Independent & Alternative Art Spaces in Singapore: Supernormal
This article is the fourth in a series which will focus on independent and alternative art spaces in Singapore that have emerged and become a key part of the arts ecology in Singapore. Such spaces are differentiated from galleries or museums in that they are primarily non-profit, relies minimally or not at all on institutional support, and often presents the work of artists with alternative or experimental practices, who may not be well-represented in larger institution spaces. You can read the first article here, where an introduction into independent spaces in Singapore is covered, with a review of I_S_L_A_N_D_S at Peninsular Shopping Centre; the second article here, which reviews Coda Culture at King Georges Avenue; the third article here, which reviews ––Tom.
This article explores Supernormal, an independent art space located at 333 Kreta Ayer Road, Singapore, and a project of design studio Modular Unit. Similar to the other art spaces discussed in this series, Supernormal derives from a desire to provide a platform for young and emerging artists to show and develop work. What sets Supernormal slightly apart is its focus on artwork that explores the intersections between art, design and technology, one that aligns with Modular Unit’s interests.
Image courtesy of Supernormal.
Speaking to Ong Kian Peng (Bin), who runs the studio alongside Ivan Lee, he shared with me that Modular Unit started out initially as an audiovisual collective in 2009, named PMP. PMP’s interests were in the synaesthetic experience of sound and visuals, and produced minimal electronic music that fused computer-generated sound, glitches and acoustic instruments, alongside generative visuals that are controlled or react to the sound in real time. Synaesthesia is a perceptual phenomenon where a single sensation provokes another different associated experience, whether sensory or cognitive - for example, perceiving particular colours or visuals when hearing auditory sounds. PMP’s interests in the synaesthetic, the perceptual and experiential, alongside the intersection of technology with aesthetics, eventually led to the formation of Modular Unit. As a design studio, Modular Unit carries forward these interests in the realms of branding, publication, web design, installations, exhibition or gallery design and immersive experiences. While it functions as a design studio, working with clients and production, Modular Unit has also done interesting work in the realms of experimental generative design and software - such as “Tracing Contours”, developed for K+ Colourplan in 2016, which is a drawing machine that generates abstract drawings in response to the contours of clay as it undergoes a process of ceramic wheel throwing. Each generative drawing is subsequently paired with its corresponding ceramic ware, as products of parallel processes of creation.
Image courtesy of Modular Unit.
As with some of the best things in life, Supernormal came to being as a serendipitous encounter. In 2017, Modular Unit heard about an available space in Kreta Ayer for rent, who the landlord was actively seeking interested parties, and “out of boredom” went to check out the space. The space immediately spoke to them, and they proposed to the landlord to initially organise a series of pop-up exhibitions to attract attention for potential tenants. It was whilst preparing for their first show, they gave deeper thought to the potential of this space and about the gaps within the art scene in Singapore. Bin’s personal experience in his early years after graduation was that he faced difficulties finding good connections to the art scene and that many doors were closed. It was during this period that he was approached for the Substation’s Sound Art Open Call, which turned out to be a big break for him. After completing his Masters in UCLA, he was also exposed to a wide variety of independent art spaces in LA and other parts of US. It was then he realised that the presence of good independent art spaces was an essential aspect of a healthy art scene, and that was lacking or yet to be strengthened in Singapore. Within Singapore, the prevalence of commercial galleries and large institutional spaces dominate the arts landscape, leaving less space for freedom and experimentation independent of institutional restrictions, limitations by grants from external stakeholders and commercial funding pressures. To complete the story of Supernormal, after the first two initial shows they proposed, the landlord decided that they should either pay rent or move out. By that point, they were convinced that running of this independent space was something that they believed in and wanted to continue, so they started paying the rent. Supernormal is completely funded by Modular Unit.
Image courtesy of Supernormal.
Initially housed at 333 Kreta Ayer Road, they have now moved to 101 Desker Road and are undergoing renovations. Supernormal brings together Modular Unit’s and PMP’s interests, together with a commitment to creating an experimental and independent platform for the creation of new possibilities in Singapore’s creative and artistic landscape. Before their move, Supernormal held a fundraising Ping Pong competition, to raise funds to support their new space, but also as a grand prize, to provide the winners with two weeks of free space. One of Supernormal’s intentions is also to provide young emerging artists (with a focus on experimental works and technology-based art) the opportunity to try things and gain exposure without having to pay exorbitant amounts to rent a space to do so. One way Bin sees this can be achieved is through Open Calls.
Image courtesy of Supernormal
Supernormal has held many Open Calls, which as mentioned previously, is seen as a valuable opportunity for artists, who like Bin himself, may be struggling early in their career. The open calls allow anyone to submit an artistic proposal of any medium and discipline, to use their space for a presentation in any form. Their first Open Call exhibition was “To Touch on Tension” by Daniel Chong, which ran from 9 to 16 February 2018, whose work explored the notion of tension through works that were both precarious and ephemeral in nature. The second Open Call exhibition (14 - 28 April 2018) was presented in collaboration with SAND Magazine, and featured artists who interrogates the role of technology in art making (Hannah Tan, Yuichiro Katsumoto, Yeyoon Avis Ann, Tristan Lim and Ng Sheng Yong). The Open Call as format is an interesting one that has can be traced to similar formats in the acting or film industry, in order to source ‘talent’ that have yet to be discovered. This gives anyone the opportunity to apply in an open and democratic format, but be subject to the same selection process and criteria that does not rely on already existing networks or connections. Bin hence sees Open Calls as a way to ‘short-circuit’ the system, such that one did not have to rely on being talent-spotted or have good connections, but can have an exhibition based on one’s merit and good work alone. Open Calls are hence indispensable for a scene to remain constantly open, evolving and expanding. Supernormal, in particular, also positions itself as a platform for artists and/or designers whose works do not fit into conventional categories of art or design, “whose works exist in the undefinable in-betweens”. Even within the creative industry lies such pre-existing modes and formats that seem antithesis to the very nature of creative work, but inevitably solidify in every industry as it develops, setting boundaries for a particular perception of art. Supernormal, in attempting to provide a space specifically for the ‘in-betweens’, it itself being an ‘in-between’ space, is acknowledging the restrictions of disciplinary formats and opening doors to thinking across formats.
Image courtesy of Supernormal.
Besides the open calls, Supernormal also decides on their exhibitions through working with particular artists or groups who fit well with them, or who submit a request. Another notable event that Supernormal has organised is a conversation around independent art spaces in Singapore on 26 July 2018. Hosted by Eden, an independent initiative by Zarch Collaboratives Pte Ltd, it invited Alan Oei (The Substation), Jennifer Teo and Woon Tien Wei (Post-Museum), Jeremy Hiah (Your MOTHER Gallery), Seelan Paley (Coda Culture) and soft/WALL/studs, and of course Bin from Supernormal, to come together and talk about the various independent spaces they run and their collective views, opinions and difficulties faced. This talk is perhaps one of the few that have brought together these people who have been working - often very passionately and from their own pocket - to realise open, experimental platforms that share many similarities, but are driven by their individual purposes and visions.
Image courtesy of Supernormal.
As Supernormal has put a pause to their programme whilst they were moving to their new space at Desker Road, they have some upcoming exhibitions lined up. The space will be opened by a show with artist Nhawfal Jumaat, as well as with Justin Zhuang, a design researcher for a group exhibition titled “Is this Design?”, exploring the boundaries of design and the interaction between art and design. In addition, for the upcoming Singapore Art Week, they have planned a group exhibition titled “Adaptations” featuring Darren Ng (Sonicbrat), Murasaki Penguins, Melissa Tan, Lim Siping, Debbie Ding, Ong Kian Peng that looks at the different ways that artists from various disciplines engages with technology. With all these exciting shows lined up, we can safely say that Supernormal is living up to its ambitions as a space for experimental works and emerging artists.
Supernormal is located at 101 Desker Rd, Singapore 209623. For more information, see https://supernormal.sg/
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.