The Substation's 2016 programming

Independent arts centre will explore the themes of memories, history and nostalgia

Next year, The Substation will explore the broad theme of Memories, History and Nostalgia in its programming.

There will be a series of small, experimental exhibitions by artists, culminating in a major show presented in September or October.

Details of the artists will be announced later.

The centre will also include voices outside the arts community. Writers, historians, economists, geographers and engineers will be considered for six to eight new cross-disciplinary residencies.

The first residency starting in April has been awarded to an artist, Loo Zihan, 31. His work is part of the President's Young Talents 2015 Exhibition at SAM at 8Q.

These announcements were part of a press statement released by The Substation. It is the first time Alan Oei (left), 38, the new artistic director of the independent arts centre in Armenian Street, has spelt out his plans for the institution.

On the choice of next year's theme, Oei tells The Straits Times: "There is a certain loss of optimism about the future. I find that at a time when we are becoming more technologically advanced, we are dreaming or thinking even more of the past. The idea is to invite a range of people across art disciplines to reflect on this."

He has other plans for the space. The Substation operates in part by renting out its theatre, gallery and some studios to groups and individuals who want to use them.

He hopes to make the centre less reliant on rental to become a research and development space for artists.

He says that eventually "all the programmes we run will be our own".

Their budgets will be balanced via a leaner team and by pushing for more educational programmes participants pay to attend.

Oei says: "There has been nervousness that The Substation some artists know and love will change into something else. This is understandable since this is the one space where artists do have a legitimate claim and expectations of it."

He stressed that there will be a series of focus group discussions with the arts community to get a better understanding of the centre's role and its direction, in light of the many changes in Singapore's arts landscape.

The Substation was founded in 1990 by theatre doyen Kuo Pao Kun as a home for independent artists working in all disciplines. Since then, it has developed a reputation for edgy, indie exhibitions and performances, and for nurturing emerging artists.

The last artistic director was Noor Effendy Ibrahim, who stepped down after five years.

Nine months later, Oei was appointed. 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 executive director.

Singapore-based art lover and collector Vishrut Jain, 40, started visiting The Substation as a student when it opened more than two decades ago. He says in those days, "it had a truly multi-disciplinary and subversive feel".

He used to run poetry reading and performance jams sessions there.

"Others were doing music, dance, drama, visual arts - there were no boundaries.

"As long as you had the energy, you could use the space. There was no money in art then and no expectations of money - so it was all driven by passion and love."

He feels at a time when the art scene today is being driven by dollars and cents, a space such as The Substation has a key role to play.

"Local artists need such spaces to express their creative freedom free of commercial considerations.

"I love the space and I love Alan and I want both to succeed."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 11, 2015, with the headline 'The Substation's 2016 programming'. Print Edition | Subscribe