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Sensorium 360° | 3.5/5

SINGAPORE — Visual art, as the term implies, is the province of the eyes. The first thing one does with a painting or sculpture is to look at it.

SINGAPORE — Visual art, as the term implies, is the province of the eyes. The first thing one does with a painting or sculpture is to look at it.

In the Singapore Art Museum’s latest exhibition, however, it’s a case of hearing it first. Or smelling it. And even if you do use your sense of sight, chances are, you can’t really trust it. Sensorium 360° is a crowd-pleaser of a show: You put on goggles, grope in the dark, sniff around and prick your ears. Even ordering a dish at nearby Food For Thought can be considered the final element of an art installation.

The 11 artists proffer works that essentially mess with your perceptions. Cognitive dissonance and synaesthesia, or the mixing of disparate senses, are aplenty, with some pieces working better than others.

Spatial perceptions are challenged in Li Hui’s Cage, a virtual installation comprising lasers, and Eugene Soh’s The Overview Installation, which employs the use of three video goggles (including those of a CCTV) that offer three disorienting views as you navigate a path. Similar to the latter but slightly less effective is Tad Ermitano’s Twinning Machine 4.0 time-delay video of visitors inside his room.

Alecia Neo’s Unseen: Touch Field attempts to deal with sight, or the absence of it. The installation includes a selection of “braille drawings” based on photographs taken by sight-impaired individuals. The room’s half-light, however, provides an easy way out and we find ourselves eventually relying on sight. And unlike the set language system of braille, drawings and images are ultimately more free-flowing. The sense of touch is more evident in Pinaree Santipak’s noon-nom, a roomful of cushions in the shape of female breasts where you can, well, cosy up, Freudian connotations and all.

Other works mix and match various senses: Linda Solay’s Continuum Of Conciousness comprises a totem pole of crystal glasses, the smell of spices and a low frequency sound composition by Bani Haykal; Christina Poblador’s There Is A Tree In The Heart Of Death combines smells and sounds (the idea of “notes” linking both); and Bui Cong Khanh’s Chicken Rice In The Border investigates notions of taste and history by way of Hoi An chicken rice.

Human agency is an important factor in a show that attempts to actively evoke a disparate range of sensations in its viewers.

In terms of works per se, however, performance art — the most visceral of all genres associated with visual art — is only represented by Melati Suryadarmo’s Ale Lino. Her investigations on pain — a two-hour performance on opening night that saw her leaning against a long pole — will only be seen through a documentary and the pole during the duration of the exhibition.

Two of this writer’s favourite pieces are perhaps the most unassuming of the lot. Lavender Chang’s Unconscious: Consciousness is the most conventional of the works in Sensorium 360°, featuring a series of photographs of intimate sleeping scenes in a bedroom. Employing the technique of time-lapse, the blurred bodies, the passage of time, movement itself is captured in the very stillness of images that are bright as day, but shot in the dead of night.

Meanwhile, you would be forgiven for overlooking Mark Wong’s Memory Rifts, an installation of speakers scattered all over, each playing a singular instrument from one whole piece you can never hear in its totality. Musical riffs waft in and out, like little earworms, looping in your head.

The interactive, pop-like nature of Sensorium 360° makes it quite tempting to say it’s, literally, more of a touch and go show. But Science Centre Singapore quips aside (and, yes, there is a whiff of that here, pun fully intended), it’s best to experience it slowly and alone with your senses.

Sensorium 360° is ongoing at the Singapore Art Museum, with various tours and talks available. For more information, visit

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