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Eyes All Around: A Review & Interview with Winnie Li of Jalan Besar Salon

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Eyes All Around: A Review & Interview with Winnie Li of Jalan Besar Salon
Image courtesy of Emporium of the Modern Man

It’s an exciting time to be in Singapore, with a multitude of arts events and platforms that are constantly popping up. Once in a while, something different comes into being, one that presents a unique model – half the time, an art and design retail store presents quality design and enduring products, while the rest of the time, the brick and mortar store temporarily closes to give way to a pop-up space for workshops, programmes and exhibitions that aim to act as a catalyst for creative exchange and learning. This is the Emporium of the Modern Man (EOMM), or Jalan Besar Salon, as it is now operating from September to December 2018. We speak to Winnie Li of EOMM/Jalan Besar Salon to find out more.

Image courtesy of the author 

For those who don’t know you, can you give us the story behind Emporium of the Modern Man and Jalan Besar Salon?

Coming from a business school background, I became increasingly disinterested with what I was doing and decided to set up EOMM as a way to truly marry what I was doing academically with my true interests and passion with stories, well-made goods and questioning consumerism. As such, you can see the difference between our online inventory and our intimate storefront, which functions as a showcase referencing the style of visual merchandising of an old-time departmental store.

After some previous projects were compromised, I was inspired by a neighbouring cafe owned by a friend. Their space had a second storey walkup with an under-utilised enclave that inspired the very first Jalan Besar Salon pop-up last year. It became a collaborative effort combining interior styling, landscaping, fashion and art as we invited people to come up and hang out, see our friend’s works and browse collections. Jalan Besar Salon is a wordplay on the various salons in our area offering alternative services, just like how we may be known as a retail store but have many spontaneous happenings in our space.

Image courtesy of Jalan Besar Salon.

Tell us about your background. What brought you to where you are today?

Winnie: I have a business school background as well as a training in landscape architecture and photography studios. More recently, I have also gone into assistant curation and liaison overseas.  This quote from Chuck Palahniuk’s Invisible Monsters best describes it, “Nothing of me is original. I am the combined effort of everyone I've ever known.”

You mentioned that you felt that the definition of art shouldn’t be limited, and should encompass other disciplines. How does botanical science, graphic design, photography, fashion or printmaking interact within the programming and choice of artists for Jalan Besar Salon this year?

I strongly believe that what we personally find to be art here in Jalan Besar Salon is not important in this case. The space aims to give our audience and community, the autonomy to define what they think art is.

Working off the belief that there is no fixed definition for art and that these practices should not be kept in separate fields, we would like to invite you to take a gander around our space to see how all of these can come together cohesively, and create dialogues with each other.

Image courtesy of Jalan Besar Salon.

This is the second year you are organising Jalan Besar Salon. Can you tell us about the theme “Watch Your Back And Your Front”?

This year’s theme of “Watch Your Back And Your Front” aims to explore our macro and micro-environments by bringing awareness to our surroundings. By transforming our space for each show, from a wild garden (macro-environment: addressing issues of urban planning in Singapore with Ke-Ting Chen), to a gym locker room (macro/micro: addressing issues of race and marginalisation in Singapore with Khairullah Rahim) and finally into a homely environment (micro: addressing issues of identity and relationships relative to personal spaces with Annabel Lubega, Ivan Tan and Shannon Lim).

How would you describe the audience you are expecting to attend your events and workshops?

Fostering a sense of community is of utmost importance to us with our Jalan Besar Salon annual pop-ups. Pulling away from the white cube environment, our space aims to be welcoming and cosy. We look forward to having the many creatives, independent galleries, friends and family in our neighbourhood joining us for our intimate events and small group workshops and talks.

How do you think Jalan Besar Salon will contribute to the arts locally, as well as its place within the surrounding neighbourhood of Jalan Besar?

We feel that Jalan Besar Salon is attempting to provide an open platform for people to communicate their ideas and practice through our talks and shows. This is done by providing a safe space for communication as we realise many of us Singaporeans are shy and have a hard time voicing out in real life. Accessibility and inclusivity is our main focus, hence our programme strives to be as varied as possible. We also want the main takeaway for the audience to be inspired to do something as they come out of one of our events with a message and purpose.

Image courtesy of Jalan Besar Salon.

What are some of the challenges that you have faced starting this up, including during the first iteration?

As we are still in our incubation stages, we found our intentions as a retailer to make such a move questioned. We also found it a challenge when it came to breaking the ice and working together closely when it comes to addressing cultural differences and work ethic. As we progress, it has also been challenging when it came to trying to stitch different communities together organically and finding a balance in bringing people together without being too forceful.

Lastly, what’s brewing for the next year?

We are looking forward to a series of shows next year including an open call for both curators and artists, as well as, a continuation of our residency programme with an overseas exchange aspect. The programme will be outpost overseas with satellite activities outside of Singapore. We will also be opening the space off-season for events and workshops, as well as a subsidised studio space for new graduates as we would love to share our resources and space to the communities around us.

For 2018, Jalan Besar Salon presents “Watch Your Back and Your Front”, with a focus on the exploration and awareness of one’s environment, as well as green living and consciousness. It comprises of three phases – from 25 September – 15 October 2018, plant pathologist and artist Ke-Ting Kurt Chen from Taiwan conducted a series of botanical workshops and talks that drew from his work with indigenous communities and farms, through the knowledge of traditional weaving techniques with local plants, as well as knowledge of DIY fermentation processes that relies on the cultivation of bacterial cultures. From 26 October – 7 November 2018, Singaporean artist Khairullah Rahim presents a solo exhibition “tender musk”, whose sculptural assemblages often feature a sensitive attention to material and textures, and stem from his research into the marginalization of ethnic minorities and minority identity in Singapore. Lastly, it will see workshops and collaborations between local graphic designer Shannon Lim, Austrian-Ugandan artist Annabel Lubega and local filmmaker-writer Ivan Tan. Shannon Lim is already in residence in the space, and will host a series of workshops and talks on collaborative work and publications.

Jalan Besar Salon’s novel and interdisciplinary approach to engaging fields of urban management, psychology, intimacy and socio-environmental topics via art, design and philosophy – while simultaneously creating a space for people to gather, converse and create – is a breath of fresh air to the local arts ecology in Singapore.

To find out more, click here.


Any views or opinions in the post are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the company or contributors.



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