Art and about: 5 unique tours to check out at Singapore Art Week 2017

Art and about: 5 unique tours to check out at Singapore Art Week 2017

From a "pop-up museum" to a bus outing, these art tours will take you to Little India, Kampong Glam and other places in Singapore.

David Bowie at Far East; Rajinikanth mural

SINGAPORE: The Singapore Art Week (SAW) is fast turning out to be an annual highlight on the local arts calendar and from the look of it, this year's edition won’t disappoint.

Much of the buzz during SAW - which in fact runs for more than a week - will likely focus on the three art fairs taking place. The Singapore Biennale also isn’t quite done just yet. And these, together with a slew of exhibitions and festivals, will leave art lovers spoilt for choice.

But if you are thinking of more unusual ways to get your art fix, why not get off the beaten track, literally: Whether it is a street art jaunt through Kampong Glam or spotting murals at Little India, here are five art tours to choose from.

Singapore Art Week 2017 (OH! Open House)

An old postcard from 1906, featuring a famous ficus benjamina tree along the Kallang Basin, is one of the artefacts on exhibit at The Bizarre Honour. (Photo: OH! Open House)


Art walkabout group OH! Open House is known for taking audiences to different neighbourhoods, and this time around, its destination is Holland Village.

It isn’t technically a tour, but it will take you to a different place and time, via a two-storey terraced house at Chip Bee Gardens that has been transformed into a pop-up museum of natural history, intriguingly named The Bizarre Honour.

Taking its cue from the wunderkammer (or cabinet of curiosities), which predated the concept of museums, the show comprises more than 300 objects and artefacts amassed over the past 15 years. With nothing more than a dossier, two visitors at a time wander about and encounter these pieces, which won’t come with typical museum labels.

“One of the things we want people to feel is the sense that you’re stumbling upon something, getting lost and joining the dots between the stories and specimens,” said OH! Open House artistic director Alan Oei, who describes the eclectic collection as “a whole bunch of very strange things”.

These include, among others, insect installations, a “Malay magic book”, a range of animal traps, and old photographs, such as those from a photo album owned by a Japanese general during World War II in Singapore.

In a sense, the show is a response to the notion of the museums of today. “Wunderkammers were the origin of museums and they were private and personal collections, whereas museums today are all about larger issues and national reputations,” he said.

The choice of venue was also intentional - Chip Bee Gardens was traditionally home to a sizeable expatriate community. “Located in a colonial space, it’s kind of inverting the colonial gaze,” said Oei, citing how Sir Stamford Raffles had also been interested in natural history.

“Colonialism was also driven by the scientific thirst for human knowledge and representation. Building this museum, we hope to recreate the encounter, when you enter this strange, tropical paradise,” he said. “The Bizarre Honour is that moment of magic when you encounter the unknown.”

Jan 13 to 15, 20 to 22, at Chip Bee Gardens. For tickets and more details, go here.

Singapore Art Week 2017 (State In Motion)

A scene from Ricochet, featuring the late David Bowie riding an escalator at Far East Plaza. (Photo: Photo: Ricochet, 1984, Gerry Troyna)


What connection does David Bowie have with Far East Plaza? Hop on a bus and find out.

The Asian Film Archives is presenting State Of Motion: Through Stranger Eyes, a three-hour art-meets-cinema bus tour that takes you to five different places where movies were filmed.

Among the sites is Far East Plaza, which Bowie - who passed away a year ago this month - visited during his Southeast Asian tour in 1983. This was captured in the little-known Bowie documentary Ricochet. Other sites include Hong Lim Park, Golden Mile Food Centre, Labrador Park and Old Bugis Street, the site of another famous Singapore-centric film, Saint Jack.

In these places, six artists have created works that respond to both the site and the corresponding film. At Far East Plaza, for instance, experimental musicians The Observatory will be performing, while independent label Ujikaji will set up a record store with a twist. Meanwhile, author Amanda Lee Koe will be holding fort at a karaoke lounge at Bugis as a nod to Saint Jack’s exploration of Singapore’s underbelly.

It is the second edition of State Of Motion, and while last year’s tour focused on films relating to Singapore and nationhood, which were made before and after independence, this year’s batch of films was primarily made from the late 1960s to the early 1980s by foreigners.

During that time, Singapore’s film industry had collapsed, said curator Kent Chan. “Within that vacuum, these films came in. There is that foreignness to these (films); someone from outside coming in to film Singapore,” he said.

Before embarking on the bus tour, one starts at the National Library, where the outside atrium has been converted into a makeshift cinema screening excerpts of the five films. The space will also house works by artists who look at other aspects of the movie industry in Singapore, such as Ming Wong’s polaroids of old cinema houses. You can view these works even if you aren’t up for the tour. Full screenings of the films are also scheduled for the duration of the exhibition. Now all that is missing is some kacang puteh.

The NLB exhibition will run from Jan 6 to Feb 5, while the day and night tours will be held on Jan 14, 15, 20, 21 and 22. For more details, go here.

Singapore Art Week 2017 (Aliwal Urban Arts Festival)
Aliwal Urban Arts Festival also regularly features a street art tour by art collective RSCLS. (Photo: RSCLS/Aliwal Arts Centre)

This year's Aliwal Urban Arts Festival features a street art tour by art collective RSCLS. (Photo: RSCLS/Aliwal Arts Centre)


If street culture is more your thing, Aliwal Arts Centre (AAC) is holding a one-day urban art festival on Jan 14, which will include events such as The Writer’s Bench, which features 12 street artists from Singapore and the region working on a 12m-long panel.

But if you want to stretch your legs a bit, art collective RSCLS is holding “urban art raids”, where its members will take you on a one-and-a-half-hour tour of Kampong Glam’s street art works, along the main roads as well as back alleys.

RSCLS founder Zul Othman, who goes by the moniker ZERO, said there are easily around 20 pieces in the area. These include the more prominent ones at Haji Lane, as well as smaller blink-and-you’ll-miss-it works. Some of these, he reckoned, are even a decade old.

He should know - ZERO and his previous art collective did a lot of work here during the early 2000s. “We started doing street stuff around Arab Street, Kampong Glam, Haji Lane, before it became what it is now,” he said. He added that the presence in the area of not only RSCLS but also Blackbook Studio, which is run by another collective, ZincNiteCrew, keeps things lively.

“When you talk about contemporary street art, it’s really more of the Kampong Glam area, where you’ve got a lot of young people, the Writer’s Bench event held every few months,” he said.

And if you think you know where all of the street art is to be found, he will have you know there is still room for surprises. “I have a hidden one in the back alley behind Sultan Mosque. Not many people go there, so people don’t notice it’s there.”

The tours will run from 5pm to midnight on Jan 14. For more details on other events at the festival, go here.

Singapore Art Week (Artwalk Little India 3)

ZERO's mural Working Class Hero, featuring Indian actor Rajinikanth, will be one of the works at this year's Artwalk Little India. (Photo: ZERO)


Over at Little India, there is another public art project that will take place, and all you need to do is download the free guide to explore the 12 sites that comprise Artwalk Little India. Now on its third edition, this collaborative event between LASALLE College of the Arts, Singapore Tourism Board, and the Little India Shopkeepers’ and Heritage Association will feature some eye-catching murals, as well as storytelling sessions, video projects, and dance, theatre and music performances that explore the rich culture in this precinct.

Incidentally, among the works you will find here is a new piece by ZERO. Titled Working Class Hero, it is a huge portrait of legendary Indian actor Rajinikanth along Hindoo Road. “I grew up watching him on TV and he’s revered by (many) in the South Asian community as well,” he said.

It is also a homage of sorts to the migrant workers in the area. “This guy started from a very humble background - a bus conductor - and he’s now one of the richest actors in India. He's someone that many of the workers here look up to,” he said, recalling that while he was making the four-storey-tall work, some workers had come up to him to thank him for doing the piece, and even bought him drinks.

“They were surprised that a Malay boy was painting this Indian actor, but he’s also part of my background and culture, and I knew of him as much as they did.”

Living in the Lavender area, ZERO is very familiar with Little India, he said. “Mustafa Centre is like my heartland mall. It’s still authentic in its feel - the vegetable shops, the mess, the smell, the sights - it’s almost like the lorongs in Geylang. It’s shady but it’s real.”

You can go on the self-guided tour from Jan 12 to 17. The guide will be available for download soon here.

Singapore Art Week 2017 (Kenny Pittock)

One of Australian artist Kenny Pittock's drawings during a train commute. (Photo: Kenny Pittock)


Among the many exhibitions opening this month is Australian artist Kenny Pittock’s first solo show in Singapore. To be held at Chan Hampe Galleries, the show titled She Smiled At Me will feature the eccentric 28-year-old's tongue-in-cheek, pun-laden works ranging from sculptures to drawings.

Aside from his show, Pittock will also go on a private drawing tour of Kampong Glam. It won’t hurt to try your luck following him around. Alternatively, he will be holding a drawing workshop at the gallery. And judging by his quirky drawings, any chance to get to know the young artist would be quite an experience.

“I think the act of drawing can feel like an exciting kind of magic, similar to music. It can take you out of your head and is probably as close as I get to meditating,” said Pittock, whose unusual drawing-in-public projects include sketching at an Eminem concert (after somehow finding himself right at the front) or during his two-hour train commutes in Melbourne.

“I never really thought of this as ‘art’. It was more just a fun game I’d play on my way to the studio," said Pittock, who also works part-time as a supermarket shopping trolley collector. "It’s really challenging; you have to work really quick because you never know if the person is going to move or get off the train, but you also don’t want to work too quick because you’re not allowed to finish early either.”

These outdoor projects have a certain appeal for him partly because of the spontaneity and unpredictability. “It’s sometimes more interesting to do (work) in the public where things are a lot more out of my control and the stakes are a bit higher,” he said.

He added: “With my work, I try for it to be funny, but also I try for it to be sincere, whatever that means. And I hope for my work to be engaging for people who know all about art and art history, but also equally engaging for people who think they don’t know about art at all. Kind of like Andy Warhol, I guess. Or The Simpsons.”

She Smiled At Me runs from Jan 10 to Feb 9 at Chan Hampe Galleries, Raffles Hotel Arcade. Pittock will be going around Kampong Glam on Jan 13. A drawing workshop will be held on Jan 15, which will include a fee of S$100. Participants will receive a S$100 discount if they decide to buy one of Pittock’s works afterwards. For details on the tour and workshop, email

Source: CNA/mm