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Bao Songyu: Studio as Lab, Lab as Playground

Bao Songyu does not like to be called an artist. The fantastic beasts and creatures he creates, the visions that he brings to life, and the concepts he envisions, would all seem to place him within the category of “artist”, yet it is a title he rejects. He prefers the term “maker-designer”. A look into Bao’s process shows us why this moniker is indeed so apt.

Maker-designer Bao Songyu

Bao’s journey in 3D printing began at Nanyang Polytechnic, where he learnt 3D modelling from his Industrial Design course, which sparked an instant attraction to the medium. Although Bao had no prior experience in art, this interest in 3D modelling spurred him to apply to NTU’s School of Art, Design and Media. One thing led to another as he began to tinker around with spare electronics lying around his house, and he soon gleefully realised that he was well on his way to being a dabbler in robotics. It’s no wonder that Bao opts for the term “maker-designer”, as it best represents his creative process. Watching him work in his studio, a converted room in his HDB flat, one is simultaneously reminded of a toymaker or even a mad scientist. Bao employs all manner of whittling and tinkering into his craft of designing strange and whimsical beasts.

Behind the scenes of Bao Songyu's art-making process at his studio

How does one end up creating such fantastical specimens? Where does this vision of futuristic and strange flora and fauna come from? Bao’s answers to these perplexing questions are surprisingly straightforward:

“Observe. Play.”, and last but not least, “learn by doing.”

Bao Songyu's studio

Bao’s first major work, Museum of Marine Life, was born from trying to apply his technical skills towards his university final year project. It went on to be exhibited at the ArtScience Museum in their 2019 exhibition 2119: Futures Imagined. His idea for the skeletal floral forms in the work stemmed from wondering what would happen if plants could absorb calcium from milk he could not finish, and as a result grow bones.

Museum of Marine Life 2119, 2019, 3D printed PLA. Metal hardware, electronics, NTU Global Art Prize, 2019. Photo taken by the School of Art, Design and Media, Nanyang Technological University

In this way, his process involves finding a particular kind of movement he wants to replicate through his 3D printed automatons, then designing and printing multiple iterations to get it just right. His passion and creativity come from a place of childlike wonder and play, but also draws upon a sense of fearlessness. If there is one thing Bao wishes to pass on to audiences to his exhibition, it’s that no one should be afraid to engage in creative experimentation. Bao also hopes to inspire others to create through his exhibition Afterman: Synthesis Lab by inviting hem to create a physical work within his lab. In the artist’s own words:

“I think it's a sort of small power to be able to make your own stuff.”

Interactive Lab at Art Encounters, Afterman: Synthesis Lab

As with every iteration of Art Encounters, there is a creative studio alongside a more traditional gallery that exhibits the artist’s completed work. In the gallery, visitors will be able to not only see 2 completed automatons, but also marvel at the mechanics that drive them as their processors and circuitry will also be on display. Bao hopes that visitors will enjoy the unique perspectives that his show offers; and through the revelations of the observable mechanical and design processes, be inspired to try their own hand at creating and inventing. The adjacent studio is both a lab and playground, containing “pre-

grown” parts of specimens that audiences can select to assemble their own creatures. Both spaces are meant to awaken a sense of curiosity and find for ourselves that in fact, creating and inventing are not as hard as we might think.

Afterman: Synthesis Lab at Art Encounters, Orchard Road

“I hope this work will let people understand that you do not need a certain skill to create, you just need an interest. It’s as simple as putting things together.” - Bao Songyu

Afterman: Synthesis Lab will be sited along Orchard Road (in front of Mandarin Gallery) from 29 April to 12 June 2022, 11.30am to 8.30pm daily. Bao himself will be present on weekends to share and teach about his work. As always, admission is free. We hope to see you there.

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