The Face of Defeat

As I was looking out of my window and pondering the deary weather, my scattered thoughts ran across the state of the art community we have here in Singapore today.

A Perspective Of The State Of This Community

I do feel that the different forms of art cannot be quantified to make the bean counters happy about how much their budget is being turned into other sorts of comfortable numbers (like visitorship, as a form of Return on Investment quantifier).

Then again, if the bean counters are so fixated on the RoI, I am pretty sure a lot of institutional places in Singapore would have to close down – we will be culturally bereft and heritage is just a whisper in the wind (just like some of the neglected heritage trails in Singapore).

As the corporate dominance within cultural institutions get stronger everyday, I find that it is a place which is hard to understand or grasp – how is art and their practitioners being respected in Singapore? When corporate decisions and their efforts become widely separate from the creative/curatorial content, the result becomes jarring and shameful for other people in the arts communities or even public audience to see.

When consumerism overtakes art, you
know that something is very wrong.

A “Sans Consumerism” Cultural Experience

I remembered visiting the Hakone Open Air Museum in Japan recently. It is a private museum with wide open spaces, filled with cast sculptures from the Masters as well as a lovely Picasso museum sitting in the most beautifully landscaped part of the museum. There is a lot of emphasis in curatorial content and visitor interaction with the art works… the commercial aspects (the museum shop and eatery) are just a tiny complement to the entire museum. I felt liberated from the overwhelming consumerism in Singapore’s cultural institutions.

Which part of the phrase cultural institution
does consumerism exist? I only see culture.

The Hakone OAM operates as a “public interest incorporated foundation”, which is similar to a non-profit organisation. From my limited understanding, the Hakone OAM is supported by the Fujisankei Communications Group (owner of Fuji TV Group, Pony Canyon Group, Sankei Shimbun Group and so on). I remembered a staff member sharing with me that they do not focus on visitorship numbers but on ensuring the quality of the exhibits, “It is a big place with a few of us here. We don’t need to worry about fundraising but we do worry about the artworks we are looking after. It is for our future generations’ benefit too”.

Besides the fact that Hakone OAM is bankrolled by a financial giant, I really do wonder whether Singapore will be capable of something like that – making the cultural institution a proper cultural experience, with consumerism as smaller aspect of the experience.

Worrying About Our People

Whatever the case maybe, I am aware of how some of the senior creative/curatorial positions feel (in some cultural institutions) – defeatism. I remembered sitting in a few meetings where I could see the defeated looks of such persons. When I meet them in private, the same haunted and defeated grimaces are shouting warnings to me – I fear that we will lose some extremely talented and experienced creative/curatorial people.

You know after you shared that “defeated look” thing with me. I suddenly managed to piece it together what you meant. How did I ever miss that given that I worked with him frequently?
– Friend from the same industry

I once gave an analogy to few friends, “corporate functions within a cultural institution is easily dispensable and replaceable – but to lose creative/curatorial people within the cultural institution would be irreplaceable” – they agreed wholeheartedly.

These same friends (coming from various arts communities and groups) talked about how the balance between corporate and creative sides to be crazily in favour of one side. However, I do get the general opinion that the performance and dance communities have the power of authority leaning more on the creative side. When they question me why some cultural institutions have it the other way around (“I don’t get it. Is it a business or is it art?”), I can only shrug and give my best impression of my fellow defeated friends.

And What Can We Do About It?

I think it is going to be a slow process – we need more people (from the cultural institutions) to understand that the art provides the basis for everything else. If there is no content, there is nothing to show for – it would be fluff and does not bring visitors back. We can do with less people who are focused on gaining personal objectives, and find more comrade-in-arms to work together.

Corporate people do forget easily… the arts community
is a very exclusive, small and tightly-knit community.
You’ll never know whose toes you have just stepped on.

We also need an understanding that too much focus on consumerism brings about the conversion of cultural institutions into retail institutions – it is a terrifying concept for members of the arts community. Be it music, dance, theatre or visual arts, we should be engaging with the arts as the primary objective; the complementary commercialisation aspects are secondary or even tertiary and should never be the forefront of a billing.

This Solution Is Not Mine

Before I end, a guest speaker once shared with me on the ways to change the lopsided authority in various cultural institutions, “find a few of the most respected and annoying artists to write and complain everyday… then we will win! I know it works beautifully. Just read the papers and see the results! Hahaha!”

Maybe we could hire this same respected artist to sit in some of the senior positions on various cultural institutions or groupings? That would be a lot of fun! *grabs popcorn*

Reconstructivism in Art Presentation and Programming

Reconstructivism and Art

As an expansion of Reconstructing History in Anime, Reconstructivism can be used as a framework towards audience engagement or education development. I strongly feel that topics (such as history or art) can be made more relevant to various audiences in various forms. As demonstrated by the previous example in Kantai Collection, how can we possibly infer the usage of Reconstructivism in art presentation?

Mona Lisa and Her Sisters

A strong example of re-looking at a celebrated painting would be Leonard da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. I am sure many would know of this iconic masterpiece that currently resides in the Louvre, France (incidentally, the gallery renovation was financed by the Nippon Television in 2005).

On the superficial level, it is just the painting itself – beautiful and enigmatic. However, Paris-based Lumiere Technology was able to uncover various layers of the Mona Lisa through their multispectral digitisation processes. While the information from these various layers allowed for optimal conservation (which is another boring thing that can be made amazing), the Louvre was able to present the scientific information gathered from the painting itself as an educational tool in the form of their specialised web portal – Focus Louvre (direct link to the comparison aspect).

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Various layers from the Mona Lisa painting! Image from Focus Louvre (http://focus.louvre.fr/).

Since then, the Mona Lisa (and her layer-sisters, har har) became part of a travelling exhibition called the Da Vinci – The Genius. This exhibition made its rounds to Singapore in 2009 and became wildly popular with students and general public alike (I was there, the crowds were crazy). Most of the people I met and talked to were amazed by this layered (I have to stop punning) approach in presenting an iconic masterpiece, and allowed them to feel more attached or relevant to the painting itself – it wasn’t just the famous Mona Lisa, it was Mona Lisa and everything she is under all that.

Linking the Framework

Let’s analyse the exhibition here in the framework of Reconstructivism (as mentioned in the previous column)… the Mona Lisa painting itself (classic structure), the multispectral layers (visual symbols), the narratives behind each layer (context), and audience engagement (emotive-reflective significance).

It is pretty obvious how the Mona Lisa can be construed as classic structure – due to its iconic status as a masterpiece by Leonardo da Vinci. The multispectral layers are visual symbols based on the fact that each layer is a simplified visual symbol (for example, preparatory layers of the painting) but still form the basis of reference to the end result. Based on my memory of the exhibition, there are narratives attached to each layer (such as corrections made to the structure of the face, inclusion of objects in various parts of the painting, and even material usage) – these narratives form the context of the layers themselves. Through the presentation of these layers and narratives, audience response gave strong evidence of the significant attachment or realisation that the iconic masterpiece was not just the reverence towards the masterpiece nor just Mona Lisa’s enigmatic smile.

Influence on Presentation and Programming

This particular presentation of Mona Lisa can be concluded as a masterwork in education and presentation. The very idea of bringing a “commonly known” masterpiece to the audience, and shedding new light for the benefit of the audience; is simply staggering in its implications towards closer engagement with audiences.

Now it is not just about “We have beautiful artworks here! Come and see!” or “We managed to butcher the artworks so you can have a photo opportunity!”, it is now “I bet you didn’t know about this! Let’s find out more together!”. The thought of enticing audiences with a sense of mystery, allows presenters and programmers the ability to provide windows of opportunity towards self discovery. When the audience is given this opportunity, it allows for their self growth within their own control and be positively receptive as compared to being forced down the throat with cut-and-dried information on how to interpret something.

End Note

Self discovery and growth, coupled with interest (of any multitude), can be factors that influence successful presentation and programming. By utilising Reconstructivism as a framework, presenters and programmers may find it easier to develop their presentations with a direct focus on audience engagement and education. It would be a slow process to engage and educate, but a trickle turns into a torrent – and that is where sustained interests in the arts (or any form) can be achieved for the long term.

Reconstructing History in Anime

Anime and Philosophy

Japanese animation (henceforth, anime) is something I am quite fond of. I was inspired to illustrate and doodle by this particular art form practised by the Japanese (my pathetic attempts can be seen all over this website too). As I grew older, I have begun to look at anime with different perspectives based on what I understand about various philosophies and ideologies (and sometimes theological perspectives). A good example would be my fascination of the ability of the anime industry to relate the life styles and social impact of their hikikomori population (for example, N.H.K ni Yokoso).

I have often talked about Reconstructivism (Wiki summary and Chris Sunami’s influential essay) as a way to analyse art, to analyse the creative process, and to engage audiences. In fact, a lot of my research is oriented towards human engagement in arts as opposed to the tired path of historical regurgitation. However, what are some ways to reap the benefits that the ideals of Reconstructivism can provide? Allow me to present one fine example.

Reconstructing History in Kantai Collection (Kancolle)

I do have a fondness for history pertaining to the second World War where tanks and naval ships have always been the key focus of my interests in that particular aspect of human history. However, cut-and-dried history is something I cannot grasp fully… I don’t exactly have a photographic memory of names and dates – the stories behind the individual points of conflict were what kept me fascinated.

I chanced upon a game called Kantai Collection, which is developed by Kadokawa Shoten and DMM.com. The premise of this web browser game is the idea of ships being anthropomorphised into cute (usually) anime girls (henceforth, kanmusu) sporting naval armaments, who are then sent on various sorties to fulfil quests or whatever the developers have in mind. I was hooked, it had everything I was interested in… WWII, naval ships and anime.

The Japanese are very good at this.
– T Tsuruta, Japanese artist (referring to anthropomorphisation)

Allow me to indulge here and perhaps you will understand.

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Hey there, Myoko-chan!

This is Myoko. She is a heavy cruiser from the Imperial Japanese Navy (henceforth, IJN) during the second World War. When I first saw her design, the camouflage design reminded me of how a lot of the coastal batteries in Singapore were painted (or influenced by).

When the Kancolle Summer Event 2016 rolled out, the event map was a representation of the maritime waters around Singapore.

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Singapore is at the map node I. Another joke on the literal red dot.

One of the Summer Event bosses is called the Harbour Summer Princess, who is identified as Singapore.

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I swear… the Singapore Tourism Board should adopt this Princess as our national mascot.

Look! The developers anthromopohised Singapore into a cool anime girl with a brolly and leg-things that seems to hint towards our cultural icon, the Merlion (not to mention the coconuts).

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My apologies for the transparency, but the action was a little too fast to screen capture.

Over here, you can see Ushio (an IJN destroyer) with Myoko and another destroyer (hidden) called Kasumi.

If you are half as crazy as I am, you begin to wonder why anime girl ships in a game and how does that relate to Reconstruction and history?

Following the Reconstructivism framework that I written about (based on Sunami’s work), it follows the structure of familiar game mechanics (classic structure), the kanmusu designs (visual symbols), the kanmusu backstories that are identifiable and attached to them (context), and community reflections (emotive-reflective significance).

The kanmusu are re-birthed (as the backstory goes) from the souls of the brave naval crew and the actual ships themselves… manifesting in a way where the kanmusu experience existence in this fantasy world. However, the kanmusu and game mechanics can be considered as symbols or semiotics. The context of the entire game experience (the basis of Reconstructivism) would be the meanings and stories behind each particular kanmusu.

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Myoko in 1941. Digitally colourised by Irotooko, Jr. Image from Combinedfleet.com

When I see Myoko, I am reminded of the historical fact that she was left at the Seletar harbour when the IJN decided that they did not have the resources to repair her towards the end of the war. It was just that smidgen of military history that I have, but when Myoko (the anime kanmusu) appeared as a visual character… it appeared to me as a symbol of something far more complex and of significant context.

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Post-war – Myoko in camouflage colours, at Seletar harbour. Image from Combinedfleet.com

Myoko was berthed in Singapore’s Seletar harbour after she was hit by torpedoes from USS Bergall (SS-320) on 13 December 1944. Prior to being hit, she (and Ushio) was escorting a convoy of naval auxiliaries (convoy HI-82) heading back to Japan. After the encounter with USS Bergall, Myoko was towed back to Singapore by Kasumi and Hatsushimo for repairs. After evaluation, Myoko was deemed to be unrepairable (due to lack of resources) and she was left at Singapore with another crippled heavy cruiser, Takao. Both were moored at the Seletar harbour to act as anti-aircraft platforms due to their incapacitated status instead (which the British later found that both cruisers were stocked with anti-aircraft ammunition instead of ammunition for their main naval guns).

Towards July 1945, Myoko and Takao became the targets of Operation Struggle as their main naval guns was thought to pose a threat to maritime activities of the Allied forces. However, the operation (involving submarines from the British Navy) were not particularly successful in sinking both ships.

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Post-war – Inspecting torpedo damage suffered by Myoko after USS Bergall’s attack. Image from Combinedfleet.com

 

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Post-war – Myoko shown with IJN subs I-501 and I-502 prior to scuttle operations. Image from Combinedfleet.com

After the surrender of Japanese occupation forces in Singapore, Myoko was towed and scuttled (accompanied by IJN submarines I-501 and I-502) in the Straits of Malaya, off the now Port Klang, Malaysia.

Now… this game really means something else now, eh? Following the game mechanics, presentation style and stories of actual naval ships, the concept of Reconstructivism is alive and well in Kancolle – and it is simply amazing. However, I have left out a significant portion of the Reconstructivism framework – emotive-reflective significance.

The Kancolle community boasts a large number of players who are working professionals, military historians, manga artists, musicians, story writers and other professions. Due to their interests, they are happily involved in creating derivative fan works based on the history of the ships while utilising the characterisation given by the game itself. The community then shares these derivatives on platforms such as Pixiv, NicoNico and Youtube – as well as a large number of manga artists who would produce derivative comic shorts/books and make them available for sale in Japan (Melonbooks is one such publishing platform utilised by such artists). Do note that the Kancolle community is not just limited to the Japanese audience, but world-wide as well.

The story of the IJN destroyer Shigure is one of the many IJN naval ships that has captured the hearts and minds of the Kancolle community. Fan-made music videos ( Tom キネマ106’s まっくろな雨 is one fine example) and manga (due to the fan community’s propensity to orientate towards questionable content, I am unable to share links on these) revolves about her character’s suggested PTSD issues (as originally suggested from her voice lines within the game and canonical information from the developers) stemming from the historical fact that she was the sole survivor of the Battle of Surigao Strait (which saw the loss of IJN battleships Fuso and Yamashiro, heavy cruiser Mogami, destroyers Michishio, Asagumo, and Yamagumo – as part of the Southern Force, commanded by Vice Admiral Shoji Nishimura during Operation Sho-Go).

Due to her backstory and the community reactions towards her, Shigure is one of the most popular characters as it definitely resonates with how the community see her as an exemplary icon of being a loyal protector of her friends.

Now What?

While it can be argued that only people who are marginally interested in history and naval battles would be motivated enough (by this game) to explore further and research on the actual histories of such kanmusu… the question now is how can we actually utilise what we have learnt from Kancolle’s example to further engage audiences in various genres of topics.

I actually have an idea using an iconic national artwork as a case study
towards this concept of Reconstructivism and audience engagement.
But I can’t write about it… because reasons.

I’ll write about how Reconstructivism, education and audience engagement can be presented (sort of) in another column.

Further Fun Reading

Some WWII ships which survived the war – IJN Yukikaze (post-war service in Taiwan), IJN Hibki (known as Верный during her post-war service in the Soviet Union’s navy), and USS Iowa (conferred as a museum ship in 2012).

Spritzing

I stumbled upon a new method for an individual to acquire faster reading capabilities. Imagine tearing through a book in a matter of minutes!

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From www.spritz.com

I find it really exciting to see new technologies that would provide better platforms for presenting information. This method, called Spritz, relies on a presentation method of focusing words of a sentence into a singular visual focus (called “Optimal Recognition Point”, a focused visual space) with a visual aid (called “redicle”, essentially a red-coloured letter) and displaying said-words at various speeds to train the individual’s level of textual processing.

According to the company, this methodology seeks to “empower effective reading on a small display area”. It really does make sense on display devices that are small in nature (e.g. smartwatches, dinky smartphones and so on) – in fact, the company proposes a whole tonne of applications in their FAQs.

Naturally, I would wonder if such a methodology can be adopted in a gallery/museum space. The artwork or object labels (and their extended versions) often present challenging layout issues for the curators and exhibition designers – the slab of words can be quite the distraction on the wall when viewed with the artworks or objects. Just imagine a tiny screen using this methodology to provide information on the artwork or object.

Argh~ Looks like my imagination struck a obstacle.

In my view, there are some problems with this methodology – focus control and adoption.

Focus control would refer to how there is a need to “focus” on the methodology’s Optimal Recognition Point (ORP). Due to the nature on how Spritz displays individual words from sentences and paragraphs into a singular visual space, there is a certain amount of focus or concentration needed. When viewing an artwork, object or even an animated projection, the individual will look at these items and maybe go back to the information – there will be a disparity in informational processing when going back and forth between the item and text. Additionally it can be frustrating when the individual cannot quickly revert to the last point of the textual information – when the individual views the traditional label, there is a residual reference point made in memory when the individual looks away (similar to visual heuristics).

In that aspect, applications for gallery/museum space is not ideal. Their proposed usage of the methodology for closed captioning on television broadcast can be similarly dismissed as well due to the visual disparity – I want to watch what is going on the television first than split my attention (if it is possible) on another focused area (the ORP). I do feel challenged when I am watching drama serials with captions, and that splits my attention from the acting and the closed captioning going on.

Adoption would refer to how individuals and galleries/museums can adopt this methodology. For individuals, it would require an individual to “train” the way he/she views textual information based on this new methodology. This will take a few minutes or longer, based on the individual. However, should an untrained individual enter a gallery/museum space with such a visual presentation method, the individual would find it difficult to master this reading methodology on the spot. There would be priorities for the gallery/museum-going individual, and being trained to use a new technology would not be one of them (this goes for many complicated technologies that are being implemented in galleries and museums today).

For the galleries/museums, it would require staff to train visitors/customers to learn this new method of textual processing. It does not make economic sense and it definitely ties up already-overburdened resources which can be better implemented for other more important purposes.

Therefore, at least in the context of galleries/museums, the Spritz methodology will find it challenging to gain a foothold in as it is compounded by the focus control requirement and adoption by individuals and galleries/museums.

That being said, the ability of Spritz to appear on small devices (especially smartwatches) is definitely a good idea given the physical limitations of such products.

Go Spritz! There is definitely a  focused space for you!

More Permanent Head Damage

After spending a few days learning how to use a video production tool (HitFilm), I managed to trim and cut synced videos of dad’s first batch of field test videos.

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Synced videos are meant for data gathering

This particular video production tool, while easy to learn, caused some confusion earlier when I was trying to export the video files properly. There were so many settings for exporting videos and I just went blank (bit rate, frames per second, resolution… what?). Thankfully, the video production tool allows me to save my editing work as project files before committing to export them out as finalised videos.

To be honest, each session’s video took a few steps before making it onto the finalised cut. One of the issues I encountered was that the GoPro cameras, that I am using for data capture, outputs separated files once each video file (on the camera itself) reaches about 4 GB worth. That means I have to stitch all these separate files and combine them into a singular video file (plus fisheye correction rendering) on the video production tool.

I was rubbish with this step at first. So I blew an entire weekend trying to render all four sessions of videos from each camera – for a total of twelve videos (three cameras, four sessions) each averaging a total render time of four hours. And then, I realised I screwed up somewhere… and had to redo everything again.

Frustration, yes. But I think I learnt how to use
this video production tool on my own. =_=

Once those twelve videos were done, I had to spend almost a day each to eyeball and sync two videos from each session (there are four videos, from the perspective of the overhead camera, which are not used for data capture). This was where most of the editing and trimming work are done – once the project files were ready (averaging about two hours to trim and sync as a project file), I rendered them as high resolution video files for archival purposes. The final step is to queue them into another tool (Handbrake) to cut the file sizes without losing too much quality.

For these four sessions, the video production process took almost took an entire week to complete (not including the foul ups earlier). I guess I would much better prepared for the next twelve sessions!

While waiting for the next sessions to start again, I am currently tabulating the data captured by the session videos. Each video averages about 40 minutes in duration, but tabulating each session video takes about four to six hours (watching the videos from start till end repeatedly, as I need to collect information for about seven data points).

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Dad hard at work

While assessing the data capture, I realised that there are ways to improve the data capture. However, for the sake of consistency, I would not be improving the data capture but discuss about the improvements in the final research paper itself.

Another artist has caught wind of what I am
doing… and wants to be documented as well.

More data for the data god!

A friend who has been working late for a few days in a row, managed to send me some messages late at night (probably not knowing whether I am still awake). For some reason, this friend’s messages kind of encouraged me to work harder (and late through the next day) for some reason.

When the crates come, couriers and curators
are really dynamic people to work with.

Probably won’t have much update on this until the field test session start again (they are based on different conditions) when dad is back from overseas.

In the meantime, ボンジュール鈴木「羊曜日に猫ごっこして」