Pan Shou

Pan Shou
Calligraphy, ink on paper

Does art has any power? And if it does, how much does it cost?

Art is a manifestation of our humanity, it dignifies life. With inspired access to our consciousness, our reflections evolve into cultural activities sometimes known as "Art".

Some 72 visual artists from, or based in, Singapore have offered 104 works for a fund-raising exhibition. Ominously titled "Art Power", the proceeds of sales will go to The Substation Endowment Fund. It just goes to show that "volunteerism" is not dead in Singapore.

The Substation has, over the last six years or so, played a crucial role in helping to make the cultural sparks of Singapore become bigger, warmer fires. Sparks like these don't come easy admidst our complex social background but when they do, its not easy for them to find enough conducive social fuel to support them. The production of culture does not happen in a vacuum. How do we evaluate each social beginnings? Which may be the best firewood for cultural growth?

The Substation now prides itself as Singapore's first multi-cultural and multi-disciplinary arts centre which is also keen on nurturing young talents. It has been called a "powerhouse for art" as its premises used to be the Public Utilities Board (PUB) electrical power substation, - hence its name, a metaphor often used by its founding director Kuo Pao Kun.

More than half of the $800,000 required to run The Substation comes from sponsorship. The endowment fund was started by its current Artistic Director, T. Sasitharan in April 1996. Not only was it neccessary to seek new sources of funding after its chief benefactor, Guinness, stopped its sponsorship, but the endowment fund also seeks to create a mechanism for permanent sponsorship which is essential for its continued role as a creative dynamo.

Liu Kang - Seaside

Liu Kang
"Seaside", 1994, oil on canvas

The wide spectrum of participating artists are an interesting array of living, practising artists in Singapore today. It is quite a remarkable feat - consolidating an exhibition out of "gift-giving", a most important cultural practice, so some anthropologists tell us. At the same time, Art Power brings together pioneer artists like Liu Kang with the lesser known new generation.

The catalogue comes as a wonderful selection of the artists' works on post-cards smartly packaged with a listing of works on sale as well. In fact, the works have already began selling. 40% of the listed works have already been sold to collectors.

Vincent Leow
"5 Pagodas", 1994, ink and gouache on paper

Yvonne Lee
"Andy's Tumour", 1996, charcoal on paper

It is interesting how the works have been arranged into five sections - contemporary, abstract, realistic, Chinese and sculptures/ceramics. Listed amongst the contemporaries are Chng Seok Tin, Han Sai Por, Vincent Leow, Lim Poh Teck, S. Chandrasekaran, and Jimmy Ong. Younger artists include Susie Wong, Jean Sim, Yvonne Lee and Ming Wong. All of them showing intensely varied individualistic modes of art practice. Perhaps that's why they are separated from those in the "Abstract" section. Leading the "Realistic" section are the inimitable Liu Kang and Ong Kim Seng. But the most interesting entry in this section is that of Wong Shih Yaw. His still life seems to be a regression to his NAFA days. It could be an interesting strategy by Wong. I can't wait for his next solo exhibition.

Such an unusually representative list of Singaporean artists coming together for a breakthrough exhibition certainly augurs well. Another good sign is that the exhibition is held at CHIJmes, the old convent that has been newly renovated into a post-modern office, restaurant, and shopping complex. It looks like CHIJmes now has art in its agenda.

Caldwell House used to be the nun's quarters which includes the Mother Superior's rooms, and has not been opened to the public for the last 160 years. If this isn't a breakthrough, what is? "Art Power" will be its inaugural show which CHIJMes hopes will be the start of future exhibitions of this nature.

More power to art!



Art Power
18 - 29 June 1997
Caldwell House, CHIJmes



h a p p e n i n g!