For art's sake

Mini art installation

Singapore art-related news that I read in the last 24 hours:

1. "Nude artist taking a break" (The Straits Times) --- An artist from India who presented himself in the nude in a booth, as part of his performance at the inaugural Art Stage Singapore (for which he received the appropriate public entertainment permits from the censorship folks at the Media Development Authority), ceased the performance as of Friday, apparently because the gallery owner was asked to do so. By whom, it is not clear.

Art Stage Singapore is the very glammed-up, hyped-up "premier international event" (see its first press release [PDF]), brought to Singapore by Lorenzo Rudolf, whose touted credentials are that he is the former director of Art Basel, inventor of Art Basel Miami Beach and co-creator of Shanghai Contemporary. Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

2. "Gillman Village takes a break" (The Straits Times) (aside: what is with all the "take a break" headlines?)--- The delightful restaurant/bar/furniture store enclave at Gillman Village is being broken up by landlords the Singapore Land Authority, because the land "has been earmarked by the Economic Development Board (EDB) for redevelopment into a premier location for art and creative businesses." Notwithstanding the fact that I'm going to miss Handle Bar, it must be incredibly frustrating for both business owners and customers who just wanted a place for a damn beer, to find out that the space they invested so much time, community and money in, back when it was hardly hip, is now being whisked away just like that.

So the Singapore state wants art. And artists (but not naked, thoughtful ones). And people who will come to Singapore to spend money --- on art, and artists (and perhaps other sanctioned or at least quietly condoned forms of nudity).

And it wants to be able to do all that, by simply adding water and stirring. Who has time for the sweat, toil, thoughtful, unhurried growth, experimentation and exploration, that would let ideas, art practices, artists, their friends and their foes, tug and pull at each other in a rainforest-like tangle?




At 1/16/2011 11:37 pm , Anonymous shL said...

If you replace the word "art" with "science", your description will work just as well. It's just emblematic of the government's attitude towards effecting change.

At 1/17/2011 4:00 am , Blogger Tym said...

Yep, it's arguably an approach that dates back to industrialisation, the development of Jurong and MNC-friendly policies in the 1960s.

With respect to the two articles I happened to read yesterday, what struck me also is that with the arts industry, there is, at least in the Singapore construction of it, always an attendant need for "audience development", to have people (local or overseas) who will consume artistic products in or exported from Singapore (made by local or foreign artists). Where it may be different from the life sciences industry, manufacturing, financial services and so on (and I'm still thinking this through), is that the local audience/market for the arts is one that both artists and the state have to keep justifying themselves to."Why fund the arts? What makes this or that 'art'?" Which in turn have become entangled over the years, at least in public discourse, with issues of community, identity, morality, censorship, politics and so on.

So for instance, if Art Stage Singapore were a science, manufacturing or financial industry event, with the necessary permits for someone to speak or present a contentious idea, would it elicit the same response as the case of the naked artist?

If Gillman Village consisted not of restaurant/food outlets where the locality/space of their business is part of what the local audience/market is attracted to, would their removal be felt as much by the community?

And of course, by EDB merely declaring Gillman Village to be arts/creative hub, will that make it one?

These and other questions are floating around in my mind. It's not a policy that the state is about to change overnight (nor am I saying it ought to). Reading the two articles together just threw into relief a number of related issues that aren't sufficiently disentangled and discussed, I think. Much easier to just point fingers at an artist who performed naked and invoke the word "pornography", as the New Paper headline did.

PS: I'm not advocating viewing the arts purely as an industry, merely responding to state policy in its own language.

At 1/17/2011 10:08 pm , Anonymous shL said...

These are interesting thoughts. The issue that I see as far as pandering (as it were) to audiences is that do we adopt a model of "if you make it, people will come", or should we be concerned with building an interested and informed audience base first? It seems like part of this incessant demand for justification of the existence of art in Singapore stems from the relative isolation and/or air of exclusivity that perhaps the average citizen associates with art and artists. When people can't relate to what you're trying to show them, it's so tempting to distill (and oversimplify) larger concepts into perversely simple ones, like "pictures of naked people --> pornography!!!". I guess my question is, is the responsibility of the arts sector to answer the question of "what does this have to do with me?", or should we wait around for people's attitudes to slowly evolve towards tolerance, if not acceptance or understanding? (or is it the responsibility of the state to craft policies and measures directed towards, in their own words, molding a more creative and culturally-educated citizenry?)

Actually, what's happening to Gillman Village isn't all that unusual. It's just getting sucked up into the big modernization=good behemoth that drives us to mow over perfectly pleasant community spaces to build shiny new shopping malls. Call me cynical, but the whole "arts/creative hub" business is just a flimsy excuse that some EDB marketing flunky had to pull out because "yet another shopping mall" would probably piss off too many people. So no, I don't have high expectations of the space, especially in light of how many other similarly-themed "creative hubs" have sprung up into spectacular mediocrity (e.g. Spectrum@Bukit Timah?).

As a footnote, the one glaring aspect that makes the arts incomparable with manufacturing, life sciences and financial services is... you can't put a specific figure on how many economic dollars that will bring in for Singapore. Which adds to the hostility, at least from the policy-maker's perspective.

At 3/01/2011 10:47 am , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just read your article on the commercialization of the arts in Singapore with great interest. I have never been to Singapore but its seems that the city's reputation of 'Disneyland with a Death Penalty' precedes itself.

I was wondering, from your point of view, is there a change in government policy over the past few years that tries to push the city as a creative hub? I am thinking about the recent launch of performance arts venues and the expansion of art schools and university art departments. If that is the case, I am wondering from where this art is suppose to originate from? From a city with, as many would say, that has no subculture, no counterculture, no class struggle, no social friction? So I guess what I am curious about is whether such subcultural currents do exist in Singapore.


PS. I am a friend of your cousin Sam.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]