What's in... Son Jae Woo's Alive Museum

What's in... Son Jae Woo's Alive Museum
This was inspired by a Chinese acrobat's performance. It is highly popular because people can create their own poses.

Perform the splits, walk across a bottomless pit and battle Ryu from Street Fighter. These are some of the optical illusions created by Mr Son Jae Woo.

Mr Son, 34, is assistant creative director of Alive Museum, a 10,000-sq-ft optical illusion museum that opened in June in Suntec City Mall.

He said: "To date, I have planned 300 art pieces and created more than 500 art pieces. In addition, I also manage each museum's projects, which means that I oversee the painting and installation of artwork."

He works with artists to plan and produce art pieces, going through each project in detail, looking for potential mistakes and rectifying them before producing the art piece.

It is not easy as there are 15 branches of the museum altogether - seven of them outside South Korea - and he travels to all of them to oversee the installations in person.

The first opened in 2009 in South Korea. Now there are eight there. three in China and one each in Thailand, Turkey, Vietnam and Singapore, which explains why he is constantly on the move.

His passion for the arts developed when he studied at Seoul Institute of the Arts, majoring in drama and performance. After graduating, he landed several acting roles in Daehak-ro, "the equivalent of America's Broadway", he says.

But eventually, he realised that he enjoyed managing and planning art more than he did acting.

"Art and directing are performance arts. Now, I work in the visual arts field. It is not the same as performance art, but it is still art and an extremely important part of my life," he said.

The museum's more interesting attractions are digital artwork pieces that use technology to provide more interactivity.

One of them lets users pretend to fight Ryu, a character from the videogame Street Fighter, using sound effects and a fan to make it appear more realistic. Another showcases two "paintings" of Mona Lisa appearing to blow air from her mouth, while a real flag flutters from an unseen breeze.

Mr Son praised the advantages of the digital artworks. He said: "Digital art is not just a visual experience. It allows people to have more fun as they can interact directly with the artwork."

He explained that digital art helped to make Alive museum live up to its name, saying: "Digital art makes Alive Museum a more dynamic and exciting place."

There are only a few such pieces of digital art so far, but more are planned.

Despite having created so many pieces of artwork, he has no personal art collection. He explains: "I prefer creating or sharing art with others. My favourite things to collect are books, especially plays."

Among his favourites are the works of the 19th-century Russian playwright Anton Chekhov.

The books also inspire new ideas for potential art pieces. Whenever he gets an idea for a new art piece, he writes it down, considering if he can turn it into a reality.

"I usually map out my ideas before creating a 3-D image, to see if I can create the artwork in real life. Sometimes, however, I get sudden inspiration. When that happens, I just sketch the idea out by hand and begin creating the art piece immediately."

He draws inspiration from many sources - TV shows, movies, even the newspapers. This shows in the art pieces that are homages to Superman and Batman, images of mermaids, giants, dragons and other mythical creatures, and even real-life personalities such as United States President Barack Obama and Charlie Chaplin, the comedian and actor who made his name in the silent movie era.

He needs to visit the branches to help him create unique local content. One of the several local pieces in the branch here features the Singapore skyline; another uses the Merlion as a centrepiece.

He explained: "More than a third of all the artwork in this branch is new. We always develop and renew the artwork periodically."

His work has left him little time for sightseeing, though he managed to visit Universal Studios Singapore and the Singapore Science Centre.

He said he never stops dreaming up new ideas. "That's just how I am. I find inspiration to keep working all day, all the time."

Alive Museum is located at 03-372 Suntec City. Tickets are $25 for adults and $20 for children. The museum is open from 10am to 9pm daily.



Mr Son Jae Woo, 34, is the assistant creative director of Alive Museum, which houses optical illusion artworks from South Korea. A branch opened here in Suntec City in June.

He planned and worked with artists and the research and design team to create more than 500 art pieces for the 15 regional branches. He oversees all of the Alive Museum branches.


The Singapore branch has more than 80 optical illusion art pieces. To keep things fresh, Mr Son adds new art pieces every few months. He says he usually uses Sketch Up, Photoshop and AutoCAD to design and draft production proposals, especially for digital exhibits.

For the Singapore branch, he has conceptualised and created 21 art pieces.

This article was published on Aug 27 in Digital Life, The Straits Times.

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