Sat, Aug 16, 2008
The Straits Times
School is hip and cool at 8Q

By Adeline Chia

EIGHT artists are going back to school, literally, for the opening show of 8Q sam, the hip new wing of the Singapore Art Museum (SAM).

The new space for contemporary art is a four-storey former school building at 8 Queen Street, a stone's throw from the main SAM building in Bras Basah Road.

Hip, edgy and experimental are the buzzwords for this building, which devotes its space to all things contemporary and arty, and pitches itself to a younger crowd.

It will showcase new art forms such as installation, video, performance and sound art, which will fill the six galleries of this 3,500 sq m space.

The first show is 8Q-Rate: School, which features eight artists, chosen by eight curators.

The artists have made works based on a school theme, inspired by the fact that the 8Q building used to be Catholic High School until 1987. Incidentally, SAM is housed in the former St Joseph's Institution.

The eight Singapore artists are sculptor Ahmad Abu Bakar, 35; composer Chong Li-Chuan, 33; graffiti artist Jahan Loh, 32; installation artist Donna Ong, 29; design collective :phunk studio; fashion designer Grace Tan, 29; and multidisciplinary artists Tan Kai Syng, 33, and Jason Wee, 31.

The show, which opens to the public this Saturday, seems to indicate that the artists have a love-hate relationship with the school system. Through a variety of media, they explore the notion of uniformity and discipline, classroom daydreams and playful adolescent fantasies.

One of the pieces on show is a reconstructed half-life-sized classroom by design collective :phunk studio. Visitors have to squeeze into the miniature classroom, which has six mini tables and chairs, and a mini chalkboard.

Then there is Loh, who revisits a childhood fantasy of covering the walls of his classroom with graffiti. His black and white art spills out of the gallery and runs riot around the corridor and neighbouring stairwell.

Old boys of the school also have their fun. Composer and sound artist Chong, a former student of Catholic High Primary, has created an engaging sound installation with the school song.

He recorded himself playing the song on the piano and repeated the recordings, each time faster than before.

Nightmares of being late

These sounds are transmitted through special speakers which are attached onto the glass panels on three storeys. The speakers vibrate the glass to transmit sound, which reverberates subtly around the space.

The artists featured are among the most exciting contemporary artists in Singapore today, says SAM director Kwok Kian Chow, 52, also an old boy of the school.

He adds: 'It's a show truly made in Singapore, featuring local artists and curators. And all Singaporeans share the experience of primary school, so this is an exhibition people can relate to.'

He was one of the curators who put the show together. The others are Joyce Toh, 32, Low Sze Wee, 39, Joyce Fan, 44, Tan Siuli, 31, Suenne Megan Tan, 33, Michelle Ho, 29, and Sam I-Shan, 30, all of whom work in the museum.

Each chose an artist or art group that would best interpret the theme.

Curator Ho picked fashion designer Tan, who runs local label Kwodrent. Ms Ho says: 'Grace has a fashion background, but she has moved on to create works that have aesthetic and not just functional value.'

Tan's contribution is a series of fabric and paper sculptures, presented like various scientific and mathematical studies on a long, white laboratory table.

Mr Kwok's choice is a site-specific video installation by artist Tan, a Young Artist Award recipient last year.

The artist went to the building in March this year while it was still being renovated. She recorded herself jumping, rolling and running in the corridors and rubble-filled classrooms.

She says: 'I was thinking about childhood nightmares of being late for my O or A-level exams, where I am running in the dream.'

That is one of the ways she engaged with the history of the building, which was a school and briefly housed the Kim Yan Cantonese Methodist Church while its permanent building was being renovated.

Her videos are projected onto three walls, with a loud soundtrack of drilling designed by her brother and sound artist Philip Tan.

She says: 'The building has had several stages of life. Now it's a contemporary arts space. My work documents the changes of the place. What I am doing is adding to its history.'

This article was first published in The Straits Times on Aug 14, 2008.


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