Interview: Khairuddin Hori, Curator of The Singapore Show: Future Proof

Eccentric City: Rise and Fall by :phunk studio and Keiichi Tanaami.

Culturepush was there at the opening of The Singapore Show: Future Proof on 14 January at SAM at 8Q, one of the biggest contemporary art shows dedicated to local artists in recent years. If you haven’t had the chance to visit, Future Proof showcases work by 26 Singapore-based artists (the distinction is due to the fact that although the show is largely Singaporean-represented, there a few artists like Andree Weschle who wasn’t born on this island, but started her practice here).

There are several familiar names on the bill such as Donna Ong:phunk studio and Vertical Submarine and justly so, but we were also cheered by the inclusion of artists from a diverse spectrum of disciplines such as performance artist Rizman Putra (of Kill Your Television fame), Grace Tan (Kwodrent), Randy Chan (Zarch) and our ever favourite street artists, Speakcryptic and Clogtwo. We had a chance to have a short phone chat with Khairuddin Hori, artist and curator of the show who shared with us the shaping of Future Proof and his thoughts on the Singapore contemporary art scene.

First off, why Future Proof?

We named it Future Proof for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it’s the idea of the artist proof, the final copy that the artist gives his approval. Secondly, futureproofing is a process in technology to ensure that new technology will survive the future. And it’s also a song by Massive Attack (laughs). The idea is that these are the artists that we can look to in the future and we believe that they have practices that will last and stay relevant.

And the Singapore Show?

We feel that in Singapore, a lot of people don’t talk about the art. People talk about the bureaucracy of art; censorship, funding, studio spaces, artist development, all that except for the art itself. We also wanted to showcase an emerging group of Singapore artists, partly for clarity in the branding of the show and also to present Singapore-based artists from various disciplines and backgrounds. 

Speakcryptic at work on his piece, Ka-KhÇ.

How were the artists selected?

We selected established young artists such as Donna Ong and :phunk studio, and a mix of young and relatively unknown artists like Gerald Leow. Leow is a self-taught artist with a degree in Philosophy, so in a sense he’s an outsider. We didn’t just look at artists, but also the artwork itself, whether it’s relevant to the Singapore landscape and how each talks about the Singapore condition. We also chose artists who come from different disciplines. For example, Grace Tan has a fashion background, Randy Chan is from architecture, Speakcryptic and Clog 2 are street artists, so the show crosses multiple boundaries.

In your opinion, how has Singapore’s contemporary art scene developed since its first origins?

A lot of things have happened since Tang Dang Wu and the Artists Village. Primarily, the young artists are better informed and better exposed to the international scene mainly through the internet. This is a generation that took advantage of access to information and vast networks. In the past, art practitioners only had books to refer to and many were difficult to come by. Also, in that time there were much fewer artist residences available, locally and abroad. Now, there are so many opportunities and they help influence the practice. There is also the influence of the art market today. In the 1980s and 90s, artists didn’t talk about the market, only about galleries and shows. Just look at the recent Singapore Art Stage, young artists were getting a lot of interest from collectors.


Your Love is Like a Chunk of Gold by Sookoon Ang.

Have you noticed changing themes explored by contemporary artists today as compared to their predecessors?

Generally, young people now look at their selves more than society. I’m not saying they are self-centred in a selfish way. Rather, they look at how policy affects them personally, more so than how it affects society on the whole. So they may ask the question, how do I survive in this world today? Tang Da Wu used to talk about globalization and environmentalism on a global level, but the artists today talk about it on a more immediate local level and how it directly affects them. The slightly older generation, when they were emerging, often touched on issues such as sexuality, gender and race. The present young generation address themes like urbanization, living in the city and issues of identity, nationhood and social causes.

What is your personal take on the Singapore contemporary arts scene at the moment?

It could use a better working eco-system. Venues like the Substation and Sculpture Square are not being utilized well (Editor: We edited this statement out of space constraints and Khairuddin has posted a clarification in the comments.). There needs to be a better effort in engaging the public, and I hope with new venues such as Gillman Barracks, there will be further opportunities for growth. Also on the ground, it would be good to see the art collectives press on, many of them presently seem to start and stop. As for the museum, we hope to have Singapore content all the time, whether it’s a solo show or group show by young artists. Singapore content should always be there. We’ve received feedback from visitors that they are more interested in local and Asian work, because that’s the reason why they’re visiting the Singapore Art Museum. We’re also working towards giving younger artists more opportunities for bigger and bolder work. I think it scares them to undertake a big commission with a big budget, so we mentor them to give them greater confidence for the future.

The Singapore Show: Future Proof is presented at SAM at 8Q with SAM-commissioned installations at 222 Queen Street, SAM Front Lawn and The Substation. The show runs until 18 April 2012.

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  • William Tan

    I have seen some of the works featured in Future Proof before, and they were first presented and supported by The Substation!

  • Hi William, you’re right and Khai did mention that in the interview that several of the works have been presented elsewhere before and they weren’t precious on that aspect. 

  • William Tan

    I said that in response to Mr Hori’s statement that “venues like the Substation and Sculpture Square are not being utilized well.”

    What i meant to say was that Mr Hori cannot piggyback off venues like The Substation, and at the same time criticise them for not being utilised well. Cannot have your cake and eat it. :P

  • Sarah Ng

    I agree with you William. 

    And why would a curator from SAM be bitchy about interesting spaces like Sculpture Square and The Substation? Surely a curator from a public institution like SAM should be more diplomatic. Rather inappropriate comment when the arts scene in Singapore is so small. From what i’ve read about Gillman Barracks, it’s sounds like a commercialised, contrived shopping centre of art. There is nothing organic and interesting about the idea. 

  • Khaihori

    I mentioned in the interview that venues such as The Substation, ICA at Lasalle and Sculpture Square play different roles in our local visual art ‘eco-system’. The Substation for example, is an experimental  and incubator space, Sculpture Square, a space for sculptures, ICA, a space tagged to an art school and academia. I have personally seen good exhibitions and have even exhibited in these three spaces in the past both as an artist and curator, in fact, I am still an Associate Artist (and one of the first ones) of The Substation. In my opinion, the local visual arts scene will be more dynamic if these spaces are able operate at its peak and according to its mission. I also mentioned to the journalist in the interview that while I look forward to exciting programmes at these spaces, I also understand the various challenges they face.

  • fendy

    Thanks Khai for the clarification. this then warrants a clarification from the interviewer as to the unfortunate phrasing of Khai’s responses, probably due to limited print-space?

  • Thanks Khai for the clarification. It was definitely not my intention for his statements to be misconstrued as such and my mistake for editing it a little too succinctly due to space issues. I’ll insert a link in the interview to this response to prevent further misunderstanding. 

    I’m glad it also highlights the issue of art spaces in Singapore which warrants further discussion.

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  • Jeanne Wong

    I think “Not being utilized well” is not exactly the issue here. I’m just a regular Jane with not much background in arts who goes to SAM and National Museum often. Personally I find most art places like substation rather intimidating as compared to SAM and National Museum. I feel the management at Substation and Sculpture Square could work on the image of their locations. Seems that an issue here is not the art itself but the location. I don’t think it’s right to say that Khai piggyback off the Substation since most of the work at Future Proof was made a few years ago. Art scene currently is getting a great kick from social media and the indie art scene that it is generating more people to actually check out the works.

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