Arts festival's big draw: Big, round and beautiful

Israeli artist Ron Arad's installation, which projects images all around and lets people view them from the inside and out, started as a joke

When Israeli architect, industrial designer and artist Ron Arad proposed the monumental installation, then known as Curtain Call in 2011, he meant it as a joke.

Recalling his conversation with the director of the circular live performance venue Roundhouse in London, where he is based, he says: "I said what if I do something big and round, with 360-degree projection and people could walk through the images, I was half joking."

The joke turned into reality with what he describes as a lot of computer imaging, guesswork and calculation.

What resulted was a spectacular 8m-high double-sided screen made from about 6,000 silicone cords that formed a circle 56m in circumference. Projections could be displayed on it and they could be viewed from the inside and outside.

Arad is an influential designer, whose career started after he created, in 1981, the post-modernist Rover chair - a combination of a car seat with structural tubing.

Since then, he has forged a career with his experimental designs - straddling various industries, including fashion - and has had solo shows in New York's Museum of Modern Art, London's Barbican Art Gallery and Centre Pompidou in Paris.

He recently refurbished the interiors of the Watergate Hotel in Washington D.C. in the United States and has a giant public sculpture, Thought Of Train Of Thought, hanging in London's St Pancras station.

For something the 65-year-old admits he "had no idea how to do" at the time and only saw working 24 hours before the public did, Curtain Call has come a long way.

After that first showing in London, it was installed outdoors at Jerusalem's Israel Museum in 2012, where it was renamed 720° because Arad said the term "curtain call" did not mean anything to the Israeli audience. A total of 45,000 people have seen the installation in both countries.

 A Series Of Cinematographic Choreographies (above) by Brian Gothong Tan will run from Sept 2 to 4.
Tropical Traumas: A Series Of Cinematographic Choreographies (above) by Brian Gothong Tan will run from Sept 2 to 4. PHOTO: SINGAPORE INTERNATIONAL FESTIVAL OF ARTS

It will return to London's Roundhouse later this month before coming to Singapore next month.

From Raffles to orang utans

Similarly titled 720°, the free installation is a highlight of the Singapore International Festival of Arts.

  • 720° in numbers

  • 56 m

    The circumference of the ring, which is 8m tall


    The number of platinum-cured silicone cords, totalling more than 37km, make up the curtain. The cords are shipped on 15 pallets, each weighing 322 kg


    The number of high-definition projectors at 12,000 lumens each. A separate roof structure will be built to protect the installation from the elements

    4,000 kg

    The weight of the steel curtain ring


    The number of people needed to put up the installation in Singapore. They will take about a week to do so

It will be located at The Meadow at Gardens by the Bay from Sept 2 to 17. During its opening hours from 7 to 11pm, audiences are free to come and go as they please.

Festival director Ong Keng Sen says the installation was timed to coincide with Gardens by the Bay's annual mid-autumn festival celebrations, as he saw it as a "gigantic video lantern".

"I see Arad's 720° as a unique opportunity to relook one of the traditional festivals of Singapore and open it up to other communities and find a new cosmopolitanism," he says.

  • VIEW IT / RON ARAD'S 720°

  • WHERE: The Meadow @ Gardens by the Bay WHEN: Sept 2 to 17, 7 to 11pm (come and go as you please)




    WHERE: The Meadow @ Gardens by the Bay WHEN: Sept 2 to 4, 9pm



"It is a contemporary way to celebrate this traditional festival by entering the heart of a lantern."

The work is also conducive as a platform for collaboration. It can be used to screen films and projections and artists all over the world have used it to stage theatrical and music performances as well.

The Singapore edition features a new collaboration in the form of home-grown multimedia artist Brian Gothong Tan's new work, Tropical Traumas: A Series Of Cinematographic Choreographies, which will take place from Sept 2 to 4.

The 70-minute work combines animation, multimedia projections and a live performance, focusing on the experiences of Sophia Hull, the second wife of the founder of modern Singapore, Sir Stamford Raffles, re-enacting their travels in the tropics.

Actors Karen Tan, Koh Boon Pin, Felipe Cervera and Edith Podesta will perform in the piece, each taking up multiple roles that range from Raffles and Hull to orang utans and birds.

The projections and animations include elements of archive materials from the era, such as 19th-century engravings, paintings, natural history drawings and photographs.

However, Tan, 36, says his goal is not strictly to stage something true to that era, but to re-imagine it in the modern context.

"We will be breaking some rules and the tone is tongue-in-cheek," he says. "For example, we'll have our actors talking to statues and there'll be some intended anachronisms, such as using a microphone in a scene. It is a contemporary piece."

The setting in the Gardens is also apt as it mirrors how Raffles first proposed that Singapore have its own botanical garden.

He also references the work of Alfred Russel Wallace, a British naturalist who collected plant and animal specimens from Singapore in the 19th century, as part of his travels in the Malay archipelago.

Tan, who knows of Arad from his design work, says he is "honoured" to be collaborating with him.

He says: "To have my name side by side with Ron Arad, that is an impossible dream."

Tan is a familiar name in the theatre scene, having collaborated with companies such as Cake Theatrical Productions, The Necessary Stage and Wild Rice.

Ong says: "He is often invisible in these shows, yet so much of the final product is from his signature talent. He is deserving to be finally commissioned for his own performance and not just as a collaborator."

Tan would also be happy to know that Arad insists that he does not mind "if audiences forget Ron Arad", while encountering the installation through the works of other artists.

Besides Tan's multimedia projections and performance, the Singapore edition will also screen films from artists such as British visual artist David Shrigley and Cypriot-British fashion designer Hussein Chalayan, alongside Arad's projections.

Set outdoors, Arad's installation also interacts with nature. Initially, he did not know how a work that was "born in a round place, indoors" would behave outdoors.

For example, with an outdoor work, the projections cannot be shown during the daytime.

He adds: "I was worried about the wind, but it was beautiful. The wind added some element to it. It gives it another dimension."

He says in London, audiences sat on the floor, looking at the projections, while in Jerusalem, people enjoyed it from a distance, as they could also take in the night-time cityscape.

His advice to Singapore audiences?

"Take your time, see it from the inside, from the outside. You can lie down and look up. There are no prescriptions. I'm expecting to be surprised in Singapore."

•Organisers of the arts festival say tickets to shows are selling well, with some shows selling faster than others. They declined to give details and urge audiences to book tickets soon. The festival runs from Aug 11 to Sept 17 and tickets are available from Sistic (go to or call 6348-5555). Those who have bought passes to its pre-festival, The O.P.E.N., enjoy a 25-per-cent discount on tickets.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 02, 2016, with the headline 'Big, round and beautiful'. Print Edition | Subscribe