In 2013 I undertook a residency at INSTINC Gallery in Singapore. INSTINC’s key mission is to encourage collaboration, cultural exchange and sharing of ideas. Through exhibitions, art workshops, artists' talks & collaborations, INSTINC aims to establish an exciting platform where artists and public can engage with contemporary art and critical discourses.
Life in my home town of Nelson, population around 50,000, is a single level experience. In contrast, Singapore, population of around five million, is a vertical city with urban spaces that stretch up and descend down. As a visitor, the unknown spaces and happenings on the street, in the shopping malls and in the subways offered stimulation, surprises and a sense of otherness. One of the first things that struck me as I wandered around the malls and subways, was the scale and the multi-layering of space. The tallest building is 70 levels and the deepest metro station is the equivalent of 15 stories underground. The shopping mall atriums stack floors upon floors upon floors and the strong angles of the escalators create dynamic spaces with striking positive and negative shapes.
Under the malls are the main Mass Rapid Transit (MTR) stations transporting 2.5 million people everyday. The MRT system is vast and deep with interchange walkways that weave for kilometres underground. The architecture is industrial looking, shiny, muted, spotlessly clean and heavily controlled. Signs direct the crowd at every turn and penalties for misbehavior are high. Depending on the time of day, you can get swept up in a chaotic sea of anonymous people glued to their i-phones or find yourself eerily alone. The MRT is a second city, one that is almost invisible from the street.
In discussion with a local architect I found out that the metro exit levels with their high foot traffic are the most expensive to rent, with costs reducing as the distance increases. The basement levels and the very top are the cheapest which is why you will find the food courts there.
Singapore is full of non-places, yet there is an undercurrent of place, of character and of unrest. This was witnessed late 2013, with a riot in Little India by migrant workers. Perhaps as well as architectural layering there is social layering to be explored?
Singaporeans often comment on the small size of their island nation, but for me there is complexity, vastness, and ‘slices’ that I can explore in my art practice for a long time into the future.
Thanks to the Asia New Zealand Foundation and INSTINC Gallery for supporting my residency.