I Light Marina Bay is a light-art festival dedicated to spreading the message of sustainability. Since 2010, it has transformed the waterfront of Singapore’s financial district into a display of art, technology and information. The 2014 edition of this festival runs from March 7thto 30thand features 28 art installations from both local and international artists, centered on the theme “light+heart.” It is organized by the Urban Redevelopment Authority, which also features the “Switch Off, Turn Up” campaign as part of the festival, to reduce the energy consumption of buildings by raising the temperatures of air-conditioners and switching off non-essential lighting. This year, 52 buildings have joined this initiative, a commendable increase from the 16 buildings that participated when the campaign first launched. However, this is just a drop in the ocean when one looks at Singapore’s well-known, impressive skyline, and for a city-state that ranked 31st in the country per capita carbon emissions in 2009, one wonders how far the festival represents a genuine attempt to tackle environmental issues and the commitment of national policy to institute real change.
“Sustainability” is the buzz-word of this century and the theme of I Light Marina Bay. In keeping with this, the light art installations saw artists utilizing energy-efficient lighting techniques or incorporating recycled material into their pieces. While these made for visually stimulating displays that raised awareness among the viewing public about the role of the individual, this exploration of what “sustainability” means seemed to sidestep an integral part of the equation – industry contributes far more to energy consumption and carbon emissions. Besides being a petrochemical hub, Singapore is also constantly upgrading, building new roads, complexes… and construction generates considerable pollution in the production of cement.
The power of recycling and turning off electricity to bring about positive changes to our environment and the way we live is not absolute. It could well be the case that it simply takes more energy to process recycled materials than to dispose of them. Couple that with significant inefficiencies and externalities like problems surrounding the hazardous waste at the end of the life cycle of solar panels, and you’ll see why alternative energy may not be “right around the corner.” To become a truly sustainable society, we must acknowledge and understand energy and environmental concerns in all their complexities, and without oversimplifying global problems.
“I Light has always been about 2 mediums – light and art,” said Andrew Lee, the curator in charge of this year’s festival. “But this year we kind of added a third term –the idea of heart – to the equation of light and art because we feel that, at the heart of the matter, [it’s] a matter of heart. There can be no sustainable change without a change in our values [and] our attitudes towards how we view sustainability.”
“This year we have a lot of art pieces that are interactive. Through that interaction, one can understand some of the message and meaning behind the pieces. As the member of the public engages some of the installation, they then step back and ask themselves what’s the meaning of this, process, and start to reflect on this idea of sustainability. An example, say cloud [one of the art installations], was made out of traditional light bulbs in combination with modern efficiency, and [then] put together into this spectacular installation. You invite the public to gather beneath it for one reason – to play. But these three ideas, is that one – cloud is important because it emphasizes the idea of recycling […] to create a sustainable future. Cloud is also important because it emphasizes this idea that technology is still important through either creating renewables or enhancing existing technologies. Above all, I think that cloud, when it gathers people here, transmits the message that a sustainable future isn’t about just one individual’s effort. There’s the collective coming together to create change.”
The fundamental flaw society is struggling with is a dependence upon the government to make and regulate the next great breakthrough. But technology shouldn’t just be treated as a commodity. It should be treated as a tool. An art form. Even a basic necessity, like shelter, food and water. In today’s digital age, with the environment deteriorating rapidly, evolving technology is the only way to survive.
Perhaps the significance of I Light Marina Bay lies in the community of ideas generated by the artists and the audience, and the exchange of ideas that occurs. This may bring about incremental change, especially as far as technology is concerned. A couple of the art pieces, like Mimosa and iSwarm, changed according to the actions of those interacting with it. “If you take that idea and adapt it to street lamps, as you move towards the street lamps it turns itself on […]. If lights could move kinetically with human behavior, that is an advancement we could use,” said Mr. Lee. iSwarm, which was comprised of free-floating lines of LED-lights that changed according to sensors picking up foot patterns, was created by Professors Thomas Schroepfer and Suranga Nanayakkara. They noted that this technology could be applied readily to the advertising industry, and could mean energy savings for billboards and other media.
As with most things in life, we have to compromise when it comes to sustainable technology. Generally, these compromises are economic. We’re forced to consume fossil fuels as we develop energy alternatives in order to keep consumer prices stable. But renewable energy that depletes resources will ultimately pose the same threat as fossil fuels. It’s time we stopped talking about “renewable” energy and started focusing on what’s “sustainable.”
Technology that consumes limited resources, degrades topsoil, depletes aquifers faster than they can be revitalized, or causes pollution to build up in the ecosystem is frequently called renewable, but that doesn’t necessarily make it sustainable. And that’s what the world really needs – a long-term plan for the future.
This year’s artists and attendees showcased their dedication to making green energy technology sustainable for the entire world. Because technology is the key to making our dreams of sustainability come true. In order to make an environmentally friendly, efficient and prosperous society, it takes the commitment and understanding of government, businesses, and individuals propelled by technological developments and the desire to push the limits of their imaginations.
Article prepared by Janice Liu