Telling stories with light and touch

PHOTO: The New Paper

What would it be like to create images in the absence of light?

This question prompted full-time artist Alecia Neo, 29, to work with people with varying degrees of visual impairment for the past three years.

While doing her residency at an art studio in Taiwan in 2012, she organised a month-long photography workshop where she met six visually impaired participants.

When she returned to Singapore, she started a mentorship programme with seven visually impaired students from Ahmad Ibrahim Secondary School to create artwork.

Her experiences with them inspired her latest light art installation.

It features Braille drawings - translated from photos taken by the 13 participants relying on their senses of hearing and touch - inside the walls of a 10m-long tunnel.

The photos include self-portraits and cityscapes of Singapore and Taiwan.

Titled Unseen: Touch Field, it is one of 25 light installations at the i Light Marina Bay festival that opens tomorrow.

"I wanted to show that not being able to see fully doesn't mean that these participants do not have their own voices," said Ms Neo, who graduated in 2009 from the School of Art, Design and Media at Nanyang Technological University.

She added that the biggest challenge in creating the installation was ensuring that nothing was lost when translating the photos to Braille drawings.

It is a low-tech but long process of using a tactile material, Braillon, to mimic the shape of the photos using dots.

POTENTIAL

Ms Neo, whose work comprises photography, videography and installation, said: "Society often has a 'sob story' attitude towards people with disabilities.

"But there is more than meets the eye, and these people often have immense potential to express themselves."

She recalled a 65-year-old Taiwanese participant who was losing his sight rapidly.

She said: "He insisted on using a DSLR camera while the other participants used a compact camera. The workshop re-ignited his interest in photography and he took some really beautiful photos.

"It was wonderful to see that despite losing his sight, he had a strong sense of expression and was so eager to share his images with other people.

"I also hope for society to start rethinking about the label 'visually impaired'.

"My participants have said they feel sad when they are labelled as such. Rather than focusing on their disability, it would be better to describe them as having varying visual abilities."

ABOUT THE EVENT

Now in its fourth edition, i Light Marina Bay will illuminate the iconic Marina Bay waterfront with 25 light art installations by local and international artists.

Presented annually by the Urban Redevelopment Authority, the festival aims to promote environmental responsibility for a sustainable future.

The theme this year is "In Praise of Shadows", which aims to challenge the notion that brighter is better.

This year's festival has 14 artworks by local artists, which is the largest number to date.

Festival events also include aerial performances of LED kites.

What: I Light Marina Bay 2016

Where: Marina Bay Waterfront

When: Tomorrow (March 4) to March 27, 7.30pm to 11pm daily (extended to midnight on Fridays and Saturdays)

Admission: Free

This article was first published on March 3, 2016. Get The New Paper for more stories.