Kampung Seni Kaki
Welcome to Singapore, where history is reusable, state-sanctioned, and micro-managed.
Even the history of avant-garde art.
The Artists Village was the first artist’s colony hereabouts, founded in 1988 by Tang Da Wu in a then remote part of the island up north. A good number of artists associated with the village went on to wider renown in the ’90s and beyond: Tang himself, Vincent Leow, Lee Wen, Amanda Heng (recipient of this year’s Cultural Medallion), Zai Kuning, Koh Nguang How. Over the years, the idea of an avant-garde collective operating at the margins of artistic praxis and official approbation has become emplotted as a seminal moment in the narrative of local art history; it was also the subject of a retrospective at the SAM in 2008.
And now it’s being brought back to life, according to an article in The Straits Times today (below).
I suppose any sort of support for artists in Singapore is a good thing, but why the return to an older ideal ? The ’80s were more than two decades ago, and things have changed — vastly. An enlarged arts scene, with international galleries setting up shop here as well as a major new museum on the way; our very own biennale; ever-increasing awareness of the visual arts among the populace at large.
But I guess the ‘kampung spirit’ is an indigenous paradigm that’s hard to beat for commodified appeal.
THIS VILLAGE NEEDS MORE ARTISTS
Local artists will get a place to call their own with The Artists Village programme on Pulau Ubin. By Melissa Sim.
It takes a village to raise a child, goes the saying, and in Singapore, it takes a village … to nurture artists.
Well, not any old village, but an actual village that, back in the 1980s and 1990s, was a space in Ulu Sembawang for artists to work and exchange ideas, known as The Artists Village.
That village has long gone though it survives as a society created in 1992 called The Artists Village (TAV).
Now, the village concept is back, but this time on Pulau Ubin as a new village that, unlike the previous focus on local artists, will offer an international residency programme supported by the National Arts Council (NAC).
The “village” programme starts next month and will last for 11 months. TAV, which is spearheading it and has received an NAC grant of about $80,000, is calling for artists to apply for the residency. Veteran artists Tang Da Wu, who founded the original village, and Lee Wen will sit on an advisory panel for the project.
Local and international artists from any medium, whether sound, visual or performance, can sign up for a residency lasting one to three months. They will receive an allowance of $1,200 a month.
But it will still be a back-to-basics experience – the “village”, in the island’s south-west, has no electricity. Power comes from a generator turned on in the evenings.
It mostly consists of a wooden shack rented out by an Ubin resident of more than 50 years who goes by the name of Ah Kok.
More back-to-basics: Artists will share their toilet with him.
Tha shack has two bedrooms, a kitchen, a studio area, a bathroom and an open concept living area and can house two to three artists at a time.
Still, co-artistic director of the residency programme, artist Kai Lam, notes that TAV has put aside $10,000 to renovate the place. The other co-director is artist Jeremy Hiah.
Lam says it feels like TAV is “coming full circle” because for years it did not have a space of its own, and used public spaces and galleries for exhibitions or events.
Project manager and sound artist Arif Ayab, who goes by the name Reef, says: “It’s calming here, easier to get inspiration than in the city.”
Adds Lam who has sued the space for a five-day stretch: “Here you can just clear your mind and think of your work.”
Reef and his band, Under The Velvet Sky, have worked in the shack before and benefited from the laid-back environment. Recently, they produced a soundtrack for a 30-minute movie in under two hours.