Slow Art Day Plus by National Gallery Singapore
In celebration of Slow Art Day on 10 April 2021, National Gallery Singapore organised a “Slow Art Day Plus” event on the same day. I attended one of the sessions in the afternoon.
The session was held at one section, or rather one corner of the exhibition hall that was part of the on-going “Georgette Chen - At Home in the World” art exhibition at the Level 4 Gallery in the National Gallery Singapore.
It was a bit uncomfortable, as the exhibition hall was opened to the public and there were visitors walking about, and I guessed we became part of the exhibits too. I think it made us, or at least me, a bit more conscious about our participation; you feel that you cannot talk too much and talk too loudly, and you should not have big and loud movements too.
We were ushered into our seats, small folding chairs that were facing the wall with two big paintings. Dr Mabel Yap, a trained mindfulness practitioner, was leading the session. We were told that she will guide us through some mindfulness practices and she will also facilitate some art observation exercises.
After a short and simple breathing exercise, we were divided into two groups, with each group focused on one Georgette Chen painting that was in front of us. The wall label, providing the usual information of the title of the painting, was temporarily covered with a piece of paper, just for us.
We were given a few minutes to look at the painting in front of us, with Mabel asking questions to prompt us: what do we see, how do we feel, what does the painting evoke in us. It was followed with a sharing to the person sitting next to you; mine was a young man serving NS who was dutifully accompanying his father to the event.
The private sharing was then extended to the group and it was interesting to hear what others saw and felt of the same painting in front of us. The young man for example, thought that the painting was messy while his father felt that it was serene and peaceful.
That is the beauty of art; how you interpret the painting reflects who you are, which is essentially your life thus far. It is a reminder that all of us are unique, so remember, do not judge and do not assume anything of anyone.
After all the sharing, Mabel made us stand up and led us to do some simple stretching. It was strange to do head rotation in the middle of a busy art museum, but it felt good to stand up after 45 minutes of sitting.
The next exercise was the most difficult for me. We there told to face away from the painting and draw. Draw! Draw whatever we want (I think it is more of drawing whatever we can) of the Georgette Chen painting that we had been looking at all this time.
It was tough. Firstly, I cannot look at the painting, so I had to rely on my memory to draw and suddenly I realized I do not remember much of the painting that I had spent so much time looking at and talking about just one minute ago. Secondly, and most importantly I cannot draw. It was frustrating because I cannot express myself. I could not draw out what I wanted to draw: I cannot draw the parts of the painting that I remembered nor can I draw what I felt about the painting.
So I stared at the blank piece of paper, twirling the pencil, while those around me seem to be totally at ease with the exercise. I had to do something eventually, so I ended up with a few lines depicting what I felt was the essence of the painting that was the best that I could draw.
Once again, we shared our drawings with each other in the group and I must say, I was impressed. Everyone could draw, at least nobody drew fewer lines than me. Perhaps I was too annoyed with my inability to express myself through drawing, but I really do not understand the purpose of this drawing exercise.
By now, the session was coming to an end. Mabel disclosed the titles of the two paintings that we “studied” the whole afternoon. She also shared a bit about the artist Georgette Chen and the story behind the paintings. We closed the session with a sitting practice, where she asked us to be aware of what we had experienced today.
On the whole, I enjoyed the session. Mindfulness and Slow Art make a good pair. The only quibble I have is there are too many things to do in this 1.5 hours session. Before the session, I had envisaged Slow Art as sitting on a bench and looking at a painting silently in a quiet environment for one hour. I guess I will just return to the Georgette Chen exhibtion next week and do exactly that.