Artist-curator Alan Oei is new Substation head

Alan Oei, 38, takes the reins nine months after artistic director Noor Effendy Ibrahim stepped down

Alan Oei was previously an Associate Artist with The Substation.
Alan Oei was previously an Associate Artist with The Substation. PHOTO: ST FILE

Artist-curator Alan Oei, who persuaded home-owners to allow strangers to troop through their living rooms to gawk at art for his kooky OH! Open House tours, has been named The Substation's latest artistic director.

The choice of Oei, 38, caps a nine-month search after the independent arts centre's artistic director, playwright-director Noor Effendy Ibrahim, stepped down in January this year.

Oei, whose work explores history, memory and politics, was previously an Associate Artist with The Substation. He has a bachelor's degree in art history from Columbia University and has exhibited in cities such as Hong Kong, New York and Melbourne.

He was artistic director of the now-defunct Sculpture Square art space in Middle Road and founded the popular arts walkabout OH! Open House in 2009, where he remains as executive director.

In a press statement released yesterday, The Substation's chairman Chew Kheng Chuan says: "Alan has an intimate understanding of The Substation's spirit as a home for the arts. We believe he will be able to retain its essence while steering it in a new direction with a focus on public engage- ment."

Housed in a former power substation in Armenian Street, The Substation was set up in the 1990s by the late theatre doyen Kuo Pao Kun as a haven for arts practitioners collaborating across disciplines.

In recent years, however, the centre has been eclipsed by newer and better-funded art institutions such as The Esplanade and enclaves such as Gillman Barracks.

Echoing this in his statement, Oei says: "It's my duty to ensure that other artists can be equally supported and challenged. In this time, when the state and market dominate art practice and discourse, it is imperative that the Substation provides an alternative re-imagining of Singapore's cultural conversations."

Visual artist Robert Zhao, who has exhibited at The Substation, says he looks forward to what Oei will do, based on his previous programming track record .

Says Zhao, 32: "The space is different from what he has done at Sculpture Square and with Open House, so I'm hopeful about the contribution he'll make."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 01, 2015, with the headline 'Artist-curator is new Substation head'. Print Edition | Subscribe