My attitude towards the whole “arts for all” or “arts for the community” argument – as used or pushed for here in Singapore – has always been at best, rather blasé. At worst, just sheer irritation.
Why? They’re mostly flashy entertain-y stuff that in some ways may actually hurt the cause of contemporary art. (“Huh? That’s contemporary art? But the one I saw in Yishun was flashier? It had explosions!” or something like that.)
I’m re-thinking this position after catching the last day of the Work-Life conference organised by the British Council, Theatre Training and Research Programme (TTRP), and the National Museum last Saturday at the Society for the Physically Disabled in Tiong Bahru.
One of the speakers, Londoner artist and curator Clare Patey discussed her artistic practice which has revolved mostly around food.
One of her pieces, Feast, is kind of like what Jamie Oliver did with schools and canteen food. She basically took over a plot of land near where she lives and worked with school kids to plant veggies which they would eventually harvest and cook – the end product being, a “feast”. It’s a project that’s been adopted by other schools.
Another of her projects, Feast On The Bridge, she took over the Southwark Bridge for the Thames Festival – and turned it into a space to re-enact/re-live certain traditional rituals dealing with food, as well as basically making it into a dining area.
A public bridge no! They closed traffic just so people could eat!
I wish I had attended the previous day, which was held at the National Museum, because this is one kind of arts event that, for all the many shows and exhibits happening at one go, has been sorely missing in Singapore for the past few years.
What is a community? Some interesting responses from the other speakers on Saturday. Aside from poet Cyril Wong’s valid but rather out of place talk about continuously questioning his place within this “abstract” literary community (I thought it was all about forging communities?), the rest had more constructive things to say.
TNS’ Alvin Tan talked about the theatre company’s MO, on how they focus on interest groups (i.e. marginalised voices). Another interesting semantic point he raised was his preference for the term “inter-cultural” (a more pro-active way of negotiating differences) rather than the oft-used “multi-cultural” (a rather stagnant recognition of these differences).
The Substation’s new artistic director Noor Effendy Ibrahim’s own artistic approach to working within/with/on the Malay theatre community is one of basically shaking things up, to “destabilise” that community, letting these fractures come out and then “instigate growth from within the fractures.” Which I thought was a nice way of putting it. The artist as benign weed. Woot.
Alternative historian Hong Lysa touched on alternative histories in Singapore (i.e. the unofficial, non-PAP version of it) but I won’t say anything else because might be too touchy (and I forgot to ask if it’s okay to put it out). Suffice it to say, I loved one of her anecdotes about how, in recent years, the presence of the so-called “Communist” faction of post-War Singapore was mainly seen in the obituary pages of the Chinese press. Interesting don’t you think?
Film-maker Tan Pin Pin gave an honest and telling line about her continuous fear of a community dissolving. Talking mainly about the beginnings of Filmcommunitysg, which, as most organisations/groups usually do, got together because of an issue (MDA took out foreign travel grants for film-makers – an issue that has yet to be resolved). One good point she made, which is something that can’t be mentioned enough, is that how the survival community will always boil down to “the will of the members.”
Videos and other stuff on their online portal here.