Singapore’s founding father’s foresight, strategic planning and commitment to create a business-friendly environment were instrumental in Singapore’s transformation from a third-world nation to a first-world country. To honour his memory, Karen Seah, founder of X3D Studio and Refinery Media, along with design trailblazers Robert Cheng and Daniel Arsham, has joined forces with prominent Founding Partners such as DBS Bank and the Pontiac Land Group to celebrate the enduring legacy of Lee Kuan Yew.
Arsham, globally renowned American artist recognized for his work that blurs the lines between art, architecture and design has created two sculptures to express two defining qualities of Singapore that resonated most with him. He shares enthusiastically that his work will touch upon, “How Singapore harmonised a modern high-tech nation with an abundance of plants and organic life. The vulnerable moment for the nation and its impact on Lee Kuan Yew when Singapore was separated from Malaysia, which was also a watershed event for Singapore’s future.”
In the spirit of generosity and inclusivity, “Now Is Not the Time” is open to all, just as Lee Kuan Yew’s vision for Singapore was. With the upcoming elections looming, it is a perfect time to celebrate the past, present, and future of a nation’s incredible journey. Step into this living tapestry, where history converges with the present, and the future unfolding before your eyes. Together with its creators, it invites you to discover, engage, and be inspired by a story that defies the constraints of time.
Popspoken: Immersive experiences often aim to bridge temporal perspectives and connect with different generations. How do you envision “Now Is Not the Time” resonating with both the older generation who lived through Mr. Lee’s leadership and the younger generation who may not have experienced that era?
Karen Seah: The exhibition is designed to appeal to visitors across the ages. For the older generation, we wanted to present Lee Kuan Yew in an artistic way using new technology tools that can enable them to reminisce in an immersive way. The experience will be vastly different from what they have seen and so this is a way to celebrate our technical advancement as well as to showcase how using technology and art can create an emotional experience.
For the younger generation, they absorb content differently. So many do not know much about Lee Kuan Yew except that he is a person in the history books. If they do not truly understand who he was and what he did for us, then how will they carry on to lead Singapore in the future? As such, we paid attention to making the exhibit interactive and Instagram-worthy. They will enjoy learning about Lee Kuan Yew in a non-traditional manner and hopefully learn something from the exhibition.
All in all, this entire exhibition is driven by innovation and technology, which perfectly reflects Mr. Lee who was a champion of innovation and technology. For me, it is without a doubt that one of Singapore’s prime resources is that we are a high-tech country.
Popspoken: What do you hope visitors will take away from experiencing “Now Is Not the Time”? Are there specific emotions, insights, or reflections you would like them to leave with?
Karen Seah: The exhibition title plays with the theme of time and is a call to reflect if we are overly focused on the present time and that we may have forgotten the past and how we got here. And that our true goal is to focus on our future and our continued success in the future is dependent on the values and visions Lee Kuan Yew left us.
I hope for several things: that the older generation can feel a sense of awe and amazement when we present Lee Kuan Yew differently and they will be touched by it; that the younger generation will have fun learning about Lee Kuan Yewand feel inspired that they come from the most miraculous country in the world – we hope they will feel proud of it and therefore want to ensure its continuity.
Lastly, I want to inspire Singaporeans that we should continue to develop and invest in the field of Art and Media because these create impact in more ways than one. For us to be a true First World country, we must also progress in the fields of Arts, Culture, Entertainment and Media to catch up with the other sectors.
Popspoken: What was your impression of Singapore’s founding father, Mr Lee Kuan Yew?
Daniel Arsham: I was already familiar with Lee Kuan Yew before Karen invited me to collaborate with the exhibition. The team in Singapore sent me many visual and video materials of his great moments, which gave me a better understanding of his character and effectiveness as a leader. I am more inspired by Singapore than ever.
To me, Singapore’s trajectory in the last 58 years is nothing short of remarkable and I am therefore honoured and excited to be a part of this exhibition.
Popspoken: The exhibition’s title, “Now Is Not the Time,” carries a profound message. Could you elaborate on the significance of this title, in conceptualising “Building Blocks” with Karen, its co-creator and what you hope to convey to viewers?
Robert Cheng: Keeping in line with the exhibition’s vision to remember Singapore’s past, “Building Blocks” serves as an abstract metaphor for the urban development that Singapore has gone through over the past five decades.
We created a series of translucent rooms using gradated tonal fabrics and artificial lighting that allow the audience to journey through variations of scales and transparencies. We wanted to convey the quality of impermanence; of something beautiful, elegant, mysterious and with a temporal quality and timeless allure.
Our zone highlights a few of the important, pivotal speeches delivered by Mr. Lee as the visionary founding leader of Singapore. The entirety of this zone has been meticulously curated to offer insights into the profound themes encapsulated within these speeches, embracing diverse perspectives and facets of their significance. Other speeches are shown through a smaller medium like an iPad, where you can imagine someone in the 80s watching it off a TV at home.
Here, visitors will journey through a series of rooms and experience Mr. Lee’s pivotal speeches differently, even physiologically. When they leave, they will gain a better knowledge and heightened experience that they will remember for a long time.
Popspoken: Can you tell us how your contribution to this exhibition is different from your past works as well as the inspiration for creating works in general as an architect?
Robert Cheng: Our work as a design firm has always been about the permanent. It was interesting and wonderful to be able to put on a different lens to apply our design approach to something more temporary, yet to ensure the same level of gravitas and significance emanates through.
At the same time, we are also always keen on anything related to art, and art forms, particularly relevant to the current epoch – technology, and specifically AI. Being able to contribute to this historically significant national event is most certainly an honour.
Popspoken: As the founder of Brewin Design Office, in collaboration with X3D Studio, what’s next for you and your team after this immersive experience? Are there other projects or initiatives that you’re excited to explore?
Our studio works across scales and typologies from private residential projects to condominium and commercial tower developments. In recent years, we have expanded our portfolio into taking on full hospitality commissions, with current projects in Kyoto, Tokyo and Nanjing. We are excited to continue deepening our reach within the luxury hospitality space and to work closely with like-minded operators to develop their hospitality and branded residence offerings.