06 Feb 2020

Art in a Former Repair Workshop

Text by: Toh Wen Li

A moody old ship-repairs workshop in Jalan Besar, once the domain of flinty workmen from Kwong Soon & Co Engineering Works, has been given a new lease of life with an art exhibition and other programmes till Jan 27.

The 20,000 sq ft site is home to Twenty Twenty – a pop-up arts destination by Singapore Arts Club, invited by new building owner Kheng Leong Company to use the space till it takes over the building in the middle of the year.

The club aims to be a platform for the visual arts community to gather.

Visitors stepping into the cavernous warehouse today will be confronted not by the sight of automobile and ship parts, but by art installations by about 10 artists.

Among them are Wong Lip Chin’s Unseen (2020), a multi-sensorial work responding to an an abandoned altar in the building; Nicholas Ong’s Absurd Theatrics (2019), a series of painting and light installations; and Thai artist Santi Wangchuan’s hand-woven installation My Local Way Of Life (2016).

The exhibition in Cavan Road is part of Twenty Twenty’s pop-up event Strange Things, which is part of Singapore Art Week.

Property development and investment firm Kheng Leong Company bought the Cavan Road site for $38.71 million last year, suggesting that it planned to convert it into apartments with commercial units on the ground floor.

The existing light industrial and warehouse property, which lies on a street populated by hardware and woodcraft shops, is understood to have been built in the 1950s.

Its towkay used to live in an apartment above the workshop, which was occupied as recently as 2014.

Some vestiges of the old workshop remain – from pulley systems to the words “Loading/ Unloading” faintly visible on the ground.

Another artwork on show at the pop-up space is Dawn Ng’s Merry Go Round, a wide circle of more than 200 L-shaped mirrors – each nearly 3m tall – which allude to the radial pathway of a clock.

Walk clockwise inside the ring of mirrors and one will be faced with leaping, splintered reflections of oneself. Go the other way and the mirrors seem “shuttered in”, showing only a gradient of skin-like tones.

“When I entered this space six months ago, I was struck by how time seemed to have collapsed in on itself and stood still, while everything else in Jalan Besar had raced on,” says Ng, 37. “I was obsessed with trying to create a black hole within the space.”

Singapore Arts Club founder Audrey Yeo, who also helms the gallery Yeo Workshop, says some of the installations respond to the history and architecture of the space.

“There are a lot of themes we can play with – the history of the space, the history of this area – the artists have been inspired. We always try to find new audiences and I think art projects in spaces like this can excite people,” adds Ms Yeo, who notes that the initiative has cost about $150,000.

Aside from the exhibition, Strange Things features workshops, curator tours, heritage trails and talks featuring artists and visitors in conversation around a billiard table left behind by former occupants.

There will be a showcase by the Recharge Foundation exploring the link between art, jewellery and local craftsmanship.

In the meantime, at least one other arts event has sprung up in the Jalan Besar neighbourhood – an exhibition of old images of Singapore by photographer Loke Hong Seng, at Redeye Smokehouse restaurant across the street.