ARTS & HERITAGE - HOME IS THE SUBSTATION
ARTS & HERITAGE - HOME IS THE SUBSTATION
01 Sep 2012 0:00AM
By: Author

ARTS & HERITAGE - HOME IS THE SUBSTATION

ARTS & HERITAGE - HOME IS THE SUBSTATION (1)

For the arts, home is a unassuming substation tucked in a corner off Armenian Street. Its sidewalls are scrawled with intriguing mantras; a glimpse into the diversity embraced by the institution.

I trundled up the stairs, taking shelter from the burning asphalt of the fickle August weather. The sight that greeted me – framed on the wall was rows of white pinwheels - mildly amusing.

My meeting with Effendy Ibrahim, or ‘Fendy’, Artistic Director of the Substation, was on the eve of National Day. Armenian Street was unusually quiet without the usual traffic whizzing past Stamford Road. Correcting me when I casually called the Substation a ‘shophouse’, there was nothing in it that spoke to me the uniqueness of the place, or its vision. Well, not yet, at least.

ARTS & HERITAGE - HOME IS THE SUBSTATION (2)

The meeting took place in a spacious classroom. It is home for Fendy, for someone who had been given space to practice in the early 90s. It must have been so for many others. The place was strangely quiet that day, I imagined it to be rife with the coming and going of people, and of possibilities. The Substation defies official boundaries. It is made up of conversations that are engaging, dialogues, and nuances cannot be captured by one person alone. In Fendy’s words, it cannot be defined as, “not even [the] ‘spirit’, or a ‘community’.” Home’s probably the word then.

The Substation is an interesting neighbor to have, I imagined. I got the sense that it was a mixed bag of the curious and the crazy. Everything goes. It takes conversations with people, dialogues, and interactions, to scratch beyond what the Substation is on the surface, however. So in the short time I had with Fendy, I sought to get a sense of the place, of its significance and identity. Apparently, Everyone, goes to the Substation. The Substation welcomes everyone.

What took me by surprise was the mention of “two ghosts” casting its pall over the Substation – the haunting of memories, and baggage left behind. Perhaps, dare I complete the sentence, collective and shared memories of disappointments, of lofty ideals, possibilities and ethos of racial diversity, baggage left in the dust.

You must understand – I grew up in the early 90s, and was an awful lot sheltered in a reality where censorship wasn’t openly discussed, where a cut in Performance Art funding then – well, what is Performance Art? The Substation – “Poverty as Appreciation” retains much of its original spirit, even as it gears towards its 22nd birthday with the SeptFest – a month long celebration of the arts and culture. Founded in 1990 by one of the pioneers in local theatre, the late Kuo Pao Kun, the Substation is a place that encourages conversations and meaningful interactions from a diversity of artists, and residents. I am intrigued by how seemingly deceptive its simple appearance is – it is, after all, “Singapore’s first independent contemporary arts centre”. I’ll be back in September.

The Substation is located at 45 Armenian Street, Singapore 179936

More about SeptFest can be found here:
http://www.substation.org/wp-content/uploads/WhatsOn_July-Sept.pdf