NAC to revitalise Tanjong Pagar Distripark as an arts cluster

Tanjong Pagar Distripark is playing host to several Singapore Art Week events this year.
Tanjong Pagar Distripark is playing host to several Singapore Art Week events this year. ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR
The S.E.A. Focus showcase at Tanjong Pagar Distripark.
The S.E.A. Focus showcase at Tanjong Pagar Distripark.ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR
The S.E.A. Focus showcase at Tanjong Pagar Distripark.
The S.E.A. Focus showcase at Tanjong Pagar Distripark.PHOTO: COURTESY OF S.E.A. FOCUS, SINGAPORE

SINGAPORE - Plans are afoot to develop a multidisciplinary arts cluster in Tanjong Pagar Distripark, as the National Arts Council (NAC) looks into collaborations with tenants of the warehouse building in Keppel Road.

The news was announced on Wednesday (Jan 20) by Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Edwin Tong at the preview of S.E.A. Focus, a Singapore Art Week event.

"NAC intends to launch a series of engagements and partner the arts community to co-create innovative new concepts and programmes in areas such as the Tanjong Pagar Distripark," Mr Tong said.

"NAC is also exploring new ideas and collaborations with existing tenants in the distripark to grow its organic development as a cluster for multidisciplinary arts as well as other ancillary services."

The arts council will identify suitable spaces in the distripark for these innovations and ideas, he added.

Tanjong Pagar Distripark - which already had a reputation as an edgy arts hub a decade ago - is now home to exhibition venue Artspace @ Helutrans, as well as Gajah Gallery, which promotes South-east Asian contemporary art.

The Singapore Art Museum (SAM), whose buildings in Bras Basah are undergoing a major revamp, is also using the distripark for an Art Week exhibition.

S.E.A. Focus, which showcases art from galleries in the region, had been held in the Gillman Barracks art enclave since its launch in 2019. This year, it runs in Artspace @ Helutrans.

Mr Tong said of the distripark: "With its industrial vibe and large spaces, there is tremendous potential here as a dedicated space for creatives to experiment, to produce and to exhibit their works.

"In fact, today's unique exhibition space (for S.E.A. Focus), which was designed by Zarch Collaboratives and put together by STPI, is an example of what can be conceptualised and brought to bear in this location. It eschews the usual booth format of art fairs in favour of a more open and fluid concept. This is just one of the many possibilities that can be introduced here.

"This area is rich in heritage and also holds special memories for the arts community, as the inaugural Singapore Biennale in 2006 was held at the historic Tanjong Pagar Railway Station just next door," he added.

Former tenants of the distripark include art galleries such as Valentine Willie Fine Art and ReDot Gallery.

Mr Tong said: "Our cultural infrastructure - including possible art spaces such as these - can contribute greatly to our urban landscape and value-add to the lifestyle offerings for everyone in Singapore, as well as our friends from around the world."

The new plans for the distripark have raised questions about the future of the Gillman Barracks arts cluster off Alexandra Road, which has seen its share of setbacks since it opened in 2012.

In 2015, five of 17 galleries decided not to renew their leases, citing low footfall and poor sales. Australian gallery Sullivan+ Strumpf and Chan + Hori Contemporary exited last year, and in March this year, the NTU Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore will close its exhibition hall.


The S.E.A. Focus showcase at Tanjong Pagar Distripark. PHOTO: COURTESY OF S.E.A. FOCUS, SINGAPORE

Gillman Barracks was developed by the NAC, Singapore Economic Development Board (EDB) and JTC Corporation. Back in 2012, prominent Malaysian gallerist Valentine Willie complained that the EDB should instead help existing arts clusters, such as the one at Tanjong Pagar Distripark, as "you can't manufacture demand".

"Instead of trying to harness the energy of an existing hub and helping it, they are trying to kill it. It's unfair competition," he told ST at the time.

SAM director Eugene Tan said the museum would like to use the distripark as a venue for its activities, at least until its revamp - targeted for completion in 2023 - is over.

"The space is really suitable for what we need as a contemporary art institution," he said. "The proportions, the size of the space, just the whole feel of it. It gives us the flexibility we need to do our projects and exhibitions."

The museum is presenting an exhibition by artist Choy Ka Fai at the distripark till Feb 21. Dr Tan said SAM is exploring if it can continue using the space for a longer period, although he stressed that nothing has been confirmed yet.

He said of the distripark: "There's Gajah Gallery there, Helutrans has an arts space and there are a few conservation studios. Hopefully, if we do go there as well, other arts organisations will then see that it is a good place where they can base themselves."

Dr Tan added that they would also try to make the distripark more accessible - by offering shuttle bus services from nearby MRT stations, for instance - and engage with the community of residents and organisations in the area.

Gajah Gallery’s founder Jasdeep Sandhu, whose gallery moved into the distripark five years ago, welcomed the news. He said: “If you look around Singapore right now, you’ve got little galleries like Coda Culture in Aliwal Street, the museum cluster in Bras Basah, and I think it’s exciting to have another (cluster). It will boost Singapore’s position as an arts hub in South-east Asia. It’s not just Gillman Barracks as a standalone, there are so many places to visit.”

On the topic of accessibility, he said parking could be “more flexible” but added that he was also looking forward to the new Cantonment MRT station nearby that is slated for completion in 2025.

NAC’s director of visual arts sector development Tay Tong told ST that the distripark is meant to complement Gillman Barracks, along with the rest of the visual arts ecosystem, and that more details would be available at a later date.

When asked what NAC’s plans were for Gillman, Mr Tay said: "NAC will continue to stay connected and support the galleries at Gillman Barracks for as long as they wish to maintain their business presence in Singapore."


View It/ Singapore Art Week at Tanjong Pagar Distripark

S.E.A. FOCUS

This year's showcase of art from local and regional galleries will do away with the usual art-fair layout of gallery booths. Instead, there will be a curated show of physical works - titled hyper-horizon - as well as an online platform, virtual talks and studio tours.

Where: 01-05 Tanjong Pagar Distripark, 39 Keppel Road; and online

When: Friday (Jan 22) to Jan 31 (S.E.A. Focus curated). S.E.A. Focus Digital is already online

Admission: $10 at sistic.com.sg/events/sea0121

Info: S.E.A. Focus Website

CosmicWander: Expedition

The centrepiece of artist Choy Ka Fai's exhibition - born out of his travels and research into Asian shamanistic cultures - is a six-channel video installation featuring dance rituals from places such as Siberia and Java. Another highlight is a "getai of virtual gods", a multi-channel installation in which a fictional band of spiritual beings dance to hit songs.

Where: 01-02 to 04 Tanjong Pagar Distripark, 39 Keppel Road; Singapore Art Museum's Facebook and YouTube channels

When: Till Feb 21, noon to 9pm daily (till 5pm on Jan 22). A lecture and panel discussion will be streamed online on Jan 22, 7pm, and Jan 30, 7pm respectively

Admission: Free

Info: CosmicWander: Expedition Website