Re-inventing The Substation

1 x 1m Space (For Sale), 2016 by Adrian Tan, part of a series of three works by sungei.net projects.
1 x 1m Space (For Sale), 2016 by Adrian Tan, part of a series of three works by sungei.net projects.ST PHOTO: MARCUS TAN
Taxidermy As Method exhibit: A common pigeon and a common myna laid out on a table for the public to explore.
Taxidermy As Method exhibit: A common pigeon and a common myna laid out on a table for the public to explore.ST PHOTO: MARCUS TAN

The Post-Museum is holding a series of art-related programmes at the arts centre as part of experiments on running the space

Those who stop by The Substation in Armenian Street this month will find its front doors shut.

The independent arts centre, whose future seemed to be in limbo earlier this year, however, is still up and running.

In fact, it is hosting more than 30 talks, workshops, shows and activities this month as part of a series of programmes organised by the art collective Post-Museum. Among them are an interactive murder mystery show and a talk on community gardens and the future of food.

To enter the centre, visitors go through a door facing the alley next to the building.

The redrawing of The Substation's space and function by Post-Museum is one of three month-long experiments by the centre to orientate itself amid the changing arts and cultural landscape, and reassess its relevance and how it is run.

  • BOOK IT / SURVEY: SPACE, SHARING, HAUNTING

  • WHERE: The Substation, 45 Armenian Street

    WHEN: Till Sept 30, noon to 9pm (Tuesday to Thursday and Sunday), noon to midnight (Friday and Saturday), closed on Monday

    ADMISSION: Mostly free, details at postmuseum.wordpress.com/survey

In November, the centre will host happenings such as a pseudo-clinic, where film-makers prescribe films as therapy; and a recreational room with interactive works of art, as a way of examining what it might mean for the centre to be a cultural placemaker, fostering connections between people and the place through community-driven art activities.

For February next year, the centre's month-long programme will be decided by a cooperative of 10 to 12 people. The participants will be selected from an open call, which closes on Sunday.

This trio of experiments is a response to the focus group discussions and townhall session in March. At the sessions, the role and identity of the centre were debated, after its artistic director Alan Oei proposed changes, including the phasing out of venue rental, which drew ire from some in the arts community.

Oei, 40, says the discussions showed him that people feel deeply about what the 26-year-old arts centre should be, but "everybody has his own version of what it is and we were stuck in these different positions". "So we thought, if we could do month-long experiments and, for a moment, shed the weight of what The Substation is and all that ideological and cultural baggage, we could play, reinvent and figure out the direction we want to go in," he says.

The experiments are meant to address some of the issues raised in the earlier meetings, such as transparency and plurality in programming, but they also go beyond The Substation to consider the arts and culture scene today and the value and process of art- making in Singapore.

The Post-Museum was invited to take part in the first experiment, Oei says, because its practice, which includes a soup kitchen project and another that documents the historic Bukit Brown Cemetery, "blurs the lines between art and life".

Post-Museum's founder Woon Tien Wei, 41, says its series of wide-ranging programmes, titled Survey: Space, Sharing, Haunting, is an invitation to the public to "spend time and think about what they want to learn and share as an arts audience".

Of the experiments, Oei says: "There's a lot of risk, but that's also what's exciting for me. It's a way of moving beyond rhetoric and positions, and after we've tried these different versions, to come together and say what works and what doesn't and to make some decisions."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 06, 2016, with the headline 'Re-inventing The Substation'. Print Edition | Subscribe