The Art of the Universe

Is there a relationship between art and the universe?

 

History tells us, yes.

Map of the stars
Map of the stars

It would seem that we, humans, have had a fascination with the universe from probably since the time we asked what those lights in the sky are. And some of our ancestors have tried to tell their stories and theories through drawings, scribbles, dabbles, poetry and music. While most people may not have understood what they were trying to say back then, it is amazing to see now that we still ask practically the same questions that our ancestors did. Thoughts about the universe has always been vague. Truth be told, we probably know only a fraction of what the universe is all about in the two centuries that we have been around.

Time space warp!

One thing that we can agree on is that we believe that the universe is mostly made up of space. Lots and lots of space. In fact, in some scenarios, time and space are used interchangeably. There are even arguments that time and space can be bent. And with this bending, unbelievable things can occur. Not that we actually have proof of it, but if the theories and dreams do come true, we may be looking at infinity. Would it have a price? definitely. But we also hope that whatever the shape of the universe turns out to be, they would be beautifully tangible as the art that it has inspired. And art is truly unbelievable as it gives our imaginations shape and form. It may turn out weird or downright bizarre, but in today’s open-minded (well, some anyway) society you may be able to get away with putting together utter garbage -err, recycled materials- and sell it off as art.

Sexy Robot

Now, if time and space are intertwined, are we living in the past or the future? According to our species, the so called human race, we are in the present. And if we look at it the way we are now, then it would make sense. But if we imagine for one minute that we are not in the present, then things would be much more interesting. Looking at how others interpret the future is both interesting and fun at the same time. Surely, at some point we have probably imagined the same thing or was in the same train of thought as the other people that have expressed in their art.

 

And finally, outer space. Our greatest achievement as Terrans. We imagined travelling to outer space, beyond the confines of our Earth. And truly, some of us (myself included) used to imagine flying off into the unknown in our spacecraft (mostly made of cardboard and other junk) and discovering alien worlds. I used to wonder what people out in space were doing while they were out there. I mean, you can’t just go for a run or a swim or even just chill by the pool. Some were doing scientific stuff and others were doodling. And thus we have the art that was inspired by the void of space.

Man on the moon

Where imagination soars, there is always a thought behind it. A thought that would want to change the imagination from a thought to reality. And it becomes a cycle of art becoming science and becoming art again. Obviously, not all art and not all science become successful relatives. But those that have are in front of us now and it is continually shaping tomorrow for us mere mortals.

 

The Universe and Art exhibition in the ArtScience Museum takes us to that journey. A journey centuries in the making. From the minds of artists and scientists is a plethora of thoughts brought to life by the sheer will of humanity.

We are Human

How fictional is Science Fiction in this day and age?

I see you
I see you

HG Wells, Jules Verne, Neil Gaiman. There are numerous influences that have fed our minds with stories and theories of what the future will be like. In the past few decades, we have already seen some of these come true. Maybe not what we expected or imagined, but you have to admit that it is pretty darn close (self-lacing Nikes? Hoverboards? Jetpacks?). Where have we come in terms of human evolution?

 

It is not that difficult to see that the future is now. We are living in a world with cyborgs and artificial intelligence. We live among people with mechanical limbs or otherwise augmented body parts. We are now being driven by driverless cars. Robots now assist in various medical sciences and are doing a pretty good job it. The possibility that we may be replaced with machines are as real as it gets. But let us not jump to conclusions just yet. As I mentioned earlier, it was science fiction that fed our imaginations and drove us to develop the things that we are seeing today. That means that we have the power to choose how the future will be.

Go faster
Go faster

We should already be aware of people with prosthetics that have augmented body functions such as Amy Mullins’ Cheetah legs. And then there is the antennae implanted on Neil Harbisson’s skull which allows him to perceive colors as sound waves. I couldn’t understand how and why he did it, but I respect him and his work. Being recognized as a proper cyborg by the British government has to count for something. The first section of the exhibition is dedicated to all of these things. And seeing how the history of prosthetics go far into our past, it could only mean that the gap between now and tomorrow is getting shorter and shorter.

 

The exhibition also teaches us how the technology we have now are changing the way we interact with one another. We sometimes take things for granted, but the way the things we use have evolved have all been because of our desire to communicate, to respond, to say something. We saw optics embedded in robotic eyes that follow a persons movement. A robot arm that responds to a baby’s voice and rocks the cradle. We saw devices that allow us to interact in such a way that a machine mimics what a real person would have felt. Beyond this, even the simple use of Skype or Messenger that allows me to connect with my family is already a big change from what we had when I was Matthew’s age.

When green runs out
When green runs out

And then there is the correlation between us, the environment and the technology of our time. Some technological advancements give us the jump in productivity and efficiency immediately when it is implemented. But what happens in the next few years? Or in the next decade? Is the technology that was introduced ten years ago still relevant today? Or is it sustainable and helpful to ourselves and our environment? Our survival pretty much depends on our relationship with the Earth. And we need to be smart enough and co-exist with the world around us to live on through the next generation.

 

If the future is now, is there still tomorrow? Well, duh!

I am

A new future awaits the next generation. And the future is weird and wonderful and scary. Imagine being able to choose a better future for your children free from a hereditary disease, free from a physical deformation, free from a life threatening condition? Life should not be toyed with, but there is a future where correcting “mistakes” and “malfunctions” become a ready solution for those who would choose to have it. Surgically modifying an infant to avoid a potential future problem. Engineering genes to make people smarter, stronger or faster. With all the Gundam movies that we’ve seen, this future will be flawed because of human greed. But who knows, the future is yet to arrive. And we have our free will to choose how it affects our lives. How far we live into our own future also becomes a subject of people’s imagination and with a rather comical presentation, it becomes light-hearted. And while it would be nice to be together for longer, it does have challenges of its own.

Nadine

We bid farewell to science and fiction with Nadine. An android construct that was made in Singapore. She was built to be a realistic humanoid social robot. She will listen to you and answer your questions as much as she can. And while her actions are still limited, it is amazing to see how she interacts. Think of Siri, in a humanoid body and you have Nadine.

 

In the end, the future is still ours to choose. Some of us are too old now to even be bothered, but our children and our children’s children all have the chance to be part of shaping that future. How much they influence that future will be a good legacy. And I do wish from the bottom of my heart that I will be alive to see that in my son, Matthew.

Two Minutes

Two minutes.

Just what can you do in two minutes (give or take)?

Well, Matthew can turn over a nap in the morning. He can browse the Internet. He cam play a game on the iPad. He can poop. He can run around the house half-naked. He can eat a snack or drink a beverage. For him, two minutes is quite a long time. And that two minutes is simply too long for adults like parents to comprehend. Of course, it is not that two minutes is the only extra time that he consumes when he asks for extra time. That would be one big fallacy. How much extra minutes he takes up is more like five minutes. And it is a bit much when you consider that there are a gazillion things that he needs to be doing. Unfortunately, explaining something like this to someone with no concept of time is practically impossible. I’ve almost given up (my missing hair is proof of this) but sometimes you just have to try again and again. Doing this over and over almost makes me think that I am immortal. Almost.

Two minutes happen every time I ask Matthew for something. Whether it is calling to do his homework or waking him up in the morning for his bath. He would always answer “just a minute” or “two more minutes”. In fact, it has become such a norm that I have had to adjust calling him two minutes earlier just to accommodate his two minutes to be on time. He takes an extra two minutes of sleep before bathing. Another two minutes before breakfast (he takes a nap right after his bath) and another two minutes before getting dressed up for school (he takes another nap after breakfast). Those six extra minutes are enough for us to bike to school. In fact, those two minutes do not include him stretching and slowly crawling out of bed (all that takes another two minutes each). If he loved math as much as he disliked it, he would be having a grand time adding up the extra minutes that he has been using all this time. And then he probably would stop wondering where all his time went, time that he could have used for playing with toys, for playing with the Xbox or for playing on the iPad.

Two more minutes please.
Two more minutes please.

So how much is two minutes exactly? On its own, it doesn’t sound like much. Bit compounded, two minutes add up to a lot of time. Time wasted or time used up productively is very subjective. But Matthew’s morning ritual definitely does not count as productivity in my book. I can’t wait for him to realize that on his own, because explaining it to him has proved futile time and time again.

2017 iLight Marina Bay

We have always tried to attend the iLight Marina Bay event whenever it comes around. Although there was probably a year or two that we skipped it for one reason or another, it has always been a fun experience. The event has always been about sustainable energy for the future and the art/light installations should reflect that idea. And while some of those installations show their intentions in an obvious way (those bicycle powered light installations come to mind), some are not so obvious. And while I sometimes doubt the sustainability of some of those light installations, they always (well, almost always) manage to give a proper show.

 

And while we were not able to go through every bit of art this year, we did manage to walk around the general Marina Bay area. Some of the notable ones that caught our attention were the following:

You lookin'at me?
You lookin’at me?

You Lookin’ At Me?

With giant glowing eyeballs popping out from the ground, who would not be looking? I mean, the giant eyeballs seem to snap to attention when you pass near enough and attempt to scare the heck out of you with those moving life-like pupils. At one point, the green eyeball that I was taking a picture of slowly turned to an eerie shade of red like that Eye of Sauron from the Lord of the Rings.

 

(Ultra) Light Network

It is worth noting that this installation (as it says in the brochure) produces a dynamic display of light patterns when there is an activity of people nearby. If lighting up different bars of light was dynamic, then the faulty fluorescent light at the office is truly artistic. There was a similar installation in the last iLight where you trigger a flash of lightning by pressing a button on one end of the tube. That made more sense than this to be honest.

Ocean Pavillion
Ocean Pavillion

Ocean Pavillion

Apparently this installation was inspired by microscopic diatoms and radiolarians found in the rivers and seas around Singapore. Diatoms are algae and radiolarians are protozoa for those of us not in this field. The figures themselves are made of plastic bottles which means they were re-cycled and is actually good publicity for re-cycling and up-cycling.

 

Relocation Locality

This is another installation made of re-cycled materials like wood and bamboo and made to resemble the heartlands of Singapore via a series of interlocking pavilions. Or so the brochure says. On the outside, it looks like a mix and match of materials that were strewn together by the artist. The work is supposed to act as a mediator between the urban and the natural found between the gaps.

Moonflwer

Moonflower

The garden of luminescent flowers catches your eye the moment you see them. It is a sea of LED powered flowers that has been thoughtfully scattered around The Promontory. Each flower is powered by its own solar panel that stores the power to light up the flower through the night. This was one of the better installations in this year’s iLight.

 

Kaleidoscopic Monolith

This piece incites curiosity through light, reflection and form. It looks like an alien poop. Alien poop with lights coming out from its crevices. And from the concaves of those lights are mirror-like surfaces that reflected in nearly every direction. If you look at it, you’ll know what it feels like to be in a kaleidoscope, hence the name I assume. It isn’t the most beautiful thing that night, but it was an interesting piece nonetheless. As I said, alien poop.

 

I Light You So Much

They say that it aims to share a life experience of an object using light. It does this by using kinetic energy from the wind and the positive energy from bamboo, the wind blows and moves the object in the direction of the wind. The light helps to visualize this hidden energy.

 

Northern Lights

Most of everyone should know the Northern Light (Aurora Borealis). It is one of the mysterious phenomenon that occurs in the northern hemisphere where beautiful light formations show up in the sky in waves of ever changing colors. Using a carefully programmed light story through 100 vertically positioned light lines equipped with LEDs, the dynamic movement of the light emulates the northern lights. With the iconic Marina Bay Sands hotel in the backdrop of the Marina Bay skyline, the northern lights installation is one of our favourites.

Horizontal Interference

Horizontal Interference

The installation is formed by colourful cords connecting trees in the Marina Bay area in a simple looking manner by interlocking them with colors. A simple illumination at night merges the natural and constructed elements moving in the wind. Think of it as rainbows close to the ground zooming across a small patch of concrete in the city.

 

The Urchin

We thought they were jellyfish to be honest. Humongous jellyfish. Instead, they were urchins made of lace (artistically woven if I do say so myself) and displayed in such a way that it creates light patterns against the dark sky. If you stand inside, it feels like you have just been swallowed by a jellyfish and your friends can see you through them inside the light. It’s cool.

 

Secret Galaxies

The last light installation in our route turns out to be from the ArtScience Museum. Year after year, the fa├žade of the ArtScience Museum turns into a canvas for light art to be projected on. It becomes a walk-by movie theatre showcasing the latest interpretations of art that modern multi-media artists love to show off on. Secret Galaxies presents a confluence of visual imageries based on humanistic relationships with the night sky. Yeah, if you don’t read through the description, you wouldn’t have to bang your head thinking about the meaning behind it all. Just appreciate the artwork for what it is and enjoy the night.

Art-Zoo
Art-Zoo

We made our way across the Helix Bridge to find our way home from the Esplanade (and hopefully find something to eat). It’s here that we passed by Art-Zoo. It was an experimental inflatable playground meant for kids. But in Singapore, that means it’s fair game for everyone. The inflatable playground emerges as an interactive zoological garden with giant spiders, whales and carnivorous plants (ok, no, there were no carnivorous plants). Being inflatable means that it was going to be hot. Being lit up by giant floodlights means that it was going to be even hotter. But kids don’t care about those things so Matthew ended up dragging mum along for the ride.

 

That was the end of our iLight adventure for 2017. We still look forward to the event year after year, but we are hoping that something new and exciting really comes along to surprise us soon. And let’s not forget that Philips is exchanging LED lamps for your incandescent bulbs to help increase awareness and promote long term sustainability.

 

Pilipinas 2017 (Part 2)

For Matthew, having both pairs of grandparents is a blessing. It means that he gets to share different adventures with both of them. After all, not all grandparents are alike. And naturally, Matthew seems to already have gotten the hang of being around his grandparents. He loves them to bits and he can change his character depending on who is around. He is a sly little monster like that.

Kamay ni Hesus Chapel
Kamay ni Hesus Chapel

We asked Mamu and Papu to come with us to Kamay ni Hesus. A church and healing shrine with a fifty foot statue of the risen Christ on top of a hill. The church is located in Lucban, Quezon. It was about a four hour drive from our place in Laguna. The road trip wasn’t exactly exciting apart from the fact that I was driving and was not too familiar with where we were going. Luckily, Papu still remembers most of the roads going to and fro. We had read and heard about the climb to the top of the hill to get to the statue and we were not initially planning on going up the 200 steps. But since we were already there, we figured there was nothing to loose. Papu and Matthew stayed behind and the rest of us climbed the steps, paid our respects and offered our prayers.

We're going up!
We’re going up!

Our dates with Mamu and Papu consisted mostly of eating out and eating out. Which may explain the pounds that we incurred after our holiday. For example, there was Lydia’s lechon which was still one of the best lechons in the Philippines. And then there’s the Italian fusion at Alleggra’s. And let’s not forget the Lucban longganisa that we had when we were at Quezon. The rest of the time we spent shopping. It was not the most creative past time, but it worked for me.

This is Tuding's!

Then there were the times that it was just me and the wife. Oh yes. Those dates were even better. Tuding’s pork chops, Lotsa Pizza, Sio-meow (you know, the Pao that is rumored to be made of cat meat), fishball, goto and the list goes on. That does not even include the knick knack snacks that we got from the grocery. One of the best things in the Philippines is really the food. It really is good. And if you ever had a craving from when you were a child that you missed, chances are that it still exists somewhere in the archipelago.

Still eating ...

It was a shame that we didn’t have as much time as we would have liked. But it is always good to come home and stay with your loved ones. Your parents, especially, miss you a lot and it is always nice to spend some time with them. In this day and age where everyone is busy and we all have our own lives to live, slowing down and coming home really hits the spot.

Pilipinas 2017 (Part 1)

Matthew had always been attached to our hometown. Our home. Our family. And while we strive to make a living in our foster home, it would seem that our roots remain in the Philippines. The last time we went to the Philippines, we had a road trip to Ilocos. We enjoyed our stay in Caramoan and the side trips to Vigan and Albay. It was a joy to visit places in the Philippines that you have not been to before. It makes you appreciate that there are far off places that you still needed to explore and places that you will appreciate the beauty of this country that was taken for granted all because you lived near the metropolis. (that is, until you discover that there is no WiFi where you are going to)

 
On this new trip, Judy decided that we should go to Bohol.

The Chocolate Hills
The Chocolate Hills

We took a domestic flight from Manila to Tagbilaran, Bohol. We dropped off our bags at the Henann Hotel resort and proceeded straight to our journey. Yes, it was time to become tourists in our own country again. We managed to get to the Hinagdanan Cave despite coming in late in the afternoon. Hinagdanan Cave is a small cave primarily made of limestone and is surrounded by beautiful rock formations. There is also a lagoon in that seemscto glow green because of the green limestone underneath. Our guide had been a joy to be with managing to explain the history and natural wonders of the cave. It was hot in the cave though, and dark. It was nice to see that cave (would have been better if we had gotten there earlier) in all its wonder. The trip had to be quick as it was getting dark (and the cave entrance was about to be closed for the day). We soon made our way to the Bohol Bee Farm. Since we were late, there were no more tours available as well, but the shop was still open and that was fine with mum and everybody else. It turns out, there was also a restaurant that served mostly organically grown ingredients a few steps below the souvenirs store. Another taste of local cuisine was enough to send our spirits on the way to sleepy town. The food was healthy and good and would be a recommended place to chill in. I would not need to recommend it though as the place was already filled with tourists, both local and foreign.

The Henann
The Henann

The Henann was absolutely great. The room was quite big and the beds were comfortable. The only thing missing was the bath tub (Matthew’s current de rigueur among hotels) although the bathroom itself was big as well. We definitely would spend another night there if we had more time. We woke up to a hearty buffet which was a healthy mix of local and western food. I don’t know about the rest, but they had me at bacon. The beach and the pools provided enough entertainment for the morning before we were back on the road. It was a good thing that breakfast was awesome, because it was going to be a long day.

Vroom!
We headed to Carmen to have ATV rides around the famous Chocolate Hills. It would be Matthew’s first time handling an ATV on his own and we all had a blast. The trail was muddy and it rained along the way, not to mention he crashed into a ditch four times during the hour long ride. It was the most fun we’ve had in a long time. After the ATV ride, we went to see the Tarsiers at the Conservation Area. It was fairly disturbing to be honest at how rowdy some tourists can be at this place. Even when there are signs all around telling people to be quiet. We did have a peek at some of these Tarsiers but something felt odd. It was as if the touring area had specifically placed Tarsiers in designated spots. I later found out that the Tarsier Conservation Area is NOT an official sanctuary and NOT run by the Philippine Tarsier Foundation. I found out too late though, otherwise, we would have gone to the Tarsier Research and Development Center in Corella instead. That’s all said and done and dinner needed to arrive. Our last stop for the night was to watch the Fireflies at Abatan river. We never managed to get any good photos as it was dark, but it was one of the most beautiful sights that you would ever see. Imagine a whole tree decked out in blinking Christmas lights, until you realize that those lights are not lights at all, but fireflies. Mind you, it was not an easy trek getting to the fireflies. But when you are out there, you just stare at them in awe.

Sleeping like a monkey
That was it for Bohol. We settled down to a small hotel near Tagbilaran Airport in preparation for our flight back home. It as nowhere near as luxurious as The Henann, but it served its purpose as our hive for the night. The next day, we had breakfast and were on our way back to Manila. No rest for the weary travellers as we only had a little more than a week to spend in the Philippines.

River Hongbao 2017

Singapore is a melting pot of culture and heritage and we start off the new year with 2017’s River Hongbao (RHB) as a celebration of the Lunar New Year. According to Chinese horoscope, this year is the year of the Rooster under the fire sign. In the spirit of the River Hongbao which has been around since 1987, this year’s event is lined up with lights, sounds, smell and taste. Larger than life lanterns light up the night. Fireworks make noise in the quiet skies. Delicious food abound usher in the new year. And nightly performances ensure that every one is entertained.

Our baby rooster
Our baby rooster

We didn’t have enough time to watch the show, not that the earlier rain helped to dampen our spirit. But we did enjoy the food. Actually, to be honest, that is really what we always come down for the RHB. We brought a couple of relatives down to get a feel of the RHB and while the rain played its part in lessening the fun, it did not keep us from coming around. The Nitro-Pop became the highlight of our visit, for sure. The lanterns seem to be getting smaller and less extravagant, but it still serves its purpose of giving the people a shimmer of light that their horoscopes tell. We aren’t really people who believe these outright, but it is fun reading up and thinking how true (or false) the predictions are.

There are Tigers
There are Tigers
Dragons too
Dragons too

We shouldn’t forget the carnival that came to visit as well. Surprisingly, Uncle Ringo wasn’t the default choice this year but it isn’t bad at all. While we didn’t go through everything that the night had to offer, it was enough for us to enjoy the display and watch the fireworks from afar. Hopefully, the RHB had blessed us with a good year ahead together with the people in our community.

No chickens here
No chickens here

Gong Xi Fa Cai! Huat Ah!

Re-parenting

Late last year, we decided on becoming foster parents. After eleven years with Matthew, we thought that maybe it was time. We started to foster a dog from the shelter in December of 2016.


At the shelter, the dogs were (most of them anyway) trying to get the attention of practically anybody that is a potential adopter. In our case, we were already contacted by SOSD (Save Our Street Dogs) before we went to the shelter. So our re-homer already knew what type of puppy we were looking for and proceeded to show us a litter of pups. The siblings were quite big for puppies, but it didn’t take long for two of them to catch our eye. One was a feisty little girl but was really keen on being with people. The other one was a bit shy and timid but looked to be okay around people as well. Of the three of us, Matthew was the one with the least experience with dogs so my wife and I decided on the puppy based on what we thought would be good in our first meeting with the puppies. We took home a timid little girl named Kuching. Yes, we know. It was odd to name a dog a cat, but we didn’t really have a choice in the matter.

In the first few days, we had to get comfortable with having a canine in the house. She had to get comfortable living with us instead of her siblings and she had to start learning a few things. We were either lucky or I was a very good trainer because we managed to teach her to poo and pee outside in the grass. She had only had one accident peeing in the house and that was only because we were out for too long and we didn’t get her cue that she needed to go out urgently. We also managed to stop her from chewing on everything in sight in the house. It hasn’t been smooth nor perfect in that regard. She still chews on new things that she sees from time to time. And these are only items that we leave (accidentally, or not) on the living room table. So far she stays away from shoes and slippers which is good. We also managed to stop her from sleeping in the couch (that was a pain and it took as a while to do). The only real problem we have right now is that she tries to nibble on our living room carpet and turn it into spaghetti.

Coming to terms that we now have a puppy, our lifestyle did change quite a bit. The biggest change was that we could no longer stay out late or be out of the house for too long because there was a puppy waiting for us to let her out. And she needs to be let out to relieve herself. She has also been added to our budget as we no longer share our leftovers with her like we did with our dogs in the Philippines. She now has her own budget for food. Matthew also had us buy toys for her (and she now has a lot). And a bed too. At the moment, we seem to have covered the basic necessities in keeping the whole family satisfied. The puppy is happy, Matthew is happy and we don’t really have any major problems with the puppy. She has been an ideal companion for us and Matthew had repeatedly spoken out how good it was for us to have a dog in the house.

Which now begs the question. How long should we be fostering this girl before we decide on fully adopting her. It goes without saying, adopting a dog here in Singapore is no short feat. The cost alone is not something that you can consider in a whim (unless you have money sprouting from a tree). And taking care of one requires patience and dedication to make it work. We are in a happy relationship right now, and we are leaning more and more towards fully adopting her. We’ll probably decide on it soon. But right now, I’m satisfied with how both Matthew and Kuching have grown to be great friends.