Barely a few hours into the opening weekend of The Mill's Destruction & Rebirth art initiative, the converted rice mill was, well, milling with visitors.
Several hundred people streamed in and out of the three-storey complex on Saturday as part of a three-weekend bash to bid the design hub goodbye before it is demolished and then rebuilt as a larger creative and design space. With a programme curated by art collectives WeJungle and Hyphen, The Mill was a riot of colour, activity and foot-tapping music in an otherwise sleepy and mostly industrial area along Bukit Merah Road.
Unfortunately, while the weekend saw a good turnout, some actual destruction of commissioned artworks took place, much to the disappointment and frustration of the organisers and artists.
Three artworks were severely damaged after a dance party on the premises on Saturday night, including vandalised photographs from Panagiotis Kotsidas and Miro Roman's An Urban Diptych, as well as a brickwork installation by Lai Chee Kien titled Double Cauldron, which was broken but has since been restored.
May Leong, a member of Hyphen, tells Life! that "we are currently discussing how to reinstate the art works". She was especially indignant at the damage done to Joseph Tan's light installation The Sublime - the student's first-ever art exhibition is now in shambles after what appears to have been the result of someone crashing through a partition.
WeJungle hopes to identify the culprits. The group posted on the event's Facebook page: "If anyone has any information regarding those responsible for the destruction of artist works please kindly let us know. This isn't cool at all, most of the works that were destroyed have been produced out of pocket and by non-profit organisations/people."
Artist Lai, 50, who is also a prominent architect and urban historian, said over e-mail that he "originally thought that the party-goers had gone too far in interpreting the theme of 'destruction' and interacting with the work". Among other things, The Mill's activities encouraged visitors to participate in creating art on the walls of the building.
Lai added: "But when I saw how badly another piece was vandalised or stolen, there was outrage. Firstly, (a) don't they have any respect for works by others? (b) perhaps the party should have been on the last day only, and not including the first."
Damage aside, participants and visitors Life! spoke to on Saturday afternoon enjoyed the laid-back, artsy vibe of the weekend's activities.
On the staircase leading up to the entrance of The Mill, a graffiti artist was carefully putting the finishing touches on an eyeball with a can of spray paint. To the left, volunteers from non-profit organisation One Singapore were encouraging visitors to get their hands dirty and help paint a brightly-coloured mural - they called it a Colour Rave and their tag line was "Paint Out Poverty".
One Singapore volunteer Claudia Powers, who was spattered with paint, explained how they are trying to make people more aware of the impact their actions have on the earth. The policy consultant from the United States pointed to where visitors had been writing down their resolutions for 2015 on post-it notes and sticking them onto a canvas. Some include "support local music" and "be a conscious consumer". She said with a laugh: "People have been really responsive, but they're not so keen on getting messy!"
Others were slightly more willing, it seems. Squirt As You Please! is painted enticingly on a grey door in big neon, drippy letters - which opens to reveal a toilet transformed into a neon Jackson Pollock-type canvas of chaotic colour. Sharing the same room, at the back of the building, is an exhibition that examines facets of homelessness.
Chris Zegras, 46, a visiting professor from the United States, brought his five-year-old daughter to The Mill because "the pop-up gallery concept sounded intriguing" set against Singapore's rapid urban transformation.
While his young daughter explored a makeshift shelter designed to shield the homeless from severe winter elements, Mr Zegras said of the event: "I like how it's a mix of contemporary art and also socially-conscious pieces like these. It's good for my daughter to be exposed to some culture."
Occupying the main annex on Saturday was the Singapore Really Really Free Market, where various goods, such as clothes and books, or services, like doodles and illustrations, are all available for free.
Student Jeanette Tan, 23, who visited the free market, says: "I actually didn't know the building was about to be demolished. I think it's a very good concept, but it's also quite sad that it's only when buildings are going to be shut down that we start to bring some hype to it."
The activities at The Mill seem to be part of an organic and ongoing trend to make use of Singapore's disappearing spaces before it is too late, riding on a wave of nostalgia for the country's receding physical heritage. Last September, for instance, artists took over Lavender Street mall Eminent Plaza for three weeks before it, too, was demolished.
As a tribute of sorts to The Mill, the dance collective Activated C Studio turned the building into their stage on Saturday afternoon, led by Hyphen's Leong playing haunting, come-hither melodies on the flute. She was a veritable pied piper as dozens of curious visitors followed the performers through the space, through entrances and exits and up staircases, where they danced, read from various texts and sang.
On Sunday (Feb 1), the Singapore Art Salon will take up residence at The Mill all day, featuring a variety of gigs, performance installations, a good spread of food and even a zentai performance by Japan-born artist Yuzuru Maeda and butoh dance blended with experimental music by France-born performer Syv Bruzeau.
Among a long list of activities taking place on Feb 7 and 8, non-profit organisation billionBRICKS will be hosting day-long workshops at The Mill, from bellydance classes to partner yoga. All proceeds from the classes, which start at $25, will go towards projects that work with homeless communities in South and South-east Asia. There will also be performance art pieces by artists Daniela Beltrani and, the weekend after, Jason Lim, as well as two cosy dinners by Chef Federico Pinzi on Valentine's Day.
Artist Lai says that "ironically enough", his brick and gambier installation was meant to remind audiences of the histories of the Jalan Bukit Merah and Alexandra area, where The Mill is located. There had been many brick kilns and former gambier plantations in the area in the past.
He says: "I really think audiences here really need to be more educated about how art pieces are regarded."
WeJungle and The Mill released a collective e-mail statement that said while the event was for everyone's enjoyment, "visitors to the space and exhibition need to respect the art and artists, acts of vandalism are not acceptable.
"The art works should remain in their original state for continuous enjoyment for all. Act and party responsibly".
Follow Corrie Tan on Twitter @CorrieTan
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