Off the beaten track

Expect the unexpected at the various off-the-grid locations during January's Singapore Art Week as the National Arts Council has commissioned several site-specific works in places one might not think to find art.

Published Thu, Dec 10, 2015 · 09:50 PM
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IT will be hard enough to drag art lovers out of the amazing National Gallery Singapore's exhibition halls but when Singapore Art Week rolls around in January, there will be ample reason to get out and go where they might never expect to find art.

Site-specific exhibitions and installations will take the spotlight at the Singapore Art Week in January - the busiest period in Singapore's art calendar which is anchored by Art Stage Singapore. People's Park Complex, Geylang and Joo Chiat are just some of the unexpected locations that the National Arts Council has commissioned works in.

But what is it about site-specific works that interest artists and art programmers? And how will that experience enhance the appreciation of art?

"Being so land-scarce in Singapore, the land and space for art-making is premium. In a white cube space like a gallery, you're always expected to produce something saleable or fully developed," says May Leong, co-founder of Hyphen, which is curating A Public Living Room on the fifth floor carpark of People's Park Complex.

In A Public Living Room, the art will be process-driven. "Tang Ling Nah, for example, will be drawing with charcoal and she'll be doing it over three weeks so she's not expected to finish something to present to collectors and buyers," says Ms Leong.

"In Singapore, you come to expect a certain level of polish as the hardware is very sophisticated here, but working in unusual locations - it trips people up a bit."

What's lacking is experimentation and the space for that, she points out.

Alan Oei, who started the popular Open House (OH!) art tour series which also explores locations, is launching the No Man's Land project in January, revealing Joo Chiat like never before to an art audience. "We spent a year building up all of this wonderful content and stories and people (following the art tours that were held in Joo Chiat during the last Open House event) which we can use in No Man's Land," he says.

OH! is about cultural mapping, trying to understand the inhabitants, the in-betweens, the memories and stories beyond the larger official narrative that's focused on heritage, and buildings. But given that what OH! is doing is so unusual and may not appeal to a strictly art-focused crowd, the audience OH! has built up over the years is a big boon to the project.

Says Mr Oei: "Our audience now understands that every neighbourhood has a story, and they are willing to take risks and take part in our version (without knowing the details)."

In Death by a Thousand Cuts, Vertical Submarine's installation in a shophouse, the audience will be invited to step into a scene within a scene. The private gallery is located in Geylang, "surrounded by Buddhist federations, clan associations, and abutting the zone of red-light activities", according to Chan Hampe Galleries.

Taking its cue from "the edgy and diverse character of its surroundings", the gallery is meant to be an "alternate art space for unusual or ephemeral activities" with programming presented by the gallery as well as the Visual Arts Development Association Singapore.

Site-specific installations like Vertical Submarine's are a useful device to engage audiences more fully as they require the viewer's active participation, notes Benjamin Hampe, Chan Hampe Galleries' co-founder. "Such close interactions are more likely to produce 'eureka' moments, leaving a more lasting impression on audiences at all levels."

Expect the unexpected, he says, in order to appreciate the art collective's work. And that can also be applied to all the other off-site art programming during Singapore Art Week.

Exploring Joo Chiat, a space in flux

No Man's Land by Open House

WITH art walkabouts in Niven Road, Marine Parade, Tiong Bahru, even Marina Bay corporate boardrooms and Joo Chiat since 2009, you could say that Open House is a veritable Pied Piper for art enthusiasts who want to explore the heritage of locations besides art.

But this time, its tour of Joo Chiat isn't going to follow the format of 15 people and two tour guides trooping in and out of houses to view art. It will be a site-specific experience incorporating performance art, and hope to make a social impact.

"Joo Chiat isn't at all a Peranakan town, which is what most of us believe. Instead, there are very rich people living next to very poor people. Migrant worker dormitories, bars, expats, a red light district, little Vietnam - Joo Chiat is really a space in flux, of contrasting narratives and diverse communities," points out Alan Oei, the founder of Open House (OH!).

After OH! first explored Joo Chiat in No Man's Land earlier this year, Mr Oei wondered if he and his team could do something crazier and which demanded more of the audience.

"What if we could not so much tell them a story but put them in the centre of it, of this alternate universe in flux? What if people could meet the real denizens rather than hear second-hand accounts?" he thought.

The OH! team used research from their first art tour for this second experiential tour, also titled No Man's Land, where the audience will witness informative and immersive performances in both real and constructed spaces. "But the catch is there's no guide this time, instead they will be led from place to place by the characters. Right now, we're looking at a bar, a love hotel, a getaway truck and another mystery location/set," says Mr Oei.

Those who buy tickets for the experience will be given a set of instructions which will guide them to another set of instructions and so on.

The synopsis reads: Meet the man in black at the bar. Room 426, he says. Later, after visiting the room you're taken to a truck in the back alley - and this is where your journey begins.

"It's a completely different concept and execution from the previous Open Houses, so there's no comparison. But being part of Singapore Art Week, this is our way of saying, Hey, there are other ways you can encounter art. Try ours. It's intense," says Mr Oei.

By Cheah Ui-hoon

Feast of performances at People's Park Complex carpark

PPC: A Public Living Room by Hyphen

AS the tallest residential space and largest mixed-use building with residential, office and carparking facilities back in the 1970s, People's Park Complex still towers iconically over Chinatown.

Since earlier this year, creative folks have plugged into the space as well, giving it a new vibe. A pop-up garden as well as a permanent rooftop tapas restaurant and beer garden on the carpark's sixth floor have been drawing the hip crowd. Now, the arty crowd have another reason to troop up to the fifth floor carpark during Singapore Art Week.

In the sheltered space, artists will draw while musicians jam in A Public Living Room, organised by Hyphen. Visitors can expect an experimental visual feast from a line-up of over 20 visual and performance artists and collectives whose works range from sculpture to drawing and photography to site-specific 3D installations.

Highlights include public workshops conducted by Andreas Siagian and Budi Prakosa of Lifepatch (Yogyakarta) and the PPC Performance Dialogues initiated by performance artists Daniela Beltrani, Ezzam Rahman and Natasha Wei.

Besides the exhibition, performances and workshops, local music acts such as singer-songwriter Nicholas Chim, collective Getai Group and HBRD THRY will also take to the stage and jam in the public living room.

One highlight will be the re-creation of a Singapore 60s Tea Dance on Jan 23, featuring indie group The Pinholes and deejays spinning Asian pop vinyls from that era.

With A Public Living Room, it's about bringing the public into a private living space "since People's Park Complex has always straddled this dichotomy with its mixed uses", explains May Leong, co-founder of Hypen.

Ms Leong's first exposure to organising something like this was in January this year, when she was the "admin person" behind The Mill, which saw a group of designers and artists "intervene" in the space before it was demolished. Ms Leong also cut her teeth in arts organisation with IMG Artists, organising the Sun Festival.

Together with technology innovators Voicemap, Hyphen is also working on an immersive audio tour and story-telling experience linking other heritage buildings and sites in Chinatown with the Complex.

"I was personally drawn to People's Park Complex from an architectural point of view - besides the fact that it was one of the first mixed-use complexes in Singapore, it has also played a pivotal role in redefining Chinatown's landscape. It's also intriguing that the building carries significance in Singapore's art history, wherein Tang Da Wu's seminal work Tiger's Whip was first performed in the courtyard of the PPC," she adds.

By Cheah Ui-hoon

In the mind of a husband suspecting infidelity

Death by a Thousand Cuts by Vertical Submarine

AFTER recreating a gruesome murder carried out by an expatriate, the next "scene" that art collective Vertical Submarine wants to explore is the mind of a man who suspects his wife of infidelity.

Based on the ancient execution method of Death by a Thousand Cuts, this installation is the recreation of a scene that replays in the mind of a political exile: he arrives home late one evening to see his wife with his best friend in the kitchen, both laughing out loud. Their laughter ceases when he enters the kitchen, and the friend turns around.

Because he's an exile, this scene keeps playing in his head whenever he sees a photo of his home. That old photo has been folded and unfolded so often, it's started to tear in the seams - this is the image that inspired the site-specific installation that Verticle Submarine will create in a shophouse on Lorong Geylang.

The kitchen setting will be as seen in the folded photo, together with the creases and tears, says Joshua Yang, one-third of the art collective whose other members are Justin Loke and Fiona Koh. Their works include installations, drawings and paintings which involve text, storytelling and an acquired sense of humour.

The inspiration for the work is a real life event, says Mr Yang. "The story is something every husband experiences, especially if his wife is particularly attractive," he says.

The character of the political exile is also inspired by a real person but, of course, no names will be mentioned. "It's several real persons. We know some of them, and some we have heard of," he adds.

What this generates is a scenario that people can relate to, to draw them into this installation. "What we've done is to recreate the living room and kitchen like a 1980s HDB flat," he adds. The viewer walks into the setting which is like a photograph but with a tear in the middle from the folding and unfolding. The project attempts to discover what results when things are folded over and over again.

"How do spaces serve as extensions of their inhabitants' bodies, and what is the connection between severed spaces and bodies as related to executions and a life in exile?" says Mr Yang.

The collective has a penchant for working with site installations but only gets to do about one a year because of the costs involved.

The last one earlier this year was at Golden Mile Tower, recreating the hotel room where Briton John Martin killed his girlfriend and was later caught and sentenced to death. The audience peeked into the room through cracks - and their perspective of the room was like looking down from the ceiling.

"When fixing up John Martin the installation, we deliberately didn't want it to be gory or scary. Everything was quite muted. But the audience found it to be a scary experience.

"I think that's what makes site installation works interesting - we can't predict how the audience will react to the scene," he concludes.

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