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September 25, 2017

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Singapore Art Museum now 'allows' flirting

SINGAPORE -- A lit signpost outside the Singapore Art Museum reads in bold letters: "Flirting Point". It is surrounded by four benches, presumably for couples to make out on.

No wonder it is drawing much attention from passers-by, among them customer service officer Vikrant Gunabalan, 25, and service ambassador Sheena Barnachea, 27, who take a photograph there.

"It is a really catchy sign but I don't understand why it is in front of a museum. Any place can be a flirting point," said Mr Gunabalan.

Designed by art collective Vertical Submarine, the work is a lighthearted satire of the behavior of Singaporeans.

"Everything in Singapore is so regulated, so this reflects the culture, that even flirting has to be restricted to a designated area," said Justin Loke, 30, one of three members of the art group who won the biennial President's Young Talents exhibition in November.

A yellow line boxes the area designated for flirting and four benches make it easier for people to do so, he added. According to a security guard at the museum, couples have stopped at the installation to do what the sign says - flirt and make out.

The installation was commissioned by the Singapore Art Museum (SAM) as one of three exhibits for outdoor dance-music festival ZoukOut last December, as part of the Art On The Sands project.

After the festival, it was moved to the museum's lawn.

Mr Loke explained how his group decided to interpret the party theme given to the artists. "Flirting is something that happens frequently in a social setting but hardly gets talked about. So this is a way to get the public's attention," he says.

Pastry chef Nicholas Ang, 29, who saw the installation, immediately understood its message.

He said: "It seems that Singaporeans need to be told what to do and to follow directions. Even for something as casual as flirting, there is a need for a designated area."

But there were other interpretations of the work, one of which was due to the history of the building which the museum is housed in. It used to be Saint Joseph's Institution, a missionary school.

German tourist Vilmos Sagi, 24, said: "I was taking a photo of the signboard, set against the cross at top of the building. I think it is funny that something flirty is set against something that seems religious."

The spot may also be a good place to chat, he added. "People are generally afraid to meet someone new, so a little encouragement doesn't hurt."

There were skeptics about the value of the work as art. Bank executive Frederick Wong, 34, said: "Is it really a piece of art? I think the benches are just there for people to sit and talk."

The museum's director Tan Boon Hui, 40, has no doubt it is art. Placing the installation next to the red SAM signboard on the lawn is a sign of the museum's support for contemporary art.

He said: "It signifies the spirit of contemporary art with its cheekiness and irreverence. This is interactive public art, so we hope to involve as many people as possible. We hope people will stop and stare."

Now that the installation is at the Singapore Art Museum, Mr Loke said it has acquired another layer of meaning.

"Many couples choose to take their wedding pictures at this museum," he said.

"This is actually where a lot of flirting takes place - the bride with the photographer, and the groom with the bride's assistants."

The exhibit is on till the end of next month.

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