Perfect partners: Independent groups put on projects that plug gap between museum shows and art fairs

The curators who are encouraging the public to submit ideas on how to use an open space (far right) at Gillman Barracks are (above, from left) Ms Anca Rujoiu, Ms Jennifer Teo, Mr Woon Tien Wei and Ms Vera Mey.
The curators who are encouraging the public to submit ideas on how to use an open space (far right) at Gillman Barracks are (above, from left) Ms Anca Rujoiu, Ms Jennifer Teo, Mr Woon Tien Wei and Ms Vera Mey.ST PHOTOS: STEFFI KOH
The curators who are encouraging the public to submit ideas on how to use an open space (far right) at Gillman Barracks are (above, from left) Ms Anca Rujoiu, Ms Jennifer Teo, Mr Woon Tien Wei and Ms Vera Mey.
The curators who are encouraging the public to submit ideas on how to use an open space (far right) at Gillman Barracks are (above, from left) Ms Anca Rujoiu, Ms Jennifer Teo, Mr Woon Tien Wei and Ms Vera Mey.ST PHOTOS: STEFFI KOH
This book launch at the Bookhaven store in NUS University Town saw two students perform in a skit about the late China-born, Singapore-based musician Lucien Wang. The book was a result of a tie-up between the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts and the Nati
This book launch at the Bookhaven store in NUS University Town saw two students perform in a skit about the late China-born, Singapore-based musician Lucien Wang. The book was a result of a tie-up between the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts and the National University of Singapore's University Scholar's Programme.PHOTO: NANYANG ACADEMY OF FINE ARTS
Grey Projects' founding artist Jason Wee (left) and National University of Singapore Museum assistant curator Kenneth Tay have teamed up to put on the exhibition, When You Get Closer To The Heart, You May Find Cracks... (right).
Grey Projects' founding artist Jason Wee (left) and National University of Singapore Museum assistant curator Kenneth Tay have teamed up to put on the exhibition, When You Get Closer To The Heart, You May Find Cracks... (right).PHOTOS: DIOS VINCOY JR FOR THE STRAITS TIMES
Grey Projects' founding artist Jason Wee (left) and National University of Singapore Museum assistant curator Kenneth Tay have teamed up to put on the exhibition, When You Get Closer To The Heart, You May Find Cracks... (right).
Grey Projects' founding artist Jason Wee (left) and National University of Singapore Museum assistant curator Kenneth Tay have teamed up to put on the exhibition, When You Get Closer To The Heart, You May Find Cracks... (right).PHOTOS: DIOS VINCOY JR FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

Are two heads always better than one? It would seem so, in the case of independent visual arts institutions.

Collaborations between such entities allow these smaller, non-state-run initiatives to pool resources, expertise and influences to create the space for them to better pursue their common goals.

These independent players may take the form of artist-run spaces or exhibition and research centres linked to tertiary institutions, but they all occupy a space between the dominant state-run or state-funded museums and the large swathe of commercial galleries.

While state institutions may be limited in their educational role by having to serve a wide audience, commercial galleries are in the business for profit.

Independent players say they need to pool resources to offer alternatives to the well-trodden circuit of exhibitions, art fairs and talks in Singapore's busy visual arts scene. And what they offer is discursive practice and scholarship that sometimes can be esoteric, a little off the wall and hard-hitting.

Mr Jason Wee, founding artist of Grey Projects, an artist-run platform for publication, curation and exchange, laments: "A scene that comprises art fairs, galleries and state museums is not a scene."

There are two such ongoing collaborations. Grey Projects and the National University of Singapore (NUS) Museum are co-curating an exhibition about the origins of wood in South-east Asia.

The other partnership has cultural and social enterprise Post-Museum working with the Centre for Contemporary Art (CCA) - an exhibition and research offshoot of the Nanyang Technological University, housed at the Gillman Barracks gallery cluster - to run Post- PopUp, a project to explore space and the kind of shape that a space can take.

Both partnerships are project-based and short-term, lasting only several months each.

Another art institution which has done such collaborations is the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, which has partnered the NUS' University Scholar's Programme to produce a book about the life of the late China-born, Singapore- based musician Lucien Wang.

Ms Bridget Tracy Tan, director of the academy's Institute of Southeast Asian Arts & Art Galleries, says its ties with local and overseas partners will "enhance the ability to create portals of enrichment and research-led practice".

Aside from plugging a gap in the visual arts landscape, these partnerships also allow smaller groups to share space, audiences and funding.

For example, Mr Wee says Grey Projects' partnership with NUS Museum could see the project reach a wider audience because "we're located on a different spectrum in the ecology of art spaces". He says: "I think NUS has a strong mission to appeal to the students and staff that surround the museum, but the audience that comes to my space is quite distinct from that."

Grey Projects is an artist-directed and more artist-focused space, as opposed to the broader appeal of the NUS Museum.

Collaborations also allow for a meeting of minds in the pursuit of similar goals. Co-founder of Post-Museum Woon Tien Wei hopes that over the next few years in Singapore, "there will be more emphasis on scholarship and understanding what art and the language of art is, instead of purely focusing on exhibitions".

He found a like-minded ally in CCA's curator for exhibitions Anca Rujoiu, who says the Post-PopUp project "stems from our interest to create more discursive events and to work with artists beyond the medium of exhibition".

Ms Rujoiu also points out that one needs to be mindful of the balance of power when two institutions come together. She explains: "CCA is a much larger institution, so I've been very aware of keeping both voices alive, rather than the big institution swallowing the smaller one.

"It's very important to see how two voices can come together. They can merge, they can separate - that's all part of the process."

Assistant curator at NUS Museum Kenneth Tay says the visual arts scene has grown beyond just museums and galleries.

He adds: "We now have artist-run spaces, archive resource centres and pop-up events...

"And I think collaborations, if managed in good faith and not just in terms of the curatorial, can help sustain and hopefully proliferate the diversity in our cultural scene."

lting@sph.com.sg

What else can non-state-run arts initiatives do to contribute to Singapore's arts scene? E-mail stlife@sph.com.sg


Mix of art and science at exhibition

Wood is an indispensable part of people's daily lives, forming the backbone of many types of furniture and household objects. But just where does all that wood come from?

That question was what struck Lucy Davis, assistant professor at Nanyang Technological University's School of Art, Design & Media, when she looked at her teak bed six years ago.

That curiosity sparked off her Migrant Ecologies project, which she formally founded in 2010. What began as an inquiry into the origins of a piece of wood mushroomed into a wide-ranging project, which examined human relationships to trees, forests and forest products in South-east Asia.

The result of her venture is a series of photographs, videos, books and woodprint works produced by her and a few collaborators.

Several elements of the project will be on display in When You Get Closer To The Heart, You May Find Cracks..., a curatorial collaboration between the three-storey, 10,000 sq ft National University of Singapore Museum at Kent Ridge and Grey Projects, an alternative art space and residency located in a Tiong Bahru shophouse.

Assistant curator at the museum Kenneth Tay says: "To put it very simply, the exhibition may be said to present a constellation of stories and memories from the region about wood... Lucy's extensive research into these stories are important for the museum, given that it facilitates a thinking about and around South-east Asia."

The project also straddles the boundary between art and science, with documentative and creative photography and taking place alongside the DNA testing of wood fragments to trace their origins.

Jason Wee, founding artist of Grey Projects, says: "This show is challenging not just to scientists about what artists can bring, but also challenges art historians about different ways of writing art history and to think of an expanded notion of artistic research."

Migrant Ecologies has been exhibited before, at venues such as Post-Museum in Rowell Road in 2009 and at the Edinburgh International Science Festival last year.

This iteration of the project will feature several new woodprint works from Davis as well as photographs by Shannon Lee Castleman, visiting assistant professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, and local photographer Kee Ya Ting.

Co-curators Wee and Tay were brought together by Davis, who approached each separately.

Mr Tay says of Mr Wee: "Jason brings with him a diversity that is vital to a project such as this - he is an artist, curator and poet. Particularly, when thinking about the region itself as a migrant ecology, of peoples, materials and stories, the exhibition... must also be open to the thoughts and rhythms from the 'outside'."

Mr Wee says his partnership with Mr Tay is also based on a personal friendship. "Larger organisations can talk in terms of assets or money. With artist-run spaces and smaller projects, the kind of things we might share are premised on something a little different... things such as personal connections like friendships," he explains.

He says there are more collaborative projects in the pipeline for Grey Projects and NUS Musuem, with a focus on Davis' art.

"I think of what C.S. Lewis said about adults and children, that you become slightly different when talking to a child, and the child becomes different when talked to by an adult," says Mr Wee.

"I'd like to think that a 'child' like Grey Projects becomes different when talking to an older museum, and the NUS Museum becomes a little different as well."


Wanted: Crazy ideas to use space

Space. That one simple word conjures a realm of infinite possibilities, unfulfilled potential and prospective adventures.

A collaboration between the nomadic cultural and social enterprise Post-Museum and the Centre for Contemporary Art (CCA) at Gillman Barracks hopes to explore that notion with More Than [Show] Business - Post-PopUp.

The project involves challenging members of the public by giving them carte blanche to decide what they want to do with one particular space - a low-slung, white-walled building in Gillman Barracks, at Block 38 Malan Road, which is part of CCA's premises. An eye-catching neon red sign hung outside welcomes visitors, an artefact from Post-Museum's 2011 days in Rowell Road.

From now till Friday, four curators - two from Post-Museum and two from CCA - will be accepting proposals from individuals and groups on how to use the space.

Co-founder of Post-Museum Woon Tien Wei says: "The question is, how do you create creative spaces? We want to activate people's imagination about how they live. That's the key point... We're trying to get people to create the events they want to see and do what they feel they want to do."

Post-Museum was founded in 2007 by Mr Woon and Ms Jennifer Teo, and runs art and social projects such as Awaken The Dragon, in which they fired up one of the last two dragon kilns here last year, and walking tours to Bukit Brown Heritage Park.

CCA, which was set up in October last year, aims to be a hub for art and research in the region. It is run by the Nanyang Technological University.

After a selection process based on the project's ability to generate discussion and ideas, as well as how the projects will fit together, the partners will put chosen projects into practice from this month.

So far, they have received about 20 proposals and, aside from the usual exhibitions and talks, Mr Woon says there are also some "crazy ideas".

"Some people have suggested a singles' night or a barbecue. We're not putting a lot of thought into the ideas yet - we're just collecting them. We don't want to have a fixed format. We're testing ourselves and the public's imagination of what can be done with an open, free space."

The first event at Post-PopUp, a talk organised by the curators, was held last month on June 13. In Talk 1: Wildlife, three presenters - an anthropologist, bird enthusiast and ship crew member - spoke about humans' relationship with wildlife.

The centre's curator for exhibitions Anca Rujoiu says more than 100 people attended the free talk. "We were surprised to have such a diverse audience, from art people to grassroots activists, people who might not normally come to Gillman Barracks. It brought a different energy to the place."

The collaboration also benefits from cross- cultural influence, as Ms Rujoiu is from Romania and CCA's curator for residencies Vera Mey hails from New Zealand. They both moved here less than a year ago. Ms Teo, Post-Museum's co- founder, says "having curators from overseas bringsdifferent and interesting perspectives".

Meanwhile, Ms Rujoiu is delighted with the way the project has gone so far. "The project with Post-Museum started organically. We should always leave ourselves room for spontaneous gestures. It's important for a healthy institution to combine planning with unplanning and, for CCA, we should keep ourselves open to be able to respond when the opportunities arise."

Submit your proposals to admin@postmuseum.org by Friday.

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