These 5 indie Singaporean art spaces are the antidote to whitewashed galleries
New kids on the block
Singapore's art scene is not defined by its national institutions (though they don't hurt), its annual art fairs, or the year-long frenzy of festivals. It's the groups of artists, sometimes just one or two, that - true to the enterprising Singaporean spirit - have created a space for themselves and their peers to present art that would otherwise be shackled by the restrictions of government funding and censorship. We did the boots-on-the-ground legwork for you and uncovered five of the most interesting independent art spaces today.
Lorong 21A Geylang, Lamthong Corporation, Level 8, Unit 11, Singapore 388429
Situated on the eighth floor of an industrial building in the notorious red light district of Geylang, is soft/WALL/studs, a creative space co-founded by artists Kenneth Loe, Luca Lum, Stephanie J. Burt and Weixin Chong. Blending studio, project space and library, s/W/s consistently presents a no-holds-barred mix of programming: from Divaagar's recent solo artist presentation The Soul Lounge to performative lectures by local and foreign art academics on topics like Afrofuturism to Horizon99's experimental music nights and Youths In Balaclava's first rooftop fashion show. "As an independent space that's sustained by us artists (financially and in terms of labour!) and the donations of our peers, it forms a platform for projects which might not know where else to go to germinate, particularly in Singapore where a lot of cultural infrastructures come from the state or commercial entities (which changes the possibilities of what can appear)", says Luca Lum. s/W/s might be cheekily listed as an aromatherapy and adult entertainment service on their Facebook page, but it is serious about mobilising a wider community through collaboration and conversation.
Block 803, King George's Avenue, #02-160, Singapore 200803
Coda Culture was started in December 2017, but its founder, artist Seelan Palay, thought about its name six years ago. Since signing a one-year lease, Palay has delivered a series of back-to-back solo and group exhibitions that have transformed the space that is no bigger than an HDB common room. Palay's ambition to experiment with challenging ways of presenting art has resulted in pleasantly surprising results: photographer Benjamin Matchap tinted the whole gallery a purple hue with LED lights, artist Rizman Putra plastered over 100 of his mark-making works on the walls and artist Nora Lea turned the gallery into a cosy teenager's bedroom. Palay recently revealed during a panel discussion that he is prepared to close at its present location when the lease concludes at the end of this year to find another space, possibly a shared one, in 2019. It is, however, not leaving without a blast. All artists who have exhibited are invited to return for an "annual auction" to celebrate what the space has achieved in such a short period of time.
101 Desker Road Singapore 209623
Founded by design agency Modular Unit in July 2017, Supernormal more closely resembled the typical white cube interiors of a traditional art gallery than any of the other four spaces on this list. Its main programme is achieved through an accessible open call format that strives to provide wall space for emerging practices. Textile designer Tiffany Loy, artist Berny Tan and independent research lab Atelier Hoko have all graced its space. After a successful table tennis fund-raiser tournament, Supernormal is currently undergoing renovation at their new space at Desker Road and will reopen later this year. Watch this space.
3 Coleman Street, Peninsula Shopping Centre, 3rd Floor, Singapore 179804
Popping up on the link bridge on the third floor between Peninsula Shopping Centre and Excelsior Shopping Centre in November 2017, I_S_L_A_N_D_S hijacks eight window displays as a liminal zone for short-term artist presentations. “I saw that there was a need for art spaces that allowed the freedom for experimentation, away from the constraints of a traditional gallery or institutional space. Coming across the corridor was pure chance, and I've been very lucky to have had the opportunity to work with such adventurous artists", explained Pey Chuan Tan, who founded the space with the support of Ariff Shariff from Spitfire Skate. "Every exhibition that we've mounted has turned out to be a wonderful surprise." While its collaborative presentations, group shows and solo exhibits showcase alternative means of exhibition-making, it is the readings and gatherings at its passageway that have catalysed its reputation as a bridge for dialogue and exchange.
Your Mother Gallery
91A Hindoo Road Singapore 209126
Artist Jeremy Hiah's home is Your Mother Gallery. Its kitchen is open and available to artists 24 hours a day - even if he is overseas - to hold meetings, organise gatherings, or even take a shower. Running as a non-registered art space since 2004, it is arguably one of the oldest surviving independent art spaces in Singapore today. In May 2018, The Artist Company's one-month-long open studio residency Got Your Name Or Not? witnessed seven days of collaborative art-making sessions with its results being exhibited at its culmination. "It is called Your Mother Gallery because it belongs to your mother; you can do anything you want, but don't break the walls", he says.