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BACKGROUND / EARLIER PROPOSAL MAY 12 2015

THE LEGACY OF THE SUBSTATION


1. The Substation, under the artistic and moral leadership of Kuo Pao Kun, is one of the
foundational building block for the cultural landscape of Singapore. It was the only home for
artists and subcultures. The arts was in its infancy, and Kuo nurtured an entire generation of
artists like Ong Keng Sen, Alvin Tan, and Ivan Heng.
2. But it also created a generation of discipline-specific champions like Yuni Hadi, Cyril Wong,
Zhang Wenjie. Today, someone with such (previously) esoteric interests as art history or film,
has latitude to pursue their interests professionally through the museums or independent
research/production grants.

THE ARTS TODAY


3. The Sub is one of many.
4. This circumstance has more to do with the drastically changed landscape with many competing
institutions. In addition, the governments dramatically expanded interest in the arts as an
economic and cultural signifier in presenting ourselves as a global city has shaped both the
arts and its individual practitioners.
5. I would suggest there are four trends in Singapore that the Sub needs to navigate:
A. Artists are careerists (within a professionalised industry)
B. Art market dominates almost everything
C. Culture is instrumentalised, e.g. for nation-building, or supporting dominant narratives
D. Globalism effaces the local and particular is there something to differentiate Singapore?
Ironically, the more the government tries to push large scale prestige projects, the more we
become one of many along the global circuit

A HOME FOR MAKING, NOT SHOWING


6. The Sub has become a home for showing exhibitions, programmes, screenings, etc. It is
providing content rather than artistic vision. For eg, when NMS approaches the Sub, they care
more about how to entertain its audience, rather than SepFest as a longstanding series.
7. The Sub should refocus on how to fulfil Kuos vision of making putting process, practice,
thought and experimentation above the final product in the complex landscape.
8. Now is the moment when Singaporeans want to take part in shaping our national and individual
identities. Academics have produced alternative histories of Singapore; even commercial
enterprises recognise packaged nostalgia can be big business.

THE SUB ASKS THE BIG, DIFFICULT QUESTIONS


9. In all of this, where are our artists and cultural producers, who have something to say about
who we are, our everyday, our world views, our dreams?
10. This is where The Sub can provide cultural leadership not only for artists, but for the public
anyone who believes that Singapore belongs to all of us should find resonance with our
mission. Let Singaporeans know what The Sub stands for.

11. Ironically, one of the most resonant exhibitions in recent years was created by Valentine Willie,
a Malaysian gallerist, in 2010 when he asked: What is Singapore, post-LKY? The answers, by
the artists, were disappointing in that they didnt engage it deeply, yet this was something
people clearly cared about.
12. The Sub in its role as cultural leader must dare to ask those big, difficult questions that shape
our lives: What is nostalgia, and the over-production and commodification of our culture? Why
are we increasingly xenophobic? How does urban planning shape our everyday lives?
13. There are many, many questions that artists can help us approach through the aesthetic
encounter. Artists working with writers, scientists, historians can show us new ways of
asking or answering those questions, avoiding the entrenched interests of politics and personal
ideology. The Sub can be the space where artists understand that what they say is important.

REFOCUSING THE SUB


14. Under the new artistic and programming vision, The Sub will ask one big, difficult question each
year.
15. We can help artists make art that matters through 3 core competencies:
A. Research and Programming
Developmental phase before projects are commissioned. Engage multiple stakeholders
from businesses, academics, to specialists to open up different facets of theme. The
learning phase leads up to an annual blockbuster, that aims at all Singaporeans.
B. Artists-in-residency
Artist-in-residence invites 1 artist who nominates another collaborator (artist, scientist,
ethnographer, etc.). AIR is not outcome oriented. The Sub supports research, dialogue
logistics, and AIRs are to do one presentation/workshop that can be part of A. With an 18
month cycle before the blockbuster, we can commission relevant works. (In addition, the
AIR spaces should be fully utilised as revenue BnB for either institutional visitors or tourists.
C. Education and Community
Build a relationship with audience so that it is not an a la carte buying of events/tickets, for
eg. through a subscription model. They are invested in us because we are invested in
Singapore, and larger issues that affect everyone. Provide workshops and education not as
an afterthought, but shaping our programming and vice versa.
16. In terms of its artistic identity, it has no real stake in the public imagination. From Oct 2015, we
will begin to funnel everything through the first thematic as a series of exhibitions and
developmental programmes, with a milestone exhibition for Sep 2016. In Sep 2017, we launch
the second theme as a blockbuster exhibition, which will not remain static but be malleable
and changing. By this time, the entire building will be activated as an exhibition, an artwork,
and a work-in-progress. The infrastructure should be tweaked to open up the building as a
continuous space, one that the visitor can explore, probe, and learn.
17. In year 3 or 2018, we will have a strong artistic identity for not only artists, but the general
public: artists can show us something different, and help us reimagine the Singapore
condition. Not only do people see artists matter, but we can help shape the cultural
conversations that are rooted in the local (this matters because globalism effaces the local and
particular, and if Singapore, the most global city, can show the world a turn to the local, the
world will pay attention).
18. With that established, we can fundraise to expand and create more fluid spaces that can be
multi-purpose. More than infrastructure, this will be important in ideologically affirming the Sub
as an interdisciplinary space.

MILESTONES
OCT 2015 - MAR 2016

REORGANISATION

Strategic directions to be formulated into action plans


Setting up of short and long-term objectives and deliverables in conjunction with board
APR 2016
RESEARCH/INCUBATION
(18 month cycle for research and production)
Classrooms to be converted in residency and studio spaces
Gallery and Black Box to host works-in-progress (WIP)
Seminars, workshops and community events that can engage and enlarge audiences
SEP 2016
ANNOUNCEMENT OF THEME / PUBLIC PRESENTATIONS
(18 month cycle for research and production)
Series of programmes, exhibitions and WIP for 2016 - 17
Education/outreach for schools and public to pivot off programmes
Black box and all other rentals now to host only projects, rehearsals, productions related to the
theme
SEP 2017

LAUNCH OF BLOCKBUSTER NOSTALGIA + KAMPUNG

First major exhibition (9 months exhibition)


Fixed components (50%): fixed, recurrent exhibition that provides artistic identity, and the basis
for engaging themes meaningfully, esp. for education/outreach

Seasonal components (25%): performances, seminars, symposiums.


Changing, reactive components (25%): smaller installations, or single artwork presentations that
intervene in the larger space of the fixed exhibition

Incubation/development for next theme


SEP 2018

LAUNCH OF NEXT BLOCKBUSTER

Second major exhibition to build on, and interface previous themes with the new theme
Fundraise to renovate and add developmental and fluid presentation spaces