L'Observatoire: Window reflecting the green landscape in the Blue House International School building

L’Observatoire, led by its founder Isabelle Desjeux, embodies a relatable narrative of creative growth. Childhood’s joyous artistic exploration and imaginative musings found encouragement within her family. Having no artists in her family, she pursued conventional studies while preserving art as a personal sanctuary for relaxation and rejuvenation. A decade immersed in scientific pursuits, including a decade-long laboratory engagement, provided a foundation for nurturing creativity through problem-solving and inquisitiveness. Research, with its sanctioned space for contemplative daydreaming, further fortified her creative acumen. Opting to chart an artistic path as a full-time pursuit marked a pivotal redirection of priorities, favoring art over science to accommodate familial commitments. This conscious choice to emphasize artistic expression over a scientific trajectory, while prompted by necessity, led to later reflections on the absence of formal scientific circles. Amid this transformative phase, her grasp of the multifaceted “artist” identity remained evolving; yet, she placed steadfast trust in curiosity, problem-solving, and research as her guiding compass. The evolution into her current artistic embodiment, interwoven with the establishment of her creative enterprise, matured gradually over time, encapsulating a rich and evolving journey.

Guiding Principles of L’Observatoire’s Educational Approach

L’Observatoire draws its foundational ethos from two insights. First, profound observation wields remarkable influence. This skill, pivotal in scientific realms, resonates equally within the spheres of art and everyday existence. Her aspiration lies in imparting this skill. And second, education thrives when rooted in the trust that learners are genuinely driven and possess innate learning acumen. Constructing an enabling learning environment and furnishing appropriate tools constitute meaningful support. Simultaneously, it entails keenly observing students, embracing their voices, and gleaning wisdom from them to ensure provision aligns with actual student needs, rather than presumed requirements.

L’Observatoire materialized as a concept once a studio space was granted within Blue House International, a preschool. This unique space nurtured Isabelle’s growth as an art educator and facilitated network connections that welcomed diverse artists into the fold.

Launching and Managing an Artist Residency Program

Isabelle embarked on a unique trajectory, transitioning from an academic background to the realm of artistry, and eventually navigating the business sphere. The journey to discovering the optimal niche for the company was characterized by several iterations, culminating in the convergence of offering art services to organizations and schools with a scientific focus, all while nurturing the arts community through a residency initiative.

With an extensive history of running art camps for children, Isabelle gained profound insight into the dynamics that drive young minds. Over the course of a decade, she emerged as a dynamic figure within Singapore’s arts community, collaborating with diverse artists in various capacities. A noteworthy chapter of her journey saw her steer the creative direction at Playeum’s Children Centre for Creativity, providing her with invaluable perspectives on how a business must account for its stakeholders.

L’Observatoire’s genesis unfolded in response to Isabelle’s invitation as an artist in residence at Blue House. This presented an avenue to share the space, resources, and networking opportunities she had amassed over time. The company’s essence materialized as a manifestation of her desire to offer the kind of support she wished for during her transition from art school to the professional world.

Artistic Fusion: L’Observatoire’s Innovative Path and the Role of Community Engagement

L’Observatoire stands out as a distinctive establishment, crafted in alignment with the visionary ethos of the Blue School’s founders. Rooted in the Reggio Emilia educational approach, the institution’s distinctive character emerges from its collaborative interactions with the community, where artists hold a significant place. Isabelle, having prior ties with the founders and having taught drawing to their child, was invited to seamlessly integrate into the community as an artist presence, occasionally interacting with visiting children. Her role extended beyond mere presence; she envisioned involving other artists intermittently. The arrangement was transparent: artists were granted space, support, networking avenues, and material resources, often supplemented by Isabelle’s mentorship. In return, they enriched the school’s environment with their work, often sparking informal interactions with students and teachers alike.

Navigating the intersection between artists and young learners emerged as L’Observatoire’s core mission. This involved early disclosure of artists’ intended projects to educators, facilitating a form of “matchmaking” to resonate with the most receptive student groups. This approach ensured that connections were forged the moment artists set foot in the studio. Over time, meticulous documentation fostered a repository of insights, shaping a quasi-“Manual of the Artist in Residence in a Preschool.” This reservoir of knowledge, curated through years of experience, harbors potential for publication, poised to equip more schools with the tools to welcome artists and assist artists in navigating educational spaces and interactions with children.

Selecting Resident Artists and Shaping Artistic Vision at L’Observatoire

L’Observatoire’s artist residency program took root in 2017, addressing a notable gap in Singapore’s local art scene. Recognizing a hunger among artists for dedicated spaces to evolve their craft, Isabelle’s initial approach was discreet. She commenced by extending invitations to artists she knew or those recommended by acquaintances, striving for a modest approach. This twofold strategy aimed to manage expectations in light of its nascent status and her solitary endeavor, while fostering an informal atmosphere that allowed artists to grow autonomously, sans constant support.

Fundamental principles defined the residency’s framework right from its inception. Artists secured access to a studio space for a month, accompanied by mentorship and guidance from Isabelle. The month’s duration was meticulously calibrated – ideal for testing new methods, conducting experiments, or delving into new domains like piano mastery, provided they engaged daily. Notably, the program was designed for process-oriented endeavors, sidestepping the pressure of producing a finished body of work. Instead, focus centered on the evolution and experimentation taking place.

Isabelle’s artist selection criteria veered from conventional norms. She gauged candidates based on their readiness to innovate and their commitment to frequent studio usage, prioritizing dedication over past achievements. She understood that sustained, single-minded engagement with a specific task could yield unexpected breakthroughs. This unique approach birthed an artistic haven where experimentation thrived, an ethos that continues to define L’Observatoire’s impactful presence.

L’Observatoire’s Aspirations for Artists and Community Enrichment

L’Observatoire’s profound impact on resident artists remains consistently affirmative. Providing a platform to explore novel techniques, experiment with uncharted territories, and, crucially, engage in discourse, reflection, and presentation (culminating in the Open Studio event) constitutes a potent gift to artists. This trajectory, akin to the preparatory phase before a gallery exhibition, marks the true heart of an artist’s endeavor. Within an environment of mutual resource-sharing and upliftment, the residency nurtures a sense of camaraderie among artists, potentially catalyzing a fortified art scene. The aspiration is for these nascent ideas, nurtured at L’Observatoire, to eventually grace larger stages -– showcasing the transformative journey.

The resonance extends seamlessly into the school community, as a vibrant exchange of ideas within the studio invariably spurs a surge of creativity among children. Educators finely attuned to bridging the artist-child interface serve as conduits for this outward artistic radiance.

While assessing the broader societal influence necessitates a longer timeframe, the transformative impact on the public realm manifests gradually, signifying an evolving cultural shift over time.

L’Observatoire’s Unveiling of Memorable Creations

Among the remarkable projects spawned by L’Observatoire, a standout features the creative endeavors of artist and educator Nel Lim. Drawing from years of collecting children’s preparatory doodles and drawings, Nel orchestrated a captivating display for his residency. Countless childlike sketches adorned walls, windows, and ceilings, fostering an interactive dialogue with visiting children. This immersive encounter unveiled a captivating insight into young minds, revealing their affinity for drawing, replication, and the joy of uncovering patterns. The children’s delight mirrored the wonder typically reserved for masterpieces like those of Van Gogh, sparking inspiration and aspiration. Regrettably, the artwork didn’t secure a place at the Children’s Biennale, a setback compounded by the challenges posed by Covid-19 in promoting interactive pieces.

Another luminous chapter unfolds with Gilles Massot, an artist brimming with anticipation for his L’Observatoire residency. Lengthly deliberations about his project spanned six months prior, culminating in a clear intent to paint scenes from historical Asian photographs taken by a French voyager. Gilles initiated his journey by adorning the studio walls with materials on the very first day, yet the culmination of his efforts a month later was an artwork remarkably divergent from the original concept. This transformation underscored the essence of creation as emanating from the process itself. It fortified the notion that an artwork surpasses its initial plan and description, embodying an intrinsic essence only realized through execution. A crucial takeaway from this journey is the significance of residencies that foster exploration devoid of the pressure to present a definitive outcome.

Gilles’ creation, conceived within L’Observatoire’s realm, garnered distinction through a prominent showcase at the NUS Museum before his return to France in 2021. Subsequently, it resurfaced as a pivotal inclusion in an expansive exhibition at the Foundation Manuel Rivera-Ortiz in Arles during 2023.

Charting L’Observatoire’s Future Plans

Isabelle Desjeux anticipates a transformative chapter ahead. Unfortunately, the imminent redevelopment of the Grandstand/Turf Club complex, including the Blue House building, poses a challenge. Consequently, the existing studio space and residency closes its doors. Nonetheless, Isabelle’s collaboration with Blue House will continue, fostering connections between artists and the preschool, while sharing insights from her artist-in-preschool journey. The venture’s trajectory will pivot towards providing schools with art/science installations and experiences in alternative locations. Simultaneously, Isabelle has been spearheading Science Outreach initiatives in collaboration with NTU researchers, an endeavor slated for broader dissemination in Singapore and beyond. This journey will also encompass Isabelle’s exploration of environmental assessment technologies, nurturing the ability of educators, the curious public, and others to “read” their surroundings. This transition underscores her vision of art working hand in hand with science for a better understanding of our environment.

Converging Passions: The Synergy of Art, Science, and Education for Isabelle Desjeux

Isabelle Desjeux, the architect behind L’Observatoire, finds the crossroads of her diverse passions to be anchored in a common driving force – curiosity. With this realization at her core, Isabelle unlocked the potent force of creativity as a catalyst for multifaceted endeavors. Her pursuits meander organically, guided by her inquisitiveness, often gravitating towards interconnected subjects such as nature, our perception of it, and its influence on environmental consciousness. Drawing from her scientific initiation in research, she employs the invaluable skill of crafting compelling questions, designed to unveil partial answers that lead to a cascade of new inquiries. This process parallels her artistic exploration, fortified by a foundation of well-constructed queries.

In Isabelle’s narrative, curiosity and creativity intertwine to illuminate her path. Confidence in the validity of her inquiries propels her artistic journey. Merging this with a steadfast awareness of her audience and their potential engagement propels her every endeavor. In essence, each morning brings the anticipation of forging new discoveries and devising novel avenues to share them – a resonating symphony of curiosity, creativity, and connection.

Advice For Aspiring Creatives and Entrepreneurs 

For those aspiring entrepreneurs, Isabelle Desjeux offers these wise words: “I think that if you remember what you care about and who you care for, it helps guide what you do. Trusting that the world needs what you are creating and discovering can give you the confidence to pursue your business – Communicating with confidence will help you find the right partners to move forward.”

Visit L’Observatoire’s website here.

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