On a recent trip to Singapore to attend the IARU Graduate Research Conference I had the chance to visit a couple of museums. I didn’t get the chance to see all I would have liked to, but managed to check out two that I thought would be relevant to what we do here at the Medical Museion. I visited the Singapore General Hospital (SGH) Museum as well as the ArtScience Museum. The SGH Museum is housed under the historic Bowyer Block Clock Tower, an architectural landmark and National Monument. With free entry, it is a repository of medical artifacts and records of the hospital’s more than 190 year history, from its beginning as a wooden shed in 1821 through its siege during the Japanese Occupation, to modern day world first procedures including the first peripheral blood stem cell transplant in 1995 and the successful separation of the craniopagus twins Ganga and Jamuna in 2001. The museum takes a thematic approach in presenting the hospital’s history, supplemented by interactive exhibits, audio-visual and multimedia technology. A few of the highlights for me were the “Pepper’s Ghost” presentation, where a hologram-like person takes you through a miniature Robotic Surgery Theatre and the full-size animatronic figures of two professors, E.S. Monteiro and B.H. Sheares. With the press of a button, these robotic figures come to life, moving (a bit) while speaking to one another, sharing childhood memories, anecdotes and philosophy on medicine. What I also enjoyed was the touch of the personal the museum created with more mundane items such as thank you cards from patients, baby mittens and hats knitted by nurses and a badminton trophy won by the Surgical Club in an Inter-Unit competition in 1955. In terms of medical objects, it is pretty standard and displays what you would expect. On the second floor, termed “Windows to Our Past”, you can find an old Dentist Chair, an X-ray machine from the 1930’s as well as an early dialysis machine.
Another museum I visited was the impressive looking, beautifully designed ArtScience Museum located along the Marina Bay waterfront. It houses a permanent exhibition and a few travelling exhibitions.Their goal is to celebrate the creativity and ingenuity of the human spirit. According to the brochure it does this: “by demonstrating how creative minds meld the disciplines of art and science to make objects that transform our world, it takes visitors on a journey inside the creative process across three unique spaces: Curiosity, Inspiration and Expression.” Its travelling exhibitions “will allow visitors to experience the interaction of influences that give rise to great moments, movements and inspirations in time.” My question is: Does “Harry Potter – the Exhibition”, give rise to great moments, movements and inspirations? Don’t get me wrong, it is a good exhibition and will definitely please any fan of the movies as it features hundreds of authentic costumes and props from all eight Harry Potter films. That is one of two travelling exhibitions currently at the Museum, the other is “Andy Warhol: 15 Minutes Eternal.” The Warhol exhibition presents over 260 artworks, including Marilyn Monroe (1967), Campbell’s Soup Can (1961) and The Last Supper (1981). The artworks are laid out according to time periods in his career, from the early years, the factory years, the silver factory, exposures, to the last supper.
The permanent exhibition on the upper level begins with Curiosity, an arrival gallery that is meant to awaken our creativity by getting us to question our world and what is possible. When you come up the stairs, the space is open and features a few glass cases filled with model replicas as well as sketches of the design process for the Museum’s building. Throughout the exhibition there are quotes from famous people to inspire, challenge, and get your creative juices flowing.
Inspiration is an interactive gallery where what you touch on-screen is projected onto the main wall. Here you can explore the history behind inventions such as da Vinci’s Flying Machine, the ArtScience Museum, sky lanterns, a festival scroll and a buckyball, all of which are hanging from the ceiling as replicas as well. In this part of the exhibition you can also make and send a postcard, featuring the objects, over the internet using touch screens.
In the last gallery, Expression, you watch a movie set to soft playing music, soft coloured lights, and words dancing around the room. It traces the evolution of an idea, from curiosity and inspiration through to innovation and invention. It showcases how nature can inspire art, and art can inspire science and technology. An example starts with da Vinci’s drawings for the glider based on bat wings, through the Wright brother’s invention of the plane, Amelia Earhart to the rocket ships of today.
For me the most impressive part is the building itself, especially the view from the outside. It is a massive building whose shape is reminiscent of a lotus flower, designed by architect Moshe Safdie. It stands 60 meters tall at the highest point and encompasses 6000 square meters (50 0000 square feet) of exhibition area in 21 gallery spaces. It is still a relatively new museum, having opened in February 2011, and is perhaps still trying to find its identity as a museum. The space is there, it is lovely and draws you in, I was just hoping to find a bit more on the interplay between art, science, as well as technology.