An industrial gym with a twist

Exhibition about the gym sub-culture is part of the Aliwal Urban Art Festival

A visitor at the No Regrets For Our Youth exhibition trying out an exercise machine, which uses a loaded microwave oven as a weight.
A visitor at the No Regrets For Our Youth exhibition trying out an exercise machine, which uses a loaded microwave oven as a weight. PHOTO: DON WONG FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

There is an unusual new gym in town.

Here, microwave ovens are used as weights, dangling from metal chains linked by pulleys and skipping ropes. The fitness stations are utilitarian steel structures, illuminated by soft neon-pink lighting.

On the walls are posters with seemingly motivational messages, such as "No Pain No Gain" and "Weakness Is A Choice".

The urban gym exudes an eerie vibe, which is fitting for the message that it aims to get across about the dark side of gym culture.

It is actually an exhibition, titled No Regrets For Our Youth, that looks at fitness as a sub-culture. The work by Singapore visual arts collective DXXXXD runs till Feb 12 at the Aliwal Arts Centre.

Mr Muhammad Izdi, 30, the exhibition's project manager, says: "There is the utopian ideal of the perfect body, but there is a dystopian side too - the shortcut methods of achieving the ideal which can be very dangerous."


  • WHERE: Aliwal Arts Centre, 28 Aliwal Street

    WHEN: Today, 5pm till late



    WHERE: Aliwal Arts Centre

    WHEN: Till Feb 12, 11am to 8pm


    INFO: Go to

    To sign up for the fitness sessions by personal trainer Cheryl Lin, go to

Such methods include extreme dieting and exercise addiction.

The exhibition is part of the annual Aliwal Urban Art Festival, which takes place today. Visitors can use the equipment in the gym set-up.

The four-year-old festival focuses on street culture and urban art forms such as graffiti, skateboarding and hip-hop music. It often involves groups that are based in the Aliwal Arts Centre or the Kampong Gelam vicinity.

One such group is street art collective RSCLS, which will lead four Urban Art Raids, tours of street art pieces located in Kampong Gelam.

Ms Natalie Tan, 35, the centre's senior place-making manager, says: "People usually take photos of street art for their Instagram and then leave."

With this tour, festivalgoers can learn more about the artists and their inspirations for the works, and even uncover the hidden artworks in the area.

For example, there is a work by a French street artist near the centre that many do not know about.

"It will also give RSCLS a chance to talk about street art as a culture, which most people don't seem to care about. People think of it as just graffiti. Nobody knows its roots," says Ms Tan. "We feel that people should not just come to the festival to see something and go home - there should be something that you learn more about, that you can take home with you."

The 45-minute tours will take place every hour from 5 to 9pm, and are open to the first 10 to 15 people who turn up at the side of the arts centre before each session.

At the barter workshop market, which will take place from 6 to 10pm, visitors can trade items such as old textbooks and toys, for the chance to pick up skills including silkscreening, live portrait drawing and edible crop farming.

For some retail therapy, there is the Brilliant Corners craft market at the Aliwal carpark from 5 to 11pm. Items on sale include original artworks, juices and leather products.

Music is another big component of the festival. From 7pm, the multipurpose hall will host live performances by home-grown bands of multiple genres - Ant-Men (classic hip-hop), Forests (emo and indie rock), Disco Hue (electro-pop) and Tomgirl (dark noir pop).

The party will go on with indie club event Poptart, which starts at 11pm and will have DJs weelikeme and KidG working the decks.

At the Aliwal carpark, electronic music will be in the spotlight from 5 to 9pm. In a one-hour collaborative set, electronic musician Kiat will play live electronic music integrated with the poetry of spoken word artist Deborah Emmanuel. Kiat, 42, whose real name is Jonathan Nah, says: "With electronic music, there is a lot of flexibility. It doesn't have to be like EDM (electronic dance music) or hip-hop. It is a tool for creativity and greater flexibility."

This kind of cross-cultural collaboration is something that the arts centre is keen to foster with the festival. With the No Regrets For Our Youth exhibition, for example, DXXXXD has linked up with personal trainer Cheryl Lin to conduct fitness classes using the equipment in the set-up. The two one-hour sessions - held today and on Feb 11 - are almost fully subscribed.

Ms Tan says: "We want different groups to cross-pollinate because that's how some of these subcultures originated - hip-hop music, dance and street art, for example. Some groups here can be quite insular, but we hope to foster new conversations between them."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 14, 2017, with the headline 'The dark side of fitness'. Print Edition | Subscribe