By: Nessa Anwar
Downtown Singapore, centrally located within the Bugis and Orchard districts, two urban art centres have been established to provide guidance, support and exposure for young artists dabbling in everything from music to poetry, film to photography.
First stop, InstaScram rides the Moto Guzzi Bobber to the very first independent arts centre, The Substation.
The Substation used to be an old power distribution substation for the buildings along Armenian Street since the 1940s and the building itself dates back to 1926. Its revamp on 16 September 1990 into an independent art venue was spearheaded by the late iconic Singaporean playwright Kuo Pao Kun. It was the first building to be established under the National Art Council's’ ‘Art Housing Scheme.’ The building today is virtually unrecognisable from before, and you can experience Kuo Pao Kun’s vision of nurturing an open, diverse, multi-disciplinary space in this interview.
The Substation has within its walls, a black box theatre, a gallery, a dance studio, and multi-purpose rooms. It also used to have a garden, which was utilised by youthful punk, ska and alternative musicians for their gigs, as well as theatre productions. Now, the Garden has been converted into part of the Timbre Bar & Bistro, where you can grab a bite, a drink or enjoy some live music.
It is also iconic due to the assortment of colourful and vibrant graffiti dotting the walls surrounding The Substation, a heads-up to the abundance of art in all its various forms that have been created within the building.
The Substation is located along Armenian Street, which itself has contributed to the local arts scene. The streets closes to traffic yearly to host several events, like the Singapore Night Festival. Armenian Street itself is home to many other quirky and iconic attractions, like the Peranakan Museum next to The Substation, and a row of art galleries just opposite it.
The Substation’s reputation has evolved over the last 2 decades. But, its mission to provide a platform for alternative art to be heard remains notably steadfast.
Next up, we ride over to another photogenic arts location that is distinguished by 19 repurposed shipping containers that make up the independent arts space, DECK, which stands for ‘Discovery Engagement Community Knowledge.’
The site, which was partially sponsored by generous public donations, was launched in 2014 to cater to the community of photography enthusiasts - both professional and amateur - in Singapore and South-east Asia. And the place itself is a treat for the eyes, where you’ll find yourself whipping out your cameras to take some fabulous pictures.
The space features two galleries, a resource library, an activity area, an artist studio and even a cafe. The team behind DECK came up with the concept of assembling the shipping containers into a neat, modular-based art space as a creative alternative to the land shortage in urban Singapore.
It is the first photography-centric independent space in Singapore that provides a conducive environment for the future of local photography. DECK also plays host to many exhibitions and programmes, including the Singapore International Photography Festival, which is a biennial and non-profit event.