Singapore Art Week 2021: Curator Amelia Abdullahsani on the Exhibition, Bus.Stop.Art.
There has been a change in the way we interact with art in recent times, and the ninth edition of Singapore Art Week shows exactly that. If you haven't already seen the signs around the city-state informing you about its kick-off from January 22 to January 30, this year's anchor visual arts festival takes on a slightly different format with both physical and digital offerings for audiences to enjoy—a nod to embracing change in the past unprecedented year and the possibilities of how technology can further our encounters with all things art-related.
For the uninitiated, there has been a long-standing discussion about how art can exist beyond the white cube gallery space and blend into the public sphere for it to be accessible to all. In Singapore, the Public Art Trust, an initiative by the National Arts Council, has been a great pillar of support in championing that cause since 2014. It mainly commissions Singapore-based and international artists to create public artworks for selected sites in Singapore and gives them a greater opportunity and public platform to showcase their craft. Most recently, the push for digitalisation has resulted in more possibilities with augmented reality and virtual reality, where alternate worlds and universes can be built from scratch to enhance the audience's experience with art.
For Singapore Art Week 2021, the folks behind innovative public art exhibition Bus.Stop.Art. share a similar perspective for art to exist beyond the white cube. Co-curated by Amelia Abdullahsani and Merryn Trevethan, art lovers can hop on the east-west route of bus 175 to witness artworks by 10 Singapore-based artists. The journey spans from Geylang Bahru to Gillman Barracks, where they can continue their experience at the arts cluster after. Here, we speak to Amelia Abdullahsani on the exhibition she co-curated and thoughts on public art:
We would like to challenge perceptions of what public art is and can be. We do not believe that art belongs only in museums and white cube galleries. In an effort to democratise art, we feel that art is for everyone and should be enjoyed anywhere and at any time of the day.— Amelia Abdullahsani
Could you share a little more about how Bus.Stop.Art. came about?
Amelia Abdullahsani (AA) Bus.Stop.Art. was conceived during [Singapore's] circuit breaker [period] as a way for artists to share their work no matter what restrictions we were facing. We saw other public art projects popping up around the world like Drive-By-Art in Los Angeles, where people put artwork in their front lawns and created a map from which people could follow. We wondered what we could do that would be uniquely Singaporean. While we already have art in MRT stations, we do not have art in bus stops. We also considered that Singapore has a great public transportation system; [Merryn Trevethan and I] take the bus wherever we go. So it was only natural that we decided to put art and buses together.
When did the idea first surface and how long did it take to put together?
AA When the National Arts Council (NAC) put out an open call last year for project commissions for Singapore Art Week 2021, we already had an idea of what we would like to propose. We invited several artists—Hélène Le Chatelier, Alecia Neo, Perception3, Yen Phang, Rizman Putra, Madhvi Subrahmanian, Sebastian Mary Tay, The Next Most Famous Artist, Andy Yang—and they all said yes. When NAC informed us in August that Bus.Stop.Art. was chosen as one of the commissions, our work took flight!
How did both you and Merryn Trevethan split the curation process? Who took charge of what?
AA The curatorial work was split 50-50. Merryn and I were constantly discussing the locations of the bus stops and where to place each artist, and what artworks would present best in public spaces. What people do not realise is that a large part of curatorial work is administrative. Merryn was involved in most of the administrative work, while I was more involved in the writing aspect of the curatorial process.
Is there a particular reason why the east-west route of bus 175 was chosen?
AA We choose the 175 bus route because it spans Singapore from east to west and traverses a wide variety of neighbourhoods: Geylang Bahru, Kallang Basin, Kampong Glam, Bugis, Bras Basah, River Valley, Bukit Merah, Alexandra, and Gillman Barracks. When you take the 175, you will go through residential heartland areas, semi-industrial, the civic district, the city centre, and areas where people work and go to school. It also had the benefit of linking together many of the sites for Singapore Art Week 2021. You can learn a lot about Singapore by taking this bus!
How did both you and Merryn pick the 10 artists involved in this exhibition? Is there a common thread shared between their artistic practices?
AA We chose artists who engage well with the public and like to activate public spaces in interesting and unexpected ways. One common thread they all have are critical elements that are equally joyful, engaging, and accessible. The artists are responding to our theme #artmovesus.
What are your thoughts on art existing in more unconventional spaces today? How does it change the audience’s experience and encounter?
AA We would like to challenge perceptions of what public art is and can be. We do not believe that art belongs only in museums and white cube galleries. In an effort to democratise art, we feel that art is for everyone and should be enjoyed anywhere and at any time of the day. Finally, we want people to consider how our collective and personal experiences have been shaped by the Covid-19 pandemic, and how our experiences in recent months may have changed how we feel about urban spaces and public art.