Crossing lines at The Substation

Arts centre explores the Cross Island Line issue in its first exhibition under new artistic director Alan Oei

The Developing MacRitchie installation at Each Blade Of Grass Each Shrub Each Tree, which arises from the Cross Island Line debate on whether it should cut across the MacRitchie nature reserve.
The Developing MacRitchie installation at Each Blade Of Grass Each Shrub Each Tree, which arises from the Cross Island Line debate on whether it should cut across the MacRitchie nature reserve. PHOTO: DIOS VINCOY JR FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

The Substation's first exhibition under its artistic director Alan Oei responds to a hot-button issue.

Each Blade Of Grass Each Shrub Each Tree, which runs till Sunday, takes off from public debate about the Cross Island Line and whether it should cut through Singapore's largest nature reserve at MacRitchie.

The show features nine artists and academics, including artists Susie Wong and Robert Zhao and Associate Professor Timothy Barnard of the National University of Singapore, who specialises in the environmental and cultural history of islands in South-east Asia. The works on display include photographs, drawings and installations.

The show's focus on nature and the urban environment is a departure from the arts centre's year-long programming theme which, until recently, was on memories, history and nostalgia. It was changed to an exploration of the centre's role and relationship to the arts community following public furore from some in the community about Mr Oei's plans for the centre (see other story).

The timing of this topical show "needed to be now", says the 39-year-old.

"If the timing is right, the way you come to an exhibition can feel so much more profound and loaded because of a real issue elsewhere."


  • WHERE: The Substation Gallery, 45 Armenian Street

    WHEN: Till Sunday, noon to 8pm


He adds: "We do not take on just things that are highly programmed and planned beforehand, but also look at what is topical and necessary, especially when artists have been engaging with these sorts of themes about nature."

Artist Geraldine Kang, for example, has been photographing fences around construction sites in Singapore. Her work emphasises how these structures may be seen as banal, commonplace objects here, where building continually happens, but they are also, in their own right, things of beauty and veils that render the landscape mysterious to passers-by.

Her work, By Unit Of Measurement III (2016), is made up of about 200 photographs of construction fences snaking around the walls of The Substation's gallery, forming a border within the enclosed space.

Artist Chu Hao Pei, on the other hand, has been exploring the loss, as well as possible loss, of Singapore's nature and cultural heritage through his works, which range across various mediums.

His immersive installation, Developing MacRitchie (2015), directly references the Cross Island Line issue and challenges the notion that development must take the form of new constructions.

Mr Oei says that while the idea for this show was sparked by a specific topic, the exhibition and the works in it seek to expand on that premise and invite viewers to consider people's relationship with nature and the city.

"We're not trying to galvanise a position for activists to come together to petition the Government," he says.

"I'm bringing together different people who have different ways of thinking about nature in the same space and it's up to (the viewers) to see where they want to go from there."

He adds: "Artists can be as dissonant and strong-minded about where they want to stand but, for us, being an interphase with the public, our curatorial responsibility is to keep positions open."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 10, 2016, with the headline Crossing lines at The Substation. Subscribe