Da Vinci: A man ahead of his time

LET no man who is not a mathematician read the elements of my work, said Leonardo da Vinci in the 17th century - he had no time for idiots misinterpreting his research and slowing him down. Almost 500 years after his death, you don't have to worry about your lack of qualifications to explore the large exhibition of his ideas being shown at the ArtScience Museum.

Da Vinci's mastery in five areas - mathematics, natural sciences, architecture, music and technology - will be on show for all to enjoy and on top of that, curator Honor Harger has invited five contemporary artists to create large artworks inspired by da Vinci.

The result is an exhibition that celebrates both the old and new, even if da Vinci himself may be turning in his grave at the creative liberties some of the artists have taken in interpreting his ideas.

Da Vinci was a scientist, artist and philosopher, a man so astonishingly adept at so many subjects that historians thought of him as a "superhuman". Those less inclined to bombast may prefer the popular term "Renaissance man" or "polymath".

Whatever the label, his broad-based genius is encapsulated in the Codex Atlanticus, his famous notebook, the original centuries-old pages of which have travelled from Italy's Veneranda Biblioteca Ambrosiana to the Singapore exhibition.

Video projections, models of his creations as well as other audio-visual material serve to provide a concise and comprehensive, though not necessarily trenchant, look at the man.

There seems to be something for everyone. Science-inclined visitors are most likely to linger in the mathematics and natural sciences areas. Architecture and music lovers would enjoy the sections dedicated to these respective fields. Fans of art, meanwhile, get to see how da Vinci revolutionised paintings and art.

In the contemporary art sections, Singaporean Donna Ong found inspiration from the polymath's approach to architecture and created a "garden city" comprising hundreds of bottles, each lit from within by bulbs. She calls it The Forest Speaks Back II. Though its connection to da Vinci's architectural notes and theories is arguably tenuous, the work is entrancing.

Luke Jerram's Glass Microbiology Series comprises glass sculptures in the shapes of various viruses.

Several types of microbes, including those of the SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) virus and Hand, Foot and Mouth disease, have been magnified by exactly a million times and presented as glass sculptures that look beautiful despite their fatal connotations.

Conrad Shawcross's clever work inspired by da Vinci's fascination with musical chords; design collective WY-TO's sculptural interpretation of fractals, and art collective Semiconductor's video installation, each present a unique take on da Vinci's theories and findings.

Next to the great master's achievements, the artistry and innovations of these five contemporary artists here still cannot hold a candle to the master. But who can? The exhibition is a generally satisfying introduction to the ideas of the genius. But anyone looking for more in-depth explorations would have to augment the experience with books.

Da Vinci: Shaping The Future is now on at the ArtScience Museum, Marina Bay Sands, till May 2015, from 10am to 7pm daily. Tickets from S$10.50 to S$25 from Sistic or at the door

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