Singapore: The Coming of Age of a Flourishing Art Scene
Posted on June 22, 2013
When the Displacements @ 13 Wilkie Terrace, an art exhibition, ends on Sunday, 23 June, the Chia family’s 77-year-old mansion would have hosted a musical band, silk screen and poster printing workshops and several dance performances: all done for the love of collaboration.
Yen Phang, a formal lawyer and a member of the Chia family, initiated the project with 16 other artists and invited them to interpret the theme ‘Displacement’. The estate will soon make way for urban redevelopment and was temporarily turned into a communal space open for the public to experience the charm of the mansion’s interior, enjoy conversations with the artists and leave with a pleasant feeling of nostalgia.
The narrow hallways, interactive exhibits, and classic furniture and memorabilia from the 1970s all create a sense of intimacy between guests and the space. When I arrived, Daniela Beltrani, a performance artist from Rome, had already been in a deep meditative state on the balcony shed for hours. Curious visitors were careful not to step on her as they made their way by the balcony stairs. Some were snapping photos with their mobile phone cameras until one decided to sit right in front of her. Beltrani’s eyes opened for the first time in hours and the guest and the artist shared a quiet moment of contemplation together. No words were spoken, just smiles and simple eye contact.
This was just one of the many artistic moments curated within the rustic corridors and open rooms. More than half of the presented works were produced by foreign artists residing in Singapore. The experience almost felt like visiting the home of an old friend then leaving to lament about bidding goodbye too soon.
“We’ve planned this for months and those who felt right at home just stayed to participate and help. There wasn’t any room for egos and each of the artist and organizations involved just wanted to give,” said Phang with a wry smile.
The courtyard and living room hosted several makeshift booths displaying handcrafted goods and artwork on sale. Lully, a young illustrator had paused her work and passed along a postcard about her company, SuperSegak, and its services. Lully’s work was clearly commercial in nature: commissioned projects with design agencies, paid workshops and silkscreen art on sale. Nonetheless, there she was at an arts exhibition, chirpily interacting with members of the arts community and anyone who came to appreciate the works on display.
Similar to Lully, Hanyang Leong, who runs a 3D printing company could be found the living room warmly greeting guests as they stepped into the mansion. Leong, a technology enthusiast, had palm-size 3D printed models of the mansion on display for sale as souvenirs by the counter near the entrance.
The perception of art in Singapore is no longer what it used to be. Though the National Arts Council of Singapore (NAC) might have Singaporeans believing that performing arts, literary arts and visual arts represent the mainstay of the fast growing arts scene in Singapore, Displacements @ 13 Wilkie Edge clearly represented something beyond that. A communal space like the Chia family’s mansion has blurred the lines between, art, design and technology. A grassroots organized exhibition built upon common values and beliefs versus a merger merely based on a common trade or industry sector. A common belief that after all, here under one roof, everybody is one family.
Three art schools surround the hilltop mansion within walking distance: LASALLE College of the Arts, Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (both private tertiary institutions) and School of the Arts, (a secondary education government school). Soren Niewelt and Jessica Larbig (part of the 16 artists) worked with LASALLE, NAFA and SOTA students to create Displacing: a dance performance about two bodies in two rooms yearning to connect with each other. Lights throw the dancers shadow onto the artwork representing the fleeting passage of time, meeting and separating briefly throughout hallways within the building until finally connecting.
At the end of it all, whether you’re an artist, designer or tinkerer, one only requires a safe haven to create and flourish with support from a community and the public. As the mansion closes its doors on the 23rd of June, its legacy lives not just as a heritage landmark that it once was, but also lingers as a spirit of greater things to come. ∗