Over the past 5 months, we have seen an increased number of independent projects take place on our sunny island. From the spatial intervention of Opening Day at Upper Serangoon Shopping Centre to RAID which was situated in the Tiong Bahru Air Raid Shelter, these independent projects gave artists unconventional spaces to respond to and invited audiences to lesser-known destinations.
Personally, my visits to Peninsula Shopping Centre only occur when my black jeans begin to wear out and I need to replace them:
Creatively-named shops aside, Peninsula Shopping Centre has a pretty iconic location.
It is a neighbour to the National Gallery Singapore (the national art museum of our country), Capitol Piazza (the atas mall, housing some of the hottest labels in town) and the Capitol Theatre (home to various film festivals). Soon, a new and improved Funan Shopping Centre, presently being re-developed with a design and cultural focus in mind, will spring up next to Peninsula Shopping Centre.
Camera stores, apparel shops, made-to-measure menswear tailors and even a magic shop – these are just some of the tenants which occupy the complex:
Peninsula Shopping Centre is often mistaken for the structure opposite, Peninsula Plaza (this is a whole other building altogether, one that is commonly known as “Little Myanmar,” with a large BATA Shoe store anchoring the ground floor).
I_S_L_A_N_D_S is an experimental platform located within Peninsula Shopping Centre, that encourages artists to reconsider the boundaries of their practice by testing novel concepts and alternative means of exhibition-making.
The intervention of I_S_L_A_N_D_S into Peninsula Shopping Centre provides a fresh kind of occupancy in the complex, bringing art to new audiences who (arguably) rarely venture into the world of contemporary art galleries.
I_S_L_A_N_D_S popped up on the link bridge between Peninsula Shopping Centre and Excelsior Shopping Centre in November 2017. Located on the third floor of the building, the exhibition space consists of eight tall glass display panels. The unconventional space encourages participating artists to re-think their practices and to re-configure their art in an alternative format i.e. through showcase window displays. I_S_L_A_N_D_S cleverly becomes a transitional space, located physically between two buildings, but also metaphorically, as an interim space for ideas to flow and be experimented on.
This is certainly not your typical art gallery.
I_S_L_A_N_D_S has previously displayed the art of Fyerool Darma and Matthew Teo, Vanessa Lim, and Boedi Widjaja. It has become something of a signature mark that the area showcases artists in a different way from which their works are typically presented in more conventional gallery spaces.
In its fourth show, I_S_L_A_N_D_S has chosen to exhibit the work of Ben Loong with his site-specific installation, Aggregate. Loong, for those who are unfamiliar with his practice, works with an interest in geography and the natural world. As expected, Aggregate reveals a different side of Loong’s practice.
In Loong’s previous Terra Blanca series (for example, see the work Epoch (2017) above, the artist attempted to create a dialogue about geographical and geological phenomena through his use of drywall plaster.
In Aggregate, Loong’s exploration of themes is tagged to found objects. His focus clearly shifts away from the more painterly qualities expressed in Terra Blanca.
Through the juxtaposition of found specimens such as broken asphalt, with crafted objects that resemble corals, Aggregate urges viewers to attempt to identify and evaluate these materials. Aggregate, therefore, challenges viewers’ preconceived notions on the inherent value attached to such random commodities:
Visually, the exhibition felt like an ode to the earth, as the displayed objects were presented against a green fabric backdrop. The greenery made the display feel lush and upper-class, not unlike fine jewellery display cases found in fancier malls.
To the unsuspecting viewer, the specimens at Aggregate might appear to be plainly nothing but rocks. However, upon closer observation one begins to see the deeper meaning.
The work spoke to me personally as a comment on the systemic efficiency of the maintenance of Singapore’s public facilities. Loong collected these mineral fragments of broken pavement and asphalt from roads and sidewalks which are likely to have been swiftly repaired post-breakage. When placed beside the polyethene objects, the two different kinds of specimens looked similar.
The placement highlighted the contrasts and similarities between the new and the old. The objects were different, but yet bore similar innate traits of being rough and solid matter. Perhaps, their “difference” was nothing but a construct, a by-product of my own inner perceptions and pre-conceived notions.
Another peculiar aspect of the exhibition was that some of the found specimens had been augmented with resin, gold leaf and plaster. These works reminded me of upcycling, of the transformation of unwanted products into a new form.
Once again, I was prompted to consider my own patterns of consumption and the seemingly arbitrary values attached to consumerist objects. My thoughts wandered, and I found myself musing over rather more mundane things, such as whether I should replace the clothes in my wardrobe, or if my consumerist whims might be adequately fulfilled by a simpler revitalisation of my existing gear, perhaps through a different kind of styling.
One aspect of the exhibition which could have been improved was its lighting. While the green fabric elevated the display, I found it difficult to properly view the work while standing at one side of the narrow link passageway. Fluorescent tube lighting created harsh reflections and did not illuminate the green fabric background, specimens and display glass to good effect. Perhaps this was intentional, to invite visitors to stand closer to the specimens displayed in order to get a better look at their details, edges and surfaces?
To conclude, I found Aggregate to be a quirky and different art offering. If you are headed to the National Gallery Singapore anytime soon, do swing by Peninsula Shopping Centre (not Plaza!), for a thoroughly enjoyable, alternative experience in Singapore contemporary art.
Aggregate runs until 31st March 2018. Opening hours are subject to the mall opening hours, but the exhibition usually runs daily from 8am to 10pm.
All images of the art and the plan of the shopping centre are courtesy of the organiser and the artist.
And P/S: This is what Peninsula Shopping Centre actually looks like: