I was very glad to have participated in the Salon Series at The Substation running this year under the theme of ‘Discipline the City’ with Joanne Leow as speakers. Both of us wanted to open up a conversation about ‘street’ art in Singapore, a heavily regulated Southeast Asian city-state — that is, art of the street (i.e. street culture), and art also done from street level (to evoke de Certeau and Lefebvre) — and throw these questions out there: is there an aesthetic of resistance to Singaporean (street) art? And how would one describe that if there was, in the context of the spatially controlled urban space?
Kicking it off with a brief survey of the graffiti on The Substation’s walls, we talked of layers and material and memorial weathering, as well as the sanctioning of space for street art and counterculture. We revisited SKL0’s breakout work, Champion Colloquial (2012), which had stirred up the question of how one should distinguish street art from vandalism in the Singaporean public sphere, then turned to her Limpeh solo show (2015) that featured portraits of the late Singaporean statesman Lee Kuan Yew. Moving on to the Eisner-winning graphic novel The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye, we discussed Sonny Liew’s depiction of Singaporean historical urban space and alternative urban histories. And finally, we focused on the created mythology and the material dimensions of the pop-up record store installation Melantun Records (2017), set up in response to David Bowie’s portrayal of the shopping center in his documentary, titled Ricochet, on his “Serious Moonlight” tour in 1983. There was lively discussion in the session, with questions on the responsibility of the street artist to the public, and spatial materiality and its relation to memory and history in a city that is constantly remaking itself.