told The Straits Times that he knows the authorities have to account to residents if it goes awry.

Said Mr Tan: "They are in charge of the space, and they have to take responsibility if something bad happens. These rules are meant to protect the residents and we must respect that."

It is also not true that support from officials mean the work is any less genuine, he said.

The town council does not dictate how he conducts his public decorations as long as they fit certain safety and hygiene requirements and do not inconvenience others.

"The town council even volunteered to provide electrical points to power some of my displays, such as the snow machine, which I rejected because I don't think the public should pay for my decorations," said Mr Tan.

While the tableaus may be subjective and might inevitably offend others, Mr Tan said he tries to mitigate this by talking to various neighbours and sharing his plans with them. If there are any concerns, he would alter them.

Every year, he designs and builds displays to celebrate five occasions - National Day, Deepavali, Hari Raya, Christmas and Chinese New Year.

This is so that it is inclusive of all races and religions, he said.

When it comes to the clean-up, he knows he cannot shirk responsibility because of the assurances he has given to the town council, as it should rightly be.

Said Mr Tan: "How do you think the authorities would react if the artist left a mess? Or if the decorations were done improperly and cannot be removed easily?

"These are all things that he or she should expect and the best way to avoid these issues is to inform the town council first."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 16, 2017, with the headline 'Authorisation does not kill creativity'. Print Edition | Subscribe