Art + Sustainability | Singapore

Written in May 2014 by Caitlind Brown

Amidst all our recent business, I wrote this blog in early April and never posted it. The title is borrowed from “Art + Sustainability,” a book by Professor Sacha Kagan, keynote speaker at the I Light Symposium in Singapore.

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CLOUD at i Light Marina Bay in Singapore. Photo by Caitlind Brown

Moving now into our twenty-third hour of air travel, we reflect on the ideas and themes of the festival we are moving away from – I Light Marina Bay, Asia’s first light art festival championing a theme of sustainability. (The irony is noted, of course, that we must travel via the prolonged burning of jet-fuel to and from said festival, but that is a way of life for artists based in the less-occupied geographic regions of North America. For now, at least).

We were fortunate to participate in the I Light Symposium somewhere in the last several days (understandings of time melting as we slip between time zones). Fortunate, because the critical meat of light art is too often lost for many artists amidst the fury of installation, exhibition, and travel. Fortunate, also, because ideas of sustainability are coming to us at a critical juncture in our career, when we are beginning to ask ourselves to choose between commercial and conceptual fields (insofar as those two things are separated), festival versus fine arts contexts (ditto), and financial sustainability in relation to sustainability of heart/idealism.

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Since September 2012, we have been thrown onto an international playing field, and we must accept the credit and responsibilities that accompany the move into this territory. In the future, we will be examined, by others (curators, art critics, peers, the public) and, more importantly, by ourselves. How can we create art sustainably? And how can our art, in humble ways, play into notions of sustainability?


Please note, that this blog, consciously and unconsciously, may reference ideas raised by various panelists involved in the I Light Symposium, the first few chapters of a book written by Prof. Sacha Kagan entitled “Art and Sustainability: Connecting Patterns for a Culture of Complexity,” as well as ideas brought forward by ourselves, as a collaborative team and as individuals. Proper credit will be given whenever possible.


Sustainability is irrevocably tied to an obsession with “The Future.” This is a poignant concern in a city/country like Singapore, where 5-and-a-bit million people occupy an island, and must anticipate the future of a growing population within a finite space. (Interestingly, the location of the festival – Marina Bay – is man-made land, all re-claimed from the sea by entrepreneurs and corporate entities with a focused vision of one potential future).

Above images: Singapore’s various characteristic splendors, as we saw them. Art, architecture, and awesome bicycles.

According to Prof. Kagan, traditional sustainability is broken into three pillars: social, environmental, and economic. His writings and lectures focus on a fourth pillar – Cultural Sustainability. This is contributed to by Art, amongst other things.

There are several thoughts around art as a contributor to sustainability. The most tangible, perhaps, is creating art using sustainable materials and processes (ie. using recycled materials, local labour, low-carbon footprint processes, etc). The other is less immediate. It involves exploring concepts of sustainability less overtly or literally, and more as “pure” and sometimes utopian ideas.


When characterizing CLOUD within a context of sustainability, Wayne and I struggled with various contradictions. Despite using partially recycled materials when creating the first CLOUD (burnt out light bulbs, scrap yard steel), we’ve always been hesitant to qualify the work as any sort of environmental statement. Our initial motivation for using re-appropriated materials were primarily financial, aesthetic, and social – it was a cheap and accessible way of creating a diverse aesthetic for a large-scale sculpture. It created a community surrounding the sculpture via crowd-sourcing materials from friends, strangers, and local organizations.


In the end, we fell in love with the history of the objects, the marks of their past in different domestic settings. We were heavily influenced by the much more sustainable works of Calgary-based artists Lane Shordee (who creates giant, beautiful sculptures out of dumpster-dove materials and thrift-store finds, recycling everything from the screws holding wood together, to the sawdust from his saw). We have created other projects, much more directly tied to ideas of sustainability (or unsustainability, perhaps), notably The House Project, WRECK CITY, and PHANTOM WING. But when I Light Marina Bay asked us to consider CLOUD within the frame of sustainability, we were being asked to acknowledge other, also present characteristics and concepts of the work.

Typically, when we consider sustainability, it is in relation to ourselves as artists (lower income people, making large public things with an emphasis on collaboration, collectivity, and community). Art-making needs to be a sustainable path for us, financially, but also through other value-systems (the less tangible things that charge our batteries, stoke our enthusiasm, and convince us to pursue the dream). Showing our work needs to be a sustainable system (how do we create opportunities for ourselves? How do we meet deadlines? How can we continue to grow, change, and re-invigorate our practice as collaborators, friends, and individuals?) The administrative and organizational factors of being full-time artists influences this conversation (boring and invisible necessities like e-mailing, scheduling shipping, customs, visas, taxes, etc). The list goes on! – Our relationships with our contributors and community needs to be sustainable, our relationship with our City and each City we visit, our relationship with each other as autonomous human beings, etc…

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As we dissected CLOUD specifically, connections with sustainability that emerged were surprisingly less to do with physical and material connections (burnt out light bulbs, brand new LED technologies, etc) and more to do with ideas of compound action, the whole being greater than the sum of its parts, and human connections promoted by the piece.

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Art + Sustainability speaks about the changing relationship between human beings and our environment over the past few centuries, about our disassociation with the natural world, and about the sciences championing logic above intuitive connections. Technology has allowed us great advancement, while forming undeniable hubris. In some ways, we are outsmarting ourselves, propelling ourselves rapidly towards our own extinction. Logic alone won’t help us now. But collective action might.

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An icon for hope and optimism, CLOUD speaks to the analog and collective social powers of community. The strangers beneath CLOUD, pulling switches, seldom realize the changes they’re creating on the exterior of the structure. It’s only when observant people recognize the potential of lights turning on and off and begin to solicit help from the people around them, collectively manipulating the sculpture, that “big change” happens.

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This becomes a metaphor for sustainable action, and for the unstoppable momentum of collective thought. This idea is mirrored by the materiality of CLOUD – each bulb on its own means nothing, but when multiplied 6,000 times, a new understanding forms. Lastly, in forming the first sculpture, each “garbage” bulb collected to from the community posed a tiny question – “What else could this be used for?” and subsequently “what makes garbage unusable? How can we challenge this notion?” Compounded by each bulb contributed, these questions are gently reflected by the sculpture itself.

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In his lecture at the i Light Symposium, Prof. Sacha Kagan spoke of “art as a verb for sustainability and transformation.” He spoke about the “experiential process” of interacting with art being “collectively challenging for participants.” He spoke of art as a transformative experience promoting yearning, subverting understandings, encouraging experimentation, and creating empowerment. In Singapore, these concepts were palpable, and we are grateful for their influence, now and in The Future.

30 thoughts on “Art + Sustainability | Singapore

  1. We don’t really appreciate modern art, but this is really pretty and cute! I would really like to have a miniature one in my house!

  2. I think it’s not a really good way to denounce the energy surconsumption by using light, even if is only a band of LED… it’s kinda paradoxical. But the aesthetic of the art is beautiful to see.

  3. it is very original. no one could think about a such idea. It is a great example of recycle and sustainability.

  4. It was really interesting to discover this project.
    The work with the lights is environmentally-friendly
    It is a good project to aware people.

  5. it is very original. no one could think about a such idea. It is a great example of recycle and sustainability.

  6. We think this artwork is awesome! It manages to be aesthetically pleasing and to convey an important message as well. The fact that the strucutre is interactive, since we can switch on and off the lights makes it fun for kids and adults, and we can easily understand the meaning of it all; the importance of saving energy, sustainability! It is also amazing how the light bulbs were so cleverly (re)used. Ninon & Ambre

  7. this art is a good example of recycle and the cloud can make us think about pollution.
    they used 6000 fields for this cloud or to make this art.
    this is a good idea and a good example to follow for the big city.

  8. Your art is very interesting because it can make everyone aware of the polution make by them, by using light bulb for example. I think that probably after that people will change their use of light and use LED for example.

  9. I really like the idea of this cloud sculpture made with recycled waste from burn out light bulbs. The result is beautiful, with a lit- cloud raining which is situated on the street of Singapour. Everyone can watch , appreciate, and take a picture of the sculpture.
    It’s a good way to convey a message about pollution all around the world.
    It also proove that a piece of art doesn’t need to be constructed with expensive equipment.

  10. I like the idea and the message behind this piece of art. It brings people together around a project. This unites since you have to order to activate the light of this cloud so there is a momentum of solidarity. And this project is very original. I hope this gonna bring the idea of sustainability art around the world.

  11. for us, this sculpture is an engaged one, this cloud made by Caitlind R.D. Brown and Waine Garett with recycled equipment with light and with the rain
    it’s a good way to convey a message about global warming

  12. A beautiful piece of art. I love the idea of a cloud made of recycled light-bulbs to prevent people from the problems linked to sustainability and waste. Plus, it is a pretty source of light that attracts people, it arouses our curiosity, because it’s not common.

  13. Wonderful idea to have created this sculpture! This will make many people think about the pollution they make…

  14. Your creation is absolutly amazing as it is beautiful and the message it convey is really important today with everything that is going on like global warming and pollution. Thank you for this

  15. The CLOUD is a beautiful work which convey a important message for the World by using the sustainbility of relationship to make a better future in peace. Together we can make incredible things like represent the CLOUD which need that many people have to pull the thread to switch on the CLOUD.

  16. Your creation is really beautiful and i really like the message you want to convey that things can change if we act collectively.

  17. First we find this work of art very beautiful. However the message is even more beautiful. Indeed, saving the planet requires everyone’s help and motivation ! It’s a collective fight all the more so at the moment. We need this type of art and artist to remind us that we have to react.

  18. We love this artwork.
    This work is sublime and innovative.
    The message is simple and can touch many people.
    Congratulations to artists !

  19. This is a real efficient metaphor for collective actions ! What’s striking is the actual interaction between people and the CLOUD, it depicts very well how a unique action is insignifiant but a collective one can make things change (negatively and positively). Of course the carbon footprint of art travelling is important but I think it’s kind off a sacrifice to make things change.

  20. Hello, we love your work, it’s striking us and we really find your message inspiring for our generation. We would like be in Singapor at the moment of the exhibition to see your work in real y participate to this experience !

  21. We find that this work is first of all aesthetically very realistic and that it is a very well done and very pretty decoration. In addition, it sends an important message in view of current ecological events. Indeed, we need everyone’s action to save the planet and this kind of exhibition sends a message about the situation of sustainability and development.

  22. I like this project because , i think its a good method of fabrication for the sustainable development and the futur of the next generation . It’s very original with the bulbs made of garbage .

  23. I wanted to express my admiration to you Mr Garrett and Mrs Brown for this marvelous piece of art you decided to expose here, in Singapore. I was in vacation there for a couple of weeks and if I am usually not a big fan of contemporary art, I have to admit that I was very surprised by yours.
    When I arrived at Marina Bay, what really striked me was the shape of the sculpture you created. People were gathering around this halo of light that was in constrat with the dark night. Then I joined the circle, and felt such a conviviality with the other people who were amazed by the Cloud and who turned on and off the light bulbs with the strings. Which made me think of something : this is the pure representation of human connection, among themselves, but also with their environment. Indeed, because it’s only if everybody turn on the light bulbs above them that the Cloud can entirely exist. In other words if humans gather their efforts to end cllimate change they are totally able to do it, since they acquired the ability to change nature. It emphasizes the fact that it is only up to them if they want to see change, but it will not be possible if the effort is not collective. And that is what the strings which serve to turn on and off the lights mean. It shows that humans have a direct impact on nature (here represented by the Cloud).
    But the Cloud also reveals that, from man-hand built products, we recreated nature (and the Marina Bay is a great example of that). Humans became self-proclaimed ‘Mother Nature’, and through sciences and technology we shaped nature as we wanted it to be.
    Anyway, your artwork is a great way to show that from waste, we can create very impactful and beautiful – physically and whithin the message it conveys – pieces of art. You give hope to the younger generations for them to face their future, and at the same time, you prove to older generations and, globally to more perplexed people about reycling and sustainability, that the latter are not an utopian frenzy.

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