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An Interview with Emi Eu and Audrey Yeo of S.E.A. Focus

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An Interview with Emi Eu and Audrey Yeo of S.E.A. Focus

An initiative of STPI – Creative Workshop & Gallery, with the support of the National Arts Council, the Economic Development Board and the Singapore Tourism Board, S.E.A. Focus is the new ground-up arts showcase set to launch during Singapore’s annual art week in January 2019. Consisting 25, regional and international galleries, S.E.A Focus is gearing up towards their first ever instalment which takes the form of a boutique art event. We caught up with Emi Eu and Audrey Yeo who are working full steam ahead for this exciting new event.

It’s safe to say that people in Singapore, as well as those in the region, are incredibly eager to see such a ground-up arts initiative taking shape in our arts scene. Tell us a little about what the both of you are most excited for in this coming year’s first ever S.E.A. Focus.

Emi: It’s the very first one that we’re doing together! To be honest this is something that we, the galleries in Singapore, have been talking about for a very long time, having a well-curated presentation of galleries’ programmes for the public. So we’re really happy that this is finally coming together.

Audrey: We are working on a tri-partite programme #SEAspotlight – talks and feature programmes within the pavilion, #SEAcommunity such as kids programmes and workshops for our local audience, and #SEAcity – city wide engagements to galvanise other art spaces  It’s a chance for galleries, artists and collectors to get together, network and have a nice party. We hope we will be able to put together a good collection of artworks and galleries. That’s also going to be very exciting.

Emi: Something that we can look forward to is how we would like this presentation to be different to what Singapore has seen before. It’s about approximately 25 galleries coming together.
 

Like an art show.

Emi: Yes, like an art show where the visitors can not only view, but also purchase to support artists and galleries. We are speaking with galleries to propose interesting presentations and with the guidance of an Advisory Committee who will lend a critical eye, and perhaps suggest some surprising elements. We’re really trying to focus on providing refreshing aspects of an art event.
 

Is this a way of taking on a different angle to an art event?

Emi: There is the Southeast Asian framework, but I don’t think we’re taking on a different angle. I think what’s different is that it is going to be done at Gillman Barracks and complement the existing galleries. We’re also going to have to build the venue so that’s another thing that’s going to be different — it’s not an existing venue. We are trying to provide an experiential event, rather than a “come-see-buy” type event. But we're hoping for viewers to really try and understand through the various programmes, as Audrey said that we’re going to roll out, that they can experience and have long-lasting memories with.

Audrey: We’d really like to support the arts scene as well. We’ve already started with our #SEAspotlight videos, where we’re featuring key people in the art scene from the region and from Singapore. This makes it different from fairs that are very transactional. We really care about all the stakeholders that are participating with us, as well as the artists. In that sense, I don’t think it’s coming from a different angle in terms of output, but its intention is different. As Emi said, the galleries are trying to do something to support the scene. As both of us are gallerists, we understand the backbone of the arts scene.

Emi: This event is like an art fair and gallery weekend plus an art show, an amalgam of these three aspects together, an art festival of sorts.
 

It’s no secret that certain fairs and selling platforms, although initially exciting in their infancy, haven’t managed to retain traction and have fallen off the Singaporean platform. What are some characteristics of S.E.A. Focus that will ensure long-term interests?

Emi: That’s an interesting question. I was just talking to someone about consistency. This person said, “There are fairs that are really mature. The point is those fairs, the ‘mature’ fairs as we call them, were all at one stage in their infancy too. So it’s really about consistency and how we then make this project consistent. It really depends on the fact that we’re not aiming to be Art Basel Hong Kong, we’re not aiming to be Gallery Weekend Berlin, or even Singapore Arts Festival. These are big things and they take time to programme in studying the different possibilities of their offering. Audrey and I got together around 2 months ago, and we have another 4 months left. In this short time, we aren’t trying to reinvent the wheel, we just want to see what’s out there that we can really put a spotlight on, and how we can be the conduit to bring these elements together. That’s why we’re starting really small — we want to ensure that the content is good. With good content and with so many stakeholders interested in this content, we’re hoping it will help us to be consistent in our offering no matter how small we may be. We’re not trying to be really mega. From this, we want to slowly build up to a point where one day we’ll become a mature event.

 

Would you then say that the financial aspect is not at the forefront of this event?

Emi: We have to be practical but what we first want is to ensure that the quality and content of the show is relevant to our stakeholders. It’s all about relevancy, and how do we present it in a way that is relatable to everyone.

Audrey: If you look at what our projects are, what Emi has run with STPI and what I have run with Yeo Workshop, we have always had intentions to seed projects and ideas in the long-term. Art should not be about turning an unhealthy and quick profit or reaping rewards very quickly.

Emi: We want to sow properly and well, to reap a lot in the long term!
 

How do you think S.E.A. Focus will contribute to the scope of arts locally, regionally and internationally?

Emi: Well locally, we’re looking forward to receiving proposals from galleries that will present a different way of showcasing their artists’ talents from a different angle. We know what’s out there and we have been really encouraging galleries to think out-of-the-box. It’s almost like a collaboration between us and them in working together to make this really attractive to outsiders, from programming to ideas. Hopefully, the way we go about organising this event will inspire them and vice versa. We’re not expecting this event to immediately galvanise the whole industry overnight, but it’s a slow but steady growth that comes with the maturing and the taking of time for galleries to think about what is needed in this market. In coming together, we want people to think about what’s possible and hope for them to work on those areas. I think regional and international collaborations always foster something unexpected, we’re hoping that our spread of galleries will attract a wide range of collectors, curators and new audiences. .It’s one spinning off another, kind of like a domino effect. But hopefully, that will take place steadily and consistently over time.

 

What are some of the challenges that come attached with running at an event of this calibre from its inception?

Emi: Time has been a big factor; we have to work very quickly.

Audrey: As well as human resources — to find people who understand the art who can work on this event. We’re a very slim team for doing what we’re doing so that’s very challenging. It’s a lot of work. You say “event of this calibre”, and thank you very much for that, but we hope for this to be an impactful, simple event.

Emi: But it still takes a lot of preparation. Anything simple takes a lot more preparation on the back-end. 
 

Tell us a little about the demographic that S.E.A. Focus seeks to attract.

Emi: I hope everyone!

Audrey: As mentioned above with our programming, we do have engagement across the local and international community,  art ecosystem, art collectors and buyers (museums, hotels, or developments). I really think in today’s contemporary art landscape there really is something for everyone just from the way art looks today.

 

Singapore as a nation is definitely still in its infancy with regards to the arts as compared to larger art markets such as Hong Kong and Shanghai. Whilst these markets have been around much longer, what do you think are some of the key factors that Singapore has yet to take on in order to establish itself on the scale of such competitors?

Audrey: If you look at our branding, we did think about Singapore as a relevant arts hub and market. Our logo is a series of networks that connects, amplifies, and engages, and that’s how our arts scene has been growing over the years. We remain very relevant because we have a very good intersection between the private and public sectors. We have the hard part down, in how we have some wonderful institutions such as National Gallery Singapore, the Singapore Art Museum. We have an amazing gallery like STPI that does residencies for artists, we have the Centre for Contemporary Art that does critical art research as well as residencies. It really is a very relevant place to see artists from all over the world come here to further their career. With regards to what you were talking about with “making their mark”, Singapore really does provide the infrastructure for artists to grow. Even though Hong Kong is a very commercial place as well as Shanghai, I do think we have great infrastructures for the growth of art professionals and for artists. We’re very international in terms of our outlook and we’ve gone out to see the works in different countries, and still we’re so excited about Singaporean artists because of all the opportunities there are here for them. You can also tell by the art marketplace that there is an interest to come to Singapore. I am confident, that Singapore will continue to be relevant as an art market that appeals to locals and internationals alike.

Emi: I don’t think we should be looking at how we could be competing with other events or cities because the art world is really coming together as one. The calendar that we use is an international art calendar; it’s not just regional or just Singapore’s. We’re pegging ourselves to the arts calendar internationally. What Singapore can provide or offer to the international arts industry are our outstanding residencies, research, infrastructure; it’s a place where both artists and curators come and get to learn about how art is developed in this region. I think this will set us apart from the other art cities.
 

For more information on the inaugural S.E.A. Focus, click here



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