Home is where the art is: S'pore artists get a space - and a stake - in luxury shophouses

Art by Yen Phang at Alexandra House at Lorong 24A Geylang. PHOTO: KHOO GUO JIE
Art by Nature Shankar at Red Dragon House at Lorong 24A Geylang. PHOTO: KHOO GUO JIE
The artworks will be showcased in the shophouses for at least the next five years. PHOTO: KHOO GUO JIE
Art by Khairullah Rahim at Botany House. PHOTO: KHOO GUO JIE, COURTESY OF YAVUZ GALLERY
If an artwork is sold, its artist can select a new piece to take its place. PHOTO: KHOO GUO JIE, COURTESY OF YAVUZ GALLERY

SINGAPORE - Since last week, tenants of four conservation shophouses in Geylang and River Valley have been living with works by home-grown artists on their walls.

And in an unusual move, the artists - Nature Shankar, Leow Wei Li, Yen Phang and Khairullah Rahim - will each get 10 per cent of the rental profits from the respective shophouse their works are displayed in, for the next five years or until their works are sold.

The pioneering partnership is the brainchild of boutique co-living developer Figment, which leases out living spaces in luxuriously appointed shophouses. It is held in conjunction with Singapore Art Week, which runs this year from Jan 14 to 23.

Typically, when displaying artworks in a space such as a gallery, artists receive revenue only if and when the artwork is sold. The artworks displayed in Figment's shophouses will also be available for purchase.

Figment's founder and chief executive Fang Low, 33, describes the move as a way to introduce more funds into the art ecosystem. "I believe this is the first time (such a payment arrangement) has ever been done," he says.

The tenants dwelling in each shophouse will have a personal connection to the works displayed in their living spaces, he adds. "Just walking by the pieces every day, people will naturally build an attachment to them that you may not get from looking at an artwork in a gallery."

Artist Leow, 27, whose works are displayed in Gallery House at Lorong 24A Geylang, agrees.

"In a gallery, there is limited time to spend with an artwork. However, the co-living space at (Figment's shophouses) creates more time and space for viewers to relate to the works. I'm excited that (my art) can be a part of the intimate, everyday life of others," she says.

Her works, with their three-dimensional use of household materials such as kitchen sponges, complement the airy, minimalist feel of Gallery House, where design is centred on white hues and natural lighting from a sprawling skylight.

Over at Alexandra House, also at Lorong 24A Geylang, are the works of artist Phang, 42.

He describes the partnership as "a reminder that we don't make art in isolation just for ourselves in a solipsistic manner".

"Otherwise, it might end up in self-referential navel-gazing that speaks to a closed audience."

Artist Yen Phang was inspired by the raw brick and dark wood of Alexandra House to create the sepia-toned art series, Still Here. PHOTOS: KHOO GUO JIE

He was inspired by the raw brick and dark wood of Alexandra House to create the sepia-toned art series, Still Here. "Texturally, there is a warmth I really appreciated with the bare brick wall... It led me to see space as a whole body, with its repeated movements, silences, rhythms."

Some of his works can be found opposite a long Turkish bath situated beyond the warm wooden entrance hall.

According to Figment, the artworks will be showcased in the shophouses for at least the next five years. If an artwork is sold, its artist can select a new piece to take its place.

Artist Leow's (right) works complement the airy, minimalist feel of Gallery House. PHOTOS: KHOO GUO JIE

Mr Low notes that Singaporeans may not feel much ownership towards art in Singapore, but Figment's partnership provides a way for people to slowly and surely identify as patrons of the arts. "It is one way of enabling people to contribute back to the local arts scene," he says.

Anyone wishing to see the artworks will have to join a long waiting list of people seeking to rent studios in any of Figment's 24 boutique shophouses.

The studios, whose rentals range from $2,000 to $4,000 a month, are available for minimum three-month leases. Mr Low says they have become increasingly popular among Singaporeans keen to experience a taste of life in a conservation shophouse.

A sneak peek of the metaverse tour through Figment's shophouses. PHOTO: FIGMENT

But the public will still be able to take a peek into the four shophouses in Figment's artist partnership. The company is hosting virtual tours on Jan 15 and 22, with Figment's curator Jen Quinn appearing as an avatar to take guests through each digitally rendered shophouse in an immersive experience using augmented- and virtual-reality technology.

Figment will also launch a blockchain token called $FIGMENT in the middle of the year. These tokens will be distributed to tenants as well as partner creators.

Mr Low says $FIGMENT, which will be issued on the Ethereum blockchain, is intended to function as "a souped-up rewards programme" similar to Singapore Airlines' KrisFlyer or hotel chain Marriott's Bonvoy.

But unlike conventional rewards schemes, he hopes the tokens will offer a more robust way to reward community-building. "Any new value created by the $FIGMENT token would be fairly attributed throughout our entire community of creators and members," he says.

The blockchain is essentially a decentralised digital ledger. Mr Low likens it to owning a country club membership and having a stake in how the club is run.

"Typical rewards programmes don't give such governance authority. They're just used as financial perks. But the $FIGMENT tokens will allow us to shift to a more community-led, community-owned environment, very much like an artist collective or artist co-operative," he says.

For instance, blockchain tools such as Snapshot will allow Figment's members and partner creators to easily vote on community matters such as which artists to partner with next.

But for all the vaunted benefits of blockchain, the technology is not without controversy, with critics decrying the high energy consumption involved in mining cryptocurrencies such as Ether and Bitcoin.

Mr Low acknowledges these criticisms. "We are not trying to have a carbon-negative impact, so we have earmarked that 10 per cent of any token proceeds will go towards (carbon) offsets, specifically rainforest planting."

Book It/Figment's virtual shophouse tours

Where: Online
When: Jan 15 and 22, 11am
Admission: Free, register here.

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