In recent years, the number of artists has skyrocketed, and Singapore is fast running out of art spaces. Independent galleries are often pressured to present ‘marketable’ work, and conceptual, abstract artists are often up a creek. But like the age old saying goes, when life gives you lemons, make lemonade.
Putting their creative skills to the test, eight young artists have come together to present an all new group exhibition at a truly unique space: Tiong Bahru Air Raid Shelter. In disuse since the Japanese bombings of World War II, these artists have now revived the space with newly installed lights, illuminating both the shelter’s history and adding narratives of imagined lives here with their works.
RAID features the works of Ivan David Ng, Tay Ining, Vanessa Lim, Jacqueline Sim, Pooja Kanade and Nhawfal Juma’at, as well as from organizers Daniel Chong and Zulkhairi Zulkiflee. Many, if not all of the works were created specifically in response and relation to the space. Besides the light and art, there is virtually nothing unchanged about the shelter, and when we went down on opening day, we marvelled at the authenticity of it all, complete with the sounds of water rushing through underground pipes, old doors with the faint smell of moss emanating from them, and the squelch of floors damp with groundwater. There’s even a room where photos of old Wuxia actors are stuck in a corner, still there from who knows when. It’s certainly an immersive experience, to say the least.
Walking through the air raid shelter feels less like you’re at an art exhibition and more like you’ve been transported to a strange, alternate world. Almost maze-like in its structure, art is installed in both rooms and along walkways. RAID is the natural extension of a historical space brought to its artistic limits, with rooms full of oxygen tanks, candlelit corridors, trapdoors that open to pulsating lights and even tiny plants finding a home in a room that dwarfs them. The works in RAID seem incidental to the shelter, a natural complement to the space that embodies memories and themes of war, claustrophobia, mortality and solace.
As with any unconventional space, there are of course, issues with the long term sustainability of the show itself. Yet, this somehow adds to the charm of the entire exhibition. While waiting for artists to replace bulbs that’ve blown, visitors utilized their phone torchlights instead to navigate the space, discovering art lying in wait for them, some even invisible until they choose to shine a light on certain rooms. The darkness creates new shadows, while strange old symbols on walls are revealed (supposedly, a black octopus). This is by no means spooky, but rather, imbues the work with even greater gravity, and offering new dimensions to the pieces that feel so completely at home here.
RAID is a must see for any art enthusiast, and for anyone who wants a change of scene from the usual white walled art gallery, and not just the usual Tiong Bahru hipsters. This is an incredibly huge step forward for the art scene to continue taking greater risks in their work and turning to alternative venues for shows. Our lack of space is not a hindrance, rather, an opportunity to find new meaning and add to what we do have, and these eight artists have enhanced the air raid shelter to encompass life far beyond its status as an artefact of the past. We think this certainly won’t be the last time we see an exhibition like this spring up in Singapore (and we certainly hope it won’t be), because this only proves there is still so much potential to be mined for site-specific art, with RAID marking a promising start to Singapore Art Week 2018.
RAID is on display till 3rd February at Tiong Bahru Air Raid Shelter, 78 Guan Chuan Street Singapore 160072. For more information, visit their website here