Looking 200 years into the future

Act 1: Arrival begins in the present year, when the effects of climate change are increasingly being felt. PHOTO: KHALID BABA, LISA PARK

In 200 years, Singapore could be partially submerged in seawater or become an underground city.

The ArtScience Museum explores these possibilities in its new interactive exhibition, 2219: Futures Imagined.

Inspired by local writer Alvin Pang's 2219 Stories project, the exhibition invites visitors to step into scenarios that might occur in the years leading up to Singapore's Quadricentennial.

The installations unfold over five acts from 2019 to 2219, and include the works of more than two dozen artists, architects, film-makers, writers and theatre companies from Singapore and around the world.

Although the impending climate crisis and dramatic technological advancements set the stage for 2219: Futures Imagined, it resists depicting either dystopia or utopia.

Instead, the exhibition zooms in on more human stories, such as the unique cultures that connect the country's past, present and future.

Thus, there is a strong sense of familiarity, even in its projection of the distant future.

One installation, for example, is based on the idea of objects discarded at a Housing Board void deck, while another encourages visitors to catch up on local news by reading a copy of "The Strange Times" from November 2050.

ArtScience Museum executive director Honor Harger, 44, says: "2219: Futures Imagined is not a series of predictions or straightforward warnings of the potential dangers ahead. We ask our audiences to reflect on what kind of future they want for Singapore and what actions they may be prepared to take towards that."


  • WHERE: ArtScience Museum, 10 Bayfront Avenue

    MRT: Bayfront

    WHEN: Today to April 5, 10am to 7pm (last admission is at 6pm)

    ADMISSION: $12 to $19, free for students of local institutions

    INFO: www.marinabaysands.com/museum/2219-futures-imagined.html

Act 1: Arrival begins in the present year, when the effects of climate change are increasingly being felt.

The six-screen video installation Purple by British artist John Akomfrah addresses humanity's destructive impact on the environment, with scenes of melting ice caps, smoke billowing from nuclear reactors and the relentless chugging of trains.

The installation is named for the colour of mourning in Ghana, where Akomfrah was born. The colour is dull - almost grey - in the film, prompting audiences to reflect on the dying planet.

The looped film is 62 minutes long, pieced together from hundreds of hours of archival footage, newly shot scenes and a hypnotic score.

Act 2: Home is set around 2050 and depicts how living spaces might be affected by the climate crisis.

Mitigation of Shock by Superflux (Act 2). ST PHOTO: KHALID BABA

It features Mitigation of Shock, a mid-21st century apartment by Britain-and India-based design and film collective Superflux, which visitors can walk through and explore.

Inside, a single window looks out on a city partially submerged in seawater. Resource scarcity has turned the home into an urban farm, with edible plants such as mint and lady's finger growing in coco peat or hydroponic systems.

Yet, despite the food ration cards and a recipe for "Cockroach a la King" tacked to the kitchen cupboard, the apartment is not an unpleasant place to live.

A child's doodles and toy trains scattered around the room suggest that humans have found ways to adapt and thrive.

Act 3: Underworld explores how the Earth may become uninhabitable around 2060 to 2100.

Subterranean Singapore 2065 by Finbarr Fallon (Act 3). ST PHOTO: KHALID BABA

Subterranean Singapore 2065 is an architectural proposal by Singapore-based artist Finbarr Fallon to move the city underground. He creates a subterranean environment using modular frameworks, inflatable structures and artificial weather systems.

His seven-minute film in the installation documents Singapore's 100th National Day Parade in 2065, which celebrates the country's technological achievements.

Blooming by Lisa Park (Act 3). PHOTO: LISA PARK

Visitors can also interact with a projection of a life-size cherry blossom tree in Blooming by America-and Korea-based artist Lisa Park.

The tree flourishes when participants stand barefoot on the sensors. When they hold hands or embrace, the flowers bloom with pink petals.

By responding to physical contact between two and four participants, the installation highlights the importance of human presence.

It also questions how people's relationship with nature might change underground, where there is limited sunlight to sustain plant and animal life.

Act 4: Adaptation takes place around 2119.

Win >< win by German theatre company Rimini Protokoll (Act 4). ST PHOTO: KHALID BABA

While other marine species go extinct, the sea has become the ideal habitat for one particular animal: the jellyfish.

Nearly everything that damages the ecosystem seems to benefit it, since ocean plastic kills its predators and it flourishes in warmer waters.

win >< win, by German theatre company Rimini Protokoll, is a piece of participatory theatre which contemplates a future where humans are no longer the dominant species.

Audiences enter the rooms in groups of nine and are guided by a 16-minute audio recording. Both groups sit facing each other, but are separated by a tank of live moon jellyfish.

Act 5: Memory takes place as Singapore prepares to commemorate its Quadricentennial in 2219. Ancestral customs, domestic crafts and rituals are being practised again now that the ecological calamity is over.

Everything but Gold by Adeline Kueh (Act 5). PHOTO: KHALID BABA

It includes local artist Adeline Kueh's exhibition Everything But Gold, which displays a series of paper hand-crafted beads.

Her parents began rolling the beads in 1963 using paper from old calendars, which acted as time capsules of their courtship. Kueh later began making her own beads using recycled everyday materials such as magazine pages, capturing the past through her craft.

Also on display is a series of beads made for Kueh's son from pure gold. Visitors are invited to write their own hopes for the future on slips of paper to roll into their own beads. The project is a tribute to the resilience of art as a form of love and care.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 23, 2019, with the headline Looking 200 years into the future . Subscribe