drucken Bookmark and Share

by Woon Tien Wei

Still Here Somehow: Artists and Cultural Activism in Singapore's Renaissance

Drawing from my experience as an artist/curator based in Singapore, I have observed that some artists (including myself) have devoted a lot of time to organising and curating exhibitions or art administration and art writing. These “extra activities” in which the artists engage have created opportunities and situations which would not have come about unless the artists “volunteered”/”sacrificed” their art-making time.

I need to clarify that these “extra activities” are not unique to Singapore’s art scene but are a common practice in art scenes around the world. This journal focuses on these “extra activities” within the cultural context of Singapore’s Renaissance. I consider these kinds of “extra activities” a form of cultural activism, as these activities are responding to the need to create an environment conducive for art and towards the creation of a flourishing art scene.

Also, I need to highlight that activism is discouraged and its actions limited due to the historical context where the People's Action Party (PAP) government progressively reduced the power of civil society initiatives since the 1960s.[i] Within this context, the art scene subjected to the same historical process rarely participates in “activism” circles, and the form of cultural activism is not subjected to the same language and methodologies often used in civil society movements. Instead, I am looking at more nuanced and subtle forms that emerged from the art scene that can be conceived as cultural activism in relation to the development of the art scene in Singapore.

In this essay, I defined cultural activism in Singapore as the art community taking action within the field of art and culture where such actions are not seen as subversive but constitute a form of ground-up, community-led cultural development. For these artists, these cultural activist motivations give a unique character to their practice, and for some artists, they have been strategically worked into their artwork.

Renaissancing Singapore
From 2000, Singapore underwent a period of rapid cultural development and liberalisation introduced through new cultural and social policies by the Singapore government. The Renaissance City Master Plan most clearly articulates the government’s commitment to this change and how it was motivated by Singapore’s move towards a knowledge-based economy.[ii]

The “Renaissancing” of Singapore has transformed the cultural landscape significantly. This process transformed the image of the city, with the emergence of world-class performance venues and museums altering the city's skyline. The public has more options and opportunities to access arts and cultural events due to the increasing number of art festivals and art venues. There are more opportunities made available for arts practitioners in the areas of funding and spaces. With “more” of everything cultural, the government through its various agencies and statutory boards has become more entrenched in the development of the arts. The middle management of these agencies and statutory boards has become influential in determining and envisioning the role of arts here.[iii]

At the same time, the Singapore government implemented a series of liberalisations in the form of casinos, bar-top dancing and later opening hours of clubs and pubs. They liberalised political spaces through the creation of Speaker’s Corner.[iv] However, the embracing of the cultural and the liberalisation process have been criticised as merely “gestural,” as the government remains cautious of “disruptive” works, and continues to exercise control over the outcome of artworks and programmes through various methods, including registration, funding, licensing and censorship (Lee, 2005, 2007; Ooi, 2010). Hence, this government-led cultural development envisioning a vibrant global city of the arts seems to define and limit art’s role as market-driven, decorative and non-disruptive.[v]


Community-led Cultural Development as a Cultural activism / Side-lining the Cultural Activist within Fine Art
The arts community is a loose group of people who belong to the group by virtue of their profession and interest. However, within this group, there are many views which each person holds dearly, and when the Singapore government decides to push for certain policies, there will be artists who will agree and converge as well as those who will disagree and resist. At times, members of the arts community may engage through initiating community-led cultural development projects to develop arts and culture based on their resources and managed independently of the government.

In this way, community-led cultural developments provide an alternative vision to the government-led cultural development, and hence, I defined these community-led efforts as a form of cultural activism within the Singapore context.

Despite more of the “arts” with Singapore’s Renaissance, the government-led development tends to privilege art that produces a spectacle, plugged into the global art network and non-disruptive in nature. Under such circumstances, projects with a dimension of cultural activism that are often community-led with fewer resources are easily overshadowed and sidelined by the spectacular and international art projects.

Through analysing the following case studies of community-led development projects here, one can understand the different motivations that shape their cultural activism. The studies further address questions concerning the significance of their cultural activism and their role in complementing or contesting Singapore's Renaissance.

Koh Nguang How and His Archive
Koh Nguang How is an artist who holds a unique and important position in the art scene in Singapore. He started his artistic practice in the late 1980s with The Artists Village and by being part of the burgeoning contemporary art scene; he started to document the performances and art events by The Artists Village and his peers. Over the years, his documentation and collection of materials have broadened to include art in the 1930s to early 2000s. Koh's collecting and documenting has resulted in a huge comprehensive archive of materials on Singapore art. Since the formal institutions of Singapore have not been consistently building an archive of art, Koh's collection has become more rare and precious.

Koh’s art archive can be regarded as a form of cultural activism; he has managed with meagre resources to build a collection in his HDB flat[vi] that is more comprehensive than any art institutions in Singapore. I have chosen to discuss Koh’s practice because his practice embodies the motivation of cultural activism. This is seen in his activity in maintaining his collection of art-related documents, motivated by the fact that he felt no one was doing it and that these documents needed to be “saved” from disappearing. Gradually, Koh’s art archive became a central resource and integral to his art practice, or one can also say that this archive begins to envelop his practice. His art practice consists of working in the multiple roles of researcher, curator, and artist, which includes the activities of collecting and documenting art-related development.[vii]

Singapore’s Renaissance may have brought about an increase in art infrastructure and institutions with the arts getting more support since the 1990s.[viii] How do the art institutions like the museums view community-led initiatives like Koh’s art archive, which were developed before the Renaissancing of Singapore?

His collection and wealth of knowledge on Singapore art are valuable, as proven by the art institutions who regularly engage Koh to be an advisor and to loan his collection. Koh has also revealed that art institutions have previously approached him with an interest in purchasing his collection, but they were “insincere,” and the transaction never happened. In 2008, Koh was engaged by the National Museum of Singapore as a researcher to provide research materials and photographs for “Documenta 50 Years”[ix] while several Singapore artists were commissioned to produce artworks. He commented that the museum did not consider him an artist as they did not commission an artwork by him and that perhaps his “art” did not look like sculpture or painting.[x] From his CV, it is evident that he has more often been engaged to play the role of a researcher than that of an artist.

Koh's role as a researcher who collects and an artist who creates are often seen as two separate practices. This view should be challenged, as I argue that it is the cultural activist in Koh who started the collection process, and as it developed, he had to merge it into his practice strategically, and it is the combination of the two that makes his practice unique. Since the archive and his art are one and the same, the conjuring of the materials from his archive for research or artistic commissions is essential for the legitimisation of “being an artist” in Singapore and for maintaining the visibility of the collection.

At the point of writing, Koh has received more recognition as an artist than when I first started studying his work in the early 2000s. In the following, I will highlight Errata (2004–2005) and When Photographs Become Drawing (2009) and discuss how these two works reflect his artistic strategies in Singapore’s Renaissance.


Errata
Koh was invited as a resident researcher for the independent curatorial team at p-10's inaugural residency programme[xi] in February 2004. Through this, Koh was invited to bring a part of his archive to p-10's space to share with the curatorial team. The objective was to find a way to frame Koh's extensive research and create an exhibition to give more visibility to his work and his collection.

This resulted in the production of the Errata, and the project was exhibited in p-10's project space at 10 Perumal Road (16 September to 14 October 2004). Subsequently, it was exhibited at the Central Library of the National University of Singapore (2 to 16 March 2005),[xii] and in the then-Singapore History Museum (15 August to 25 September 2005).

Errata was a joint effort where Koh was the researcher and p-10 the curators. The full title of the project—Errata: Page 71, Plate 47. Image caption. Change Year: 1950 to Year: 1959; Reported September 2004 by Koh Nguang How (Errata)—states the exact location of the error Koh spotted in the book Channels & Confluences: A History of Singapore Art written by Kwok Kian Chow and published by the National Heritage Board/Singapore Art Museum in 1996 (Kwok 1996). This book is very important as it is the only significant scholarly book published on Singapore art history. Koh spotted that a painting by Chua Mia Tee was incorrectly captioned as having been painted in 1950 instead of 1959 as he believed. The project framed that an errata should be made to change the 0 to a 9. By changing the number in the year, the project “recovered nine years in the history of art in Singapore,” and in doing so, would unfold or even re-order Singapore's art history.

In the following paragraphs, I will proceed with the brief walk-through of the project to provide an understanding of the installation and the other activities held in conjunction with the exhibition. I will also highlight some of the concepts and issues covered in the project.[xiii]

Upon entering the exhibition space, the visitor saw shelves filled with books and documents, video monitors, tables, chairs, a black board, and a metal cabinet. The visitor was greeted by the gallery sitter and handed a pair of gloves, a pencil, and a clipboard with an exhibition worksheet, and a flyer containing basic information on the project was printed in the four official languages of Singapore: English, Mandarin, Malay, and Tamil. The visitor was also given a worksheet that was an interactive element allowing the visitor to perform their own research work with the materials in the exhibition. The entire project consisted of 269 artefacts—all of which pertained to the error found in the book Channels & Confluences: A History of Singapore Art. The artefacts ranged from publications, photographs, paintings, and woodcuts, which were either from the 1950s–1960s or contained references to the period. Koh had marked out pages in the books with Post-it notes. Some of these would have some comments he had written while doing his research. As the visitors explored the collection, Koh's notes connected with them and offered insight into his research methodology.

In addition to the Errata collection, a series of artworks by artist Koeh Sia Yong[xiv] was exhibited. Koeh’s artworks are fine examples of works done in the Social Realist style, a style that is often affiliated with the Equator Art Society. The artworks that were shown in the exhibition were paintings, and the woodcut prints were made during the 1950s and 1960s. The paintings were Portrait of Indian Man (1966)[xv], Cannot Grow Vegetables Anymore! (1966), Studying (1966), and Indian Balloons Seller (1961), and the woodcut prints were Scene of Bukit Ho Swee Fire (1961), Extortion (1957), and Flood at Potong Pasir (1957). This was a rare opportunity to view the actual works instead of seeing them only in books; in fact, some of these works had never been exhibited since they had been made.

In addition to the exhibition component, there were guided tours, and an education pack for teachers was also released during the first exhibition at p-10. With the education pack, teachers were provided with additional background information and context of the exhibition, thus allowing them to conduct a tour of the exhibition themselves with their students. A series of workshops and talks accompanied the exhibition as part of the project.


The Artist-Researcher
Errata was well received by both critics and the public in all three sites where it was exhibited. Singapore curator Eugene Tan saw Errata as a “challenge to the unquestioned status of institutions.” Through the questioning of the error in a book authored by Kwok Kian Chow, the then-director of government-run SAM, the project challenged the accuracy and objectivity of Kwok's government-sanctioned account of art history in Singapore by highlighting its omission of an art movement that was thought to have Marxist links.[xvi] Although it is correct that Errata challenged the dominant account of art history by the Singapore Art Museum, the project also aimed to dispel the myth of the Equator Art Society's “Marxist links.” Curator Storer said Errata was a “selection from Koh's comprehensive archive that formed a critical narrative of Singapore art history and its institutional representation.”[xvii]

Errata was a complex project. It dealt with the history of art in Singapore and how art history was implicated in the social and political struggles in Singapore's history. Some historians like Hong Lysa and Huang Jianli have produced work which has aimed at critiquing the problem of this dominant narrative of Singapore history, and other political detainees have also begun publishing their memoirs to tell their side of the story.[xviii] Hence, there is a revisionist movement that is taking place in other fields, and Errata could also be seen as one of the first few within this movement in the cultural field.

The Errata project highlights the value of the artist-researcher role, which is very relevant in the cultural context in Singapore. As discussed previously, the government-led development in Singapore’s Renaissance tends to privilege art that produces a spectacle that is plugged into the global art network and is non-disruptive.

Within this context, the environment is not conducive for the areas of research, art history, art criticism, or contentious topics. Without them, art remains decorative, and artworks merely objects of cultural consumption in the newly envisioned Singapore Renaissance. Hence, the activist-artist-researcher can potentially engage this crisis, and Errata showed the potential of such work.

One of the more memorable and meaningful experiences of Errata is how the project engaged with the troubled reputation of the Equator Art Society in art history. According to Kwok, the society was associated with the Social Realist Movement in Singapore during the 1950s. According to Koh's research, some members of this society were arrested under the Internal Security Act for communist activities,[xix] and at that time, some art societies were suspected to be fronts for communist activities. Communists and Marxists were “villainised” by the Singapore government, and all associations, real or imagined, were seen as a threat to national security.[xx] Hence, the arrest of the society's members probably fuelled the rumours of the society having “Marxist links.” With such allegations, it is not a surprise to find so little information available about this art society. The surviving members, including Chua Mia Tee, the artist whose painting was wrongly dated in Kwok's book and became the “inspiration” for Errata, would not speak publicly about their experiences with the society or their involvement with it. Although the Equator Art Society did have activist/political intentions, they deny any allegations or links with the Communists or Marxists, but the society suffered repression as though it did, with very real personal consequences for its members. This is reflective of the climate of fear which resulted in Singaporeans becoming disengaged with politics.[xxi] Also, some laws are vague and open-ended, creating “self-censorship” in the arts,[xxii] Chua and other artists from the Equator Art Society have chosen to remain apathetic to the group's position in art history. In this way, art through this silence and absence of “politics” and “social” context became depoliticised.

Due to its possible links with the political struggle between the Communists and PAP for Singapore, the Equator Art Society was a sensitive topic that was avoided and hidden. With Errata, a space for the discussion on the society was created, and Koh managed to convince Koeh, who was the last president of Equator Art Society, to “come out” and share his archive relevant to the art society. It was not easy to do so, as the climate of fear was very real. In addition, it was rare for artists of different generations to mix, and due to many of the older artists being Chinese-speaking, there was also a language barrier. It was Koh's dedication and sincerity that allowed him to develop a rapport with Koeh and other members of the older generation of Singapore artists, eventually convincing them to share the “sensitive” materials.

Errata was, therefore, a groundbreaking project, as contemporary art in Singapore rarely referred to its own history or admitted any influence from earlier Singaporean artists, and the art of the past has not been used as material in contemporary art.

Koh and p-10 felt that it was important to discover this missing chapter in our art history and the roles the artists in the Equator Art Society played in it. This was done through the Errata exhibition that showed a more complete collection of the society's materials, which included films, photographs, and exhibition catalogues. In addition, there were workshops and talks with Koeh.[xxiii] The talk was attended by several previous members of Equator Art Society, including Chua Mia Tee. It is important to note that this was the first time that a talk about the Equator Art Society was made in public since the society was disbanded in 1972.[xxiv]

Through Errata, we found that the society was an active group of young artists who had strong beliefs about how art should reflect life. At the peak of the society’s history, it had 800 members and was divided into different wings: art, theatre, and literature. This new information revealed an art society with a multidisciplinary and multicultural outlook, and hence, a very interesting and different dimension of art in Singapore art history. As a result of their re-emergence through Errata, Equator Art Society members have started to be included in public talks at SAM, and SAM became more open to exhibiting the artworks made during that period. In addition, Chua's painting, The National Language Class (1959), the “inspiration” for Errata became an inspiration and title for a play by Singapore theatre group Spell #7 in 2006 (Spell #7 2006). The visibility created by Errata for the Equator Art Society has debunked the myths of it being motivated by extreme politics, and has given Equator Art Society a significant place in art history. In this way, Errata is important to the discourse on art history.

Errata provided the strategy in exhibition-making and art-making for Koh, who was often seen to be performing two separate roles, both as researcher and art-maker. With Errata, Koh's two roles were merged, and he was seen as an “artist-researcher.”[xxv] Koh's practice of collecting and archiving art-related materials, the cultural activism aspect, was often sidelined and not considered as part of art-making. Errata brought Koh's activist work to the central focus of the exhibition, and as a result, the “cause” in the form of his archive became visible. Therefore, Errata created an interstice which allowed the archive’s “cause” to take form through the exhibition. The exhibition became a site for distribution and dissemination, where the archive’s “cause” was easily consumed as a cultural object while potentially engaging the issues of Singapore's art history. This was realised through engaging with Equator Art Society and questioning the representation of it in the main narrative of Singapore’s art history. In another way, Errata was an art project that was informed by cultural activism. It highlighted the “artist-researcher” as a cultural activist, framed the “cause” room in p-10's project space. According to Koh, Errata allowed him to exhibit and share many of the historical materials on Singaporean art. SAAP@p-10 was an archiving project that was a continuation of his work on documentation and archiving on Singaporean art. “Both projects helped in sorting out part of my collections; at the same time, dealt with issues concerning storage, data-entry and basic archiving practices.”[xxvi]


When Photographs Become Drawings
Errata showed Koh as an “artist-researcher” and framed his activity and collection in an exhibition context. Since then, Koh has continued to develop this position in his practice and has created Singapore Art Archive Project (SAAP) which formed the archive.

When Photographs Become Drawing is an artwork made by Koh in 2009 for a group exhibition entitled Drawing as Form (2009), organised by TAV at Sculpture Square.[xxvii] This work is different from Errata in a several ways. One, Koh was the sole author of this work. Second, it was an artwork exhibited in a group exhibition. Third, it showed the methodology in Koh's art-making. I have chosen to highlight this work because it articulated Koh's position as an artist-researcher vis-à-vis the artist/cultural activist and showed a different strategy in engaging the issue of the “archive.”

When Photographs Become Drawing is a mixed media work. It comprises of one customised clipboard with a collage of photographs and four frames containing photographs, each with a corresponding clipboard with captions for every photograph in the frame. The work is an interpretation of Koh's “artist-researcher” work on a computer desktop. The customised clipboard alludes to the computer clipboard where he has cut and pasted materials from his other folders, represented by the four frames of photographs. The clipboard below these frames is “file-info” for each of the images. Therefore, the work is a “print screen” or a “snapshot” of his work process. The photographs consist of Koh's photographs which were taken from the 1980s through to 2009 and are arranged in a grid. The photos in these frames, which included documentation of The Artists Village, places, interesting “things,” and his personal life, concludes with an image of his father's death certificate, all organised into a form of narrative.

Also, Koh shared with me that he has maintained the practice of being physically present in all of his exhibitions. For the exhibition of this work, he was at the exhibition venue every day. Although his presence was not necessary for the work, it was his usual practice, and if anyone was interested in the content (photographs), he could elaborate more on its context and the story behind it.[xxviii]

For this work, Koh has “sampled” the archive, as the photographs were assimilated into the artwork and sequenced towards some form of narrative. The customised clipboard showed the process of mixing and cutting up the archive. Through this, he showed what Bourriaud would call “postproduction” in art, where artists manipulate the original materials for the creation of their work.[xxix] Postproduction challenges the idea of originality and authorship, but Bourriaud argues that this was not a phenomenon only in art. It can be traced to the field of music where DJs would sample and mix songs and from this create their own music. Hence, Koh through an archive sampling and mixing has made an artwork.[xxx]

Koh's work can be regarded as archival in art, which is often seen in many artists' work. An example of this would be in the work of Art & Language's Indexes series. With its first project, Index 01 (1972),[xxxi] the group was in its most self-reflexive period, and the work showed how the group functioned. This work was housed in filing cabinets that resembled library card catalogues, and contained within the cabinets were a series of propositions, drawn from the Art-Language Journal and other sources, together with wall diagrams showing how the propositions connected. The artwork (cabinet with the archive) was made for the exhibition. The work could be understood as a sculptural object, but it also had functionality and documentary qualities.[xxxii]

The title of Koh's work referred to the exhibition title Drawing as Form, which referenced The Drawing Show (1989) organised by The Artists Village in Ulu Sembawang. The exhibition's main objective was to show different possibilities of “drawing,” or the act of “drawing.” The show highlighted drawings as a fundamental process of art-making. Koh's title When Photographs Become Drawing was a statement that affirmed his practice as an “artist-researcher.” The work presented a “snapshot” of his work process and framed it as a “drawing.” Since the premise of the exhibition suggested that drawing was a fundamental process in realising an artwork, Koh's work showed a moment in pre-production and suggested the eventuality of the artwork. This was also further reflected in the work as he used the photographs, i.e, content from his archive, as “raw materials” to create this work. The content of the photographs did not serve primarily as a narrative but supported the statement that it was “drawing.” This showed a shift in Koh's practice and his methodology of art-making. Therefore, the “When” in the title proposes that, with this work, Koh shows a more defined and resolved position of an “artist-researcher” than in Errata.

Art critic Hal Foster Art has observed that art that invokes the archive often shows certain characteristics.[xxxiii] The archive in art often sees the retrieval of the archive as a gesture of alternative knowledge or counter-memory. It often shows the artist seeking to make historical information, which has been lost or displaced, physically present and calling out to the audience to interpret the archive. In this regard, archival art is often drawn

to unfulfilled beginnings, or incomplete projects in art and history and potentially offers points of departure again. The archive in art tends to have a utopian ambition to recoup failed visions in art, literature, philosophy, and everyday life into possible scenarios of alternative kinds of social relations, to transform the no-place of the archive into the no-place of a utopia.

While this work showed Koh's resolve in art-making, I would suggest that his archive, although submerged as the artwork, was still present. This was seen with Koh's physical presence in the exhibition, which offered an entry point into the archive, an option he felt was necessary to provide a context to the content in the frames.[xxxiv] His presence helped create an opportunity to engage in a dialogue about the archive and enhanced the visibility of the archive. The cultural activist dimension of the work in the form of the archive was activated on demand with his presence. From these observations, it shows that Koh's cultural activist motivation was still present but packaged into a cultural object as an artwork. In this sense, the archive's utopian ambition to recoup failed visions in art was still there. Like Index 01, When Photographs Become Drawing was exhibited as an artwork while being functional (as storage of the archive) and documentary (recording the archive).

In Singapore's cultural context, where artworks and exhibitions are privileged in art history, Koh's strategy of using the archive to create artworks while being able to invoke the archive through his artwork is a relevant strategy to make the archive more visible and heighten the chances of its survival.

Conclusion
As the Singapore government continues to develop the arts, we see an increase of exhibition spaces and exhibitions. However, there has not been enough emphasis on the development of the discipline of art criticism and art history. Hence, there remains a lack of knowledge to appreciate the arts. In this environment, it seems that the artist's role is reduced to merely produce artworks that can fill up the exhibition spaces and be consumed as “decoration.”

Meanwhile, artists like Koh Nguang How, although recognised for his contributions to Singaporean art, have their cultural activism work side-lined in the pre-occupation with producing exhibitions. The sidelining of his motivations behind cultural activism result in his practice and artworks, which are both practical and potentially critical in a valuable way, being devalued.

Koh Nguang How's cultural activism motivated his forming of an archive that contains art-related materials that are rare or already lost to the public. I showed how he developed the strategy of “artist-researcher” to utilise the “archive” in his artworks. By interrogating his private art archive, Koh questions the state of the Singapore government's art archive and creates opportunities for others to learn about the contents of his activities. He has thus given his archive visibility and enabled it to remain relevant and to establish the important practice of researcher-artist.

In this essay, I have tried to show how, despite the cultural developments led by the Singapore government, artists have initiated their own cultural developments. These motivations led to what I term cultural activism, which I argue creates an added dimension in the art practices of Koh and others at some point in their artistic careers.

Often, their cultural activism is seen as separate from their artistic endeavours. This view is both limiting and downplays the significance of their work, regarding both the aesthetic value and the possible social contribution to cultural development in Singapore. Through highlighting their work, I hope I have provided a framework to understand their art practices and artworks by considering their cultural activism as an integral quality that is reflected in aesthetic considerations in their strategies of artistic production.

By discussing their work, I have shown that their work offers an important interpretation of Singapore’s Renaissance, which may be subsumed within government-led art development. I argue that it should not be seen as contested visions of Singapore’s Renaissance, but the policy makers should be reflexive and expand the support to these kind of practices. This will enable a more diverse vision of Singapore's Renaissance.

Woon Tien Wei is an artist/curator based in Singapore. His work focuses on cultural policies, collectivity in art, social movements, community engagement, land contestation, urban legends and social movements. In his practice, he works with independent cultural and social space, Post-Museum. In addition to Post-Museum's events and projects, they also curate, research and collaborate with a network of social actors and cultural workers. With Post-Museum, Woon worked on Bukit Brown Index (2014-), an ongoing project which indexes the land contestation case of Bukit Brown Cemetery. He lectures part-time at Lasalle College of the Arts in the Faculty of Fine Arts. Woon received his Doctorate in Creative Art in the Arts from Curtin University of Technology, Perth.

Post-Museum is an independent cultural and social space in Singapore which aims to encourage and support a thinking and pro-active community. It is an open platform for examining contemporary life, promoting the arts and connecting people. In addition to their events and projects, they also curate, research and collaborate with a network of social actors and cultural workers.

For Bukit Brown Index (2014-) is an ongoing project which indexes the case of Bukit Brown Cemetery. The struggle to conserve Bukit Brown is not read as a sentimental conservation but a struggle over Singapore’s Soul. Part of a worldwide movement, part social experiment, Post-Musem’s Really Really Free Market (2009-) form a temporary ‘free’ market zone based on alternative gift economy. The project creates a temporal physical manifestation of a microutopia where the fundamental economic structure is altered with a structured that value acts of ‘giving, sharing and caring heart’.

Currently operating nomadically, they continue to organise and host various events and activities in different spaces.

Notes
i
Chua, Beng-Huat, Commnuitarian Ideology and Democracy in Singapore, Routledge, New York, 1995, p. 19; Tamney, Joseph B., The Struggle over Singapore's Soul: Western Modernization and Asian Culture, Walter De Gruyter, Berlin, New York, 1995, pp. 58-63.

ii MICA (Ministry of Information Communications and the Arts), Renaissance City Plan Iii, MICA, Singapore, 2008; MITA (Ministry of Information and the Arts), Renaissance City Report: Culture and the Arts in Renaissance Singapore, Vol. 2006, Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts, Singapore, 2000.

iii Chong, Terence, "Bureaucratic Imaginations in the Global City: Arts and Culture in Singapore," in Cultural Policies in East Asia: Dynamics between the State, Arts and Creative Industries, Hye-Kyung Lee and Lorraine Lim, eds, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, UK, 2014, pp. 17-34.

iv Speaker's Corner is fashioned after Speaker's Corner in Hyde Park, London. Although Singaporeans are required to submit the identity details to the Police stationed there, political expression is allowed here and no licence is required; non-Singaporeans are not allowed to speak there.

v Chua, Beng-Huat, "Culture and the Arts: Intrusion in Political Space," in Social Policy in Post-Industrial Singapore, Kwen Fee Lian and Chee-Kiong Tong, eds., Leiden, Boston, 2008, pp. 225-45; Kong, Lily, "Cultural Policy in Singapore: Negotiating Economic and Socio-Cultural Agendas," Geoforum 31 (2000): 409-24.

vi About 80% of Singapore’s population reside in high-rise HDB (Housing Development Board) flats located in housing estates and new towns. These flats are mostly owned by the residents under a home ownership scheme which allows Singaporeans to use their Central Provident Funds, a social security fund to purchase these homes (Kong and Yeoh 2003; Singapore 2010). Almost the whole of Koh's flat is currently occupied by his collection.

vii Koh, N.H, Personal Communication, October 22, 2010.

viii Art vs art: conflict & convergence 1995. Art vs art: conflict & convergence

Singapore The Substation. what is this?

ix Archive in Motion: 50 years documenta 1955–2005 was a travelling show presented by the Goethe Institute that took place at the National Museum of Singapore. The museum responded to documenta's archive by creating Picturing Singapore 1955–2005: An Archival Perspective, which brought to life the corresponding developments in Singapore’s arts scene. Koh was commissioned as a researcher to produce a corresponding Singapore timeline (Tale of Two Histories 2007).

x Koh, N.H, Personal Communication, October 22, 2010.

xi p-10 was an independent curatorial team based in Singapore from 2004–2008. Its focus was on the development of artwork and areas surrounding the practice of art. I was the co-founder of this curatorial collective and it was my first foray into curatorial practice. As part of p-10, I began to include curatorial work as part of my practice. The other members were Cheong Kah Kit, Lee SzeChin, Lim Kok Boon, and Jennifer Teo.

xii This version of Errata was titled Errata at NUS (2005). It was a collaboration with the University Scholars’ Programme, National University of Singapore (NUS) and was initiated by three NUS students (Seng Yujin, Ong Zhenmin, and Wang Zineng) who visited the first exhibition in p-10's project space.

xiii For a more detailed explanation of Errata, see the Errata catalogue where I wrote a curatorial essay and compiled the documentation.

xiv Koeh Sia Yong was the last President of the Equator Art Society before the society de-registered.

xv This painting was shown at the first and second exhibitions.

xvi Tan, Chong Kee, "The Canary and the Crow: Sintercom and the State Tolerability Index," in Renaissance Singapore? Economy, Culture, and Politics, Kenneth Paul Tan, ed., NUS Press, Singapore, 2007, pp. 159-84.

xvii Storer, Russell, "Making Space: Historical Contexts of Contemporary Art in Singapore," in Contemporary Art in Singapore, Russell Storer, Eugene Tan, and Gunalan Nadarajan, eds., Institute of Contemporary Arts Singapore, Singapore, 2007, pp. 9-18.

xviii Hong, Lysa, and Jianli Huang, The Scripting of a National History: Singapore and Its Past, NUS Press, Singapore, 2008; Tan, Jing Quee, and K.S. Jomo, eds. Comet in Our Sky: Lim Chin Siong in History, Select, Singapore, 2002; Zahari, Said, The Long Nightmare: My 17 Years as a Political Prisoner, Utusan Publications, Kuala Lumpur, 2007.

xix During the 1960s, under Operation Cold Store, the Internal Security Department arrested a number of people suspected of being communists (nevets432 2006).

xx Wee, C. J, W.-L., The Asian Modern: Culture, Capitalist Development, Singapore, NUS Press, Singapore, 2007.

xxi Chua, Beng-Huat, Commnuitarian Ideology and Democracy in Singapore.

xxii Lee, Terence, "Towards a “New Equilibrium”: The Economics and Politics of the Creative Industries in Singapore," Copenhagen Journal of Asian Studies 24, no. 1 (2007): 55-71; See, Martyn, "A Climate of Self-Censorship," Asian Human Rights Defender Vol. 5, No. 3 (December 2009): 34-39.

xxiii The talks were conducted in three venues: p-10's space, Central Library in NUS, and the Singapore History Museum where Errata was exhibited.

xxiv Kwok, Kian Chow, Channels & Confluences : A History of Singapore Art, Singapore Art Museum, Singapore, 1996; Yeo, Alicia Kay Ling, "Equator Art Society," National Library Board, http://infopedia.nl.sg/articles/SIP_1253_2006-11-30.html.

xxv Storer, Russell, "Making Space: Historical Contexts of Contemporary Art in Singapore."

xxvi Koh. N.H, Personal Communication, October 22, 2010.

xxvii Drawing as Form took place from 12–28 August 2009. For more on this show, see

http://www.tav.sg/index.php?/project/drawing-as-form and a review by Mayo Martin

http://blogs.todayonline.com/forartssake/2009/08/12/artists-draw-crowds.

xxviii Koh. N.H, Personal Communication, October 22, 2010.

xxix Bourriaud, Nicolas, Postproduction, trans. Jeanine Herman, Lukas & Sternberg, New York, 2002.

xxx This use of the archive is different from those of Errata where the archive retains its function as research and reading materials.

xxxi This work is sometimes referred to as the “Documenta Index” after its first exhibition in documenta 5 in Kassel, Germany.

xxxii Gilbert, Chris, "Art & Language and the Institutional Form in Anglo-American Collectivism," in Collectivism after Modernism: The Art of Social Imagination after 1945, Blake Stimson and Gregory Sholette, eds., University of Minneapolis Press, Minneapolis, 2007, pp. 83-86.

xxxiii Foster, Hal, "An Archival Impulse," October Vol. 110 (Autumn, 2004): 3-22.

xxxiv Koh 's later work, Artists in the News (2011), presented at the Singapore Biennale 2011, showed his archive of Singapore newspapers from which he highlighted media coverage of contemporary Singaporean artists in different periods in time. In this work, his presence as an archivist is part of the artwork, while for When Photographs Become Drawing, Koh stated that his presence was not part of the artwork (Koh. N.H, Personal Communication October 22, 2010).

Go back

Issue 35

Decolonizing Art Institutions

by Roma Jam Session art Kollektiv

Public Performance Detox Dance

by Dorothee Richter & Ronald Kolb

Editorial

by Shwetal A. Patel

Three Biennials in Asia (2016)

by Shwetal Patel and Shaheen Merali

On the critical decades and the role of archives

by Dorothee Richter

Learning from Dhaka

by Michelle Wong

Train to Biennale

by Binna Choi & Yolande van der Heide

Decolonizing Art Institutes from a Labor Point of View

by Sophie J Williamson

On Cultural Translation