Client: The Peranakan Museum
Location: Singapore, Singapore
Completion date: 2014
Desai Chia Architecture
Lee Ming Wei
We collaborated with the Taiwanese artist Lee Mingwei to design a 3-story, 50-foot high, installation in the central atrium of Singapore’s Peranakan Museum. Two suspended, diaphanous volumes interlock and create layers of light and depth within the core of the museum. Fabricated from white ropes and steel hoops, the volumes float within the atrium. On the ground floor, they hover just above a self-supporting, 8-foot high shell of tapered, translucent resin panels that form a giant vessel in the middle of the entrance lobby.
Luminous Depths is a site-specific installation that engages the visitor's senses on many levels. On entering the ground floor lobby, visitors hear Schubert Lied (art song) being played from the top of the atrium. Visitors can choose and purchase a ceramic object and walk with it through the museum. At the top floor, visitors are invited to step onto a raised walkway to reach the edge of the installation that is suspended over the void of the atrium. Participants are invited to toss their chosen ceramic object into the void in order to challenge their preconceptions of the precious, collected artifact. As the ceramic piece falls on the museum's marble floor, it shatters; the layered aggregation of ceramic shards during three months of visitor engagement reveals an archaeology of human interaction with the artwork.
Luminous Depths raises questions about how a museum curates its collection and the value of the displayed object. The installation gives a physical form to the act of releasing imbedded cultural memories and questions the notion of the precious object. Funds collected from the purchase of the ceramic replicas will be used to acquire a new artwork for the museum collection.
The collaboration between artist Lee Mingwei and Katherine Chia & Arjun Desai of Desai Chia Architecture was very interwoven and fluid. The design process began with a series of conversations & brainstorming sessions and led to a series of sketches, construction drawings, and mock ups at Desai Chia Architecture's office as well as at the Peranakan Museum. Throughout the process, the artist and the architects worked together to refine details to ensure that the crafting of the project would be precisely executed by the fabricators.
Luminous Depths was a very bold departure from other art installations that had previously been commissioned by any museum in Singapore. The notion of a participatory, public installation that asked the visitor to physically engage with the artwork in such a transformative way was a novel construct for a museum whose history had relied primarily on the preservation of cultural artifacts. The project has since garnered world-wide attention and recognition for pushing the boundaries of how art can engage a specific place and redefine memory through collective participation.