Old Bukit Merah rice mill hosts pre-demolition bash

Artists and the public are free to draw on the walls at the farewell party for the former mill before it is demolished in May

Singer-songwriter BittyMacbeth will perform funk and soul tunes tomorrow at The Mill. -- PHOTO: BITTYMACBETH FACEBOOK PAGE
Singer-songwriter BittyMacbeth will perform funk and soul tunes tomorrow at The Mill. -- PHOTO: BITTYMACBETH FACEBOOK PAGE
Curators and organisers of Destruction & Rebirth include (from left) The Mill’s Low Shu Min, 28, Gabrielle Chia, 23, Spencer Chan, 31, Vedika Saxena, 25, and May Leong, 33. -- PHOTO: DIOS VINCOY JR FOR THE STRAITS TIMES
Art (above) by graffiti collective RSCLS on the exterior of The Mill in Jalan Kilang. -- ST PHOTO: NABILAH SAID

A building in Bukit Merah industrial estate is set to become an unlikely party venue.

For three weekends from tomorrow, The Mill, a three- storey former rice mill that now houses a cluster of creative firms, will be transformed into a playground for more than 60 artists and collectives from various genres before the building is demolished in May.

Visitors can view art installations, listen to live music and take part in workshops, among other activities. They can also treat the walls as a blank canvas and doodle as they wish.

The farewell bash, which runs till Feb 14, takes place on the first floor and outdoor areas of The Mill in Jalan Kilang, which means "factory street" in Malay.

The event is free, save for some ticketed workshops. Food and drinks will be sold by partners such as eatery Arbite and juice bar A Juicery.

Programmes for the event's opening tomorrow will feature Colour Rave, a charity event where visitors get to play with coloured powders; a bazaar, Singapore Really Really Free Market, featuring free goods and services such as clothes and hongbao personalisation; music performances by singer-songwriters curated by music collective The Diarists; and a dance party that will see the annex of The Mill turned into a dance club complete with smoke machines and strobe lighting.

Aptly titled Destruction & Rebirth, the shindig is a send-off to the 54-year- old building before it makes way for a larger collaborative working space, described by The Mill's group marketing manager Low Shu Min as "a cross- disciplinary production hub for artists, creatives and artisans to meet and collaborate with one another".

It will retain its name and remain under the helm of The Mill group founder and interior designer Roy Teo, who owns four of the interior design firms in the building.

The Mill currently houses six creative companies, such as interior design firm The I.D. Department and Kri:eit Associates.

Two tenants have already moved out and the others will soon follow suit.

Work on the new building will take about 11/2 years to complete.

On the idea of a farewell party, Ms Low says: "We were knee-deep in the redevelopment plans for the new Mill in June last year and really wanted to capture the unique spirit of The Mill."

Describing the building as "iconic", she adds that the team "wanted to create something amazing as a homage".

The idea of a "demolition art initiative" was born and they roped in as curators art collectives WeJungle and Hyphen, who in turn brought in artists to give the old building a creative treatment as they deem fit.

When Life!Weekend visited the building last Saturday, the scene gave a new spin to the term "industrial chic".

Entire walls had been hacked, rubble left on the floor and artists were wielding hammers as well as paintbrushes.

Outside, the building's walls had been tagged by graffiti artists RSCLS and Ceno2, distinguishing it from the factories and warehouses nearby.

The event is funded by a National Arts Council grant of about $15,000, and is also sponsored by paint manufacturer Dulux, furniture company Schiavello and paper supplier Mukim Fine Papers for some of the art materials and furniture.

WeJungle member Spencer Chan, 31, says he jumped at the chance to be involved in the project, which allowed him to tear down walls and use any spare materials lying around the space, such as disused doors, glass and even toilet bowls.

"It's a rare opportunity that venue owners give you a space and lots of freedom to run the project however you want," he says.

Adds May Leong, 33, a member of Hyphen: "The main theme is inclusivity - the artists are not restricted by anything and are free to create. The public, too, won't need to follow any rules unlike at certain exhibitions people go to."

The artists will be bidding farewell to the building in their own ways, from a blues performance by artist Lee Wen to an installation made of bricks by architectural historian Lai Chee Kien, a nod to the industrial roots of the surrounding area.

It is not the first time artists are coming together to unleash their creative forces on a space before it is torn down.

In September last year, Eminent Plaza - a mall in Lavender Street which counts massage parlours, spas and property development offices as tenants - was taken over by artists for three weeks before it was demolished.

For these artists, the setting serves as inspiration, especially since opportunities to doodle on walls of commercial buildings or take over spaces do not come very often.

One such artist taking part in Destruction & Rebirth is 17-year-old School of the Arts student Ryan Lee, who has created two video installations that will be projected onto unusual spaces such as ceilings.

"It's a very unconventional space to put art in, compared to the white cube spaces of a gallery," he says. "It's cool to see curators banging down walls and throwing things around. It's very do-it-yourself."

With that D-I-Y spirit and a vibe of organised chaos, the curators say even they do not know what The Mill will look like at the end of the three weeks.

Members of the public and other artists are free to join in the fun by drawing on walls and interacting with some of the works.

"That's the exciting bit. We want to see how much we and the building will evolve. That was the intention from the start," says Ms Leong.


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