Young artists attempt to bring to life past memories and hidden histories of Kreta Ayer

Malay dance group P7:1SMA (above) presenting a work on the untold history of Chinese death houses in Sago Lane and artist Cassandra Koh (right) with her Five-legged Chicken, inspired by the disappearing five-foot-ways in Chinatown.
Malay dance group P7:1SMA (above) presenting a work on the untold history of Chinese death houses in Sago Lane and artist Cassandra Koh with her Five-legged Chicken, inspired by the disappearing five-foot-ways in Chinatown.PHOTO: JOSEPH NAIR
Malay dance group P7:1SMA (above) presenting a work on the untold history of Chinese death houses in Sago Lane and artist Cassandra Koh (right) with her Five-legged Chicken, inspired by the disappearing five-foot-ways in Chinatown.
Malay dance group P7:1SMA presenting a work on the untold history of Chinese death houses in Sago Lane and artist Cassandra Koh (above) with her Five-legged Chicken, inspired by the disappearing five-foot-ways in Chinatown.PHOTO: JOSEPH NAIR

Hanging Milo tins and a missing five-legged chicken feature in Pop-Up Noise at Kreta Ayer Square

There has been a buzz going around Chinatown in recent days.

Residents have been intrigued by posters of a missing five-legged chicken that were put up in the area. And old Milo tins hanging around Kreta Ayer Square have invoked nostalgia for elderly folk.

The posters and tins are part of an interactive exhibition, Pop-Up Noise: Soul Searching, that opens today at the square.

The exhibition space - designed to look like five-foot-ways of old shophouses - was set up on Wednesday evening. Some artists installed their works, others did warm-up lunges and yet others huddled in small discussion groups.

A handful of curious passers-by peered at the exhibits, with one man seated in a chair meant to be part of the exhibition's design.

An elderly man went up to artist Cassandra Koh, 24, pointed to her sculpture of a chicken made of rice paper and excitedly exclaimed, "I found it!" in a Chinese dialect.

He was responding to the "Missing" posters of the mysterious chicken, which implore readers to "please pursue" if they see the "chicken".

Koh beamed, thrilled with the reaction to her work.

  • VIEW IT / POP-UP NOISE: SOUL SEARCHING

  • WHERE: Kreta Ayer Square (between Chinatown Complex and Buddha Tooth Relic Temple)

    WHEN: Till Oct 30, 10am to 10pm, with performances in the evenings

    ADMISSION: Free

    INFO: Go to soulsearchingpopup.wordpress.com for show timings

It is this organic interaction that pulses through the exhibition, giving it life even before it formally opens. The free event brings together 30 young artists from Singapore and runs until Oct 30.

The creative team behind the project comprises freelance photographer Joseph Nair, 30, freelance writer and spatial designer Xu Jingyi, 28, and theatre actress Jalyn Han, 54.

Xu, who helped design the set, says: "We had uncles point to the Milo tins that we hung in the exhibition space, telling us they used to play with them when they were young. Some even bought drinks for the artists. It's a really meaningful project for us."

The show is an initiative of Noise Singapore, a youth-centric arts movement spearheaded by the National Arts Council. This is the 11th edition of Pop-Up Noise. Past editions have taken place in venues such as Heartland Mall in Kovan and Clarke Quay Central.

Ms Aruna Johnson, the council's deputy director of arts and youth, says of this year's edition: "Through innovative site-specific performances and installations, our young artists are bringing to life past memories and hidden histories of Kreta Ayer." The artists involved this year were selected through an open call in August.

The creative team roped in 68- year-old antiques collector Kok Seng Whatt to impart his knowledge about Chinese history, while Han conducted workshops to help the artists connect with their senses and the space at Kreta Ayer.

Like Koh's Five-legged Chicken - which is inspired by the disappearance of the five-foot-ways in Chinatown - many of the works in the exhibition hark back to tradition. (Five-foot-way has the same pronunciation as "five-legged chicken" in Mandarin.)

They also involve community interaction. Music collective SA - who specialise in combining ethnic Chinese musical instruments with modern effects such as live looping - will hold karaoke sessions. Residents will pick the songs. SA will also welcome others to join them in an art jam by creating art of their own while the trio improvise music.

SA member Cheryl Ong, 31, says: "Our main focus is to engage the residents. We were inspired to see the uncles and aunties here listening to their radios blasting loud, like boomboxes, and the buskers in the area."

Collaboration of all forms is encouraged in the show, even among the artists. For example, SA will provide music accompaniment for The Radio Show, a multilingual live radio show helmed by artist Jacklyn Kuah, who will take song requests and host a talk show.

There will also be a collaborative work involving dance, singing and theatre that tells the history of death houses in Sago Lane.

While such community exhibitions are not new, the organisers are hoping to create something special with their show, which, even before opening, has blurred the lines between art and life.

Nair says: "Community art often gets reduced to arts and crafts, which then goes to a white cube gallery attended by a white wine- sipping audience. It's different here. The uncles are very honest and will tell you what they think."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 21, 2016, with the headline 'Missing chicken in community art'. Print Edition | Subscribe