Executive Sub-Editor of Lianhe Zaobao laments the loss of The Substation as giving up “part of our collective souls”

Executive Sub- Editor of Lianhe Zaobao, Choo Lip Sin (Choo) shared his views in relation to reports on the upgrading of The Substation’s premises at 45 Armenian Street. Choo also further shared some of the sentiments expressed by the ex-Artistic Director of The Substation, Fendi, on the matter.

For those unaware, The Substation, which is Singapore’s first independent arts centre, will be vacating its iconic premises on Armenia Street in July 2021. The Substation has been at its current premises since 1985 and after more than 30 years, the National Arts Council (NAC) will be taking back the space for renovation works.

There are a few potential replacement premises that the arts centre is considering which include Goodman Arts Centre in Mountbatten, Aliwal Arts Centre in Kampong Glam as well as a few other venues sourced by The Substation’s team.

While members of the arts community rued the loss of the space which they described as integral to supporting less conventional works and collaborations within the arts community, there may be a chance that The Substation could return to the premises post-renovation.

In talking about The Substation, Choo first quoted some of the sentiments that were expressed by Fendi, who felt that the beginning of the end came with the opening of The Esplanade which led to The Substation becoming “neglected and increasingly irrelevant”, a testament to the “near perfect engineering and conditioning of memories and purpose by the State.”

Fendi was quoted as saying: “But one thing I will say is that an arts venue/space, any arts venue/space, especially one that claims aloud to be by and for the community MUST be stubbornly inclusive and diverse, and have great imagination in poverty.”

“This mission, one The Substation valiantly upholds and the legacy of Kuo Pao Kun, unnerves the State,” Fendi added.

He went on, “Many in the arts community still have reservations or difficulty with navigating or comprehending the what and how of being inclusive and being diverse. And no one wants to remain poor.”

Choo then penned his own opinion on the issue, noting that “all sorts of art “homes” have a place in Singapore, and the rustic, rudimentary, no-frills home for artists and art lovers that The Substation is deserves its solitary, undisturbed place on this island.”

He further opined that “The Substation offers an intimacy for exchanges, experimentations and experiences that the above-mentioned monumental spaces cannot emulate.”

Choo further stated that “losing The Substation as an independent and ungentrified art space is like what bull-dozing over Kampong Lorong Buangkok to build a new ‘Sengkang (a-la-Tampines) Hub’ will do to Singapore’s urban and social landscape. We give up a part of our collective souls in that process.”

He concludes his post noting, “We should ask why students, teenagers and emerging talents, young and less young, are not embracing the simple, unglorified setting that the Substation offers. It is more than a poverty issue.

Choo surmised that this is perhaps the same reason why many experts, academics and policymakers lament that the conserved shophouses in Kampong Gelam, Chinatown, Duxton-Tanjong Pagar, some parts of Little India, and Geylang “lack that vibrancy and rootedness to Singaporeanness”. This is “because no one lives in them, but they are also the same people who will never want to move in to live in a Singapore shophouse,” he added.


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