As Gillman Barracks celebrates its fourth anniversary as a visual arts precinct, we track its growth over the years.
BY MELANIE LEE
Published on 13 September 2016
BY MELANIE LEE
Gillman Barracks has always had great ambitions. When it first opened in 2012 with a S$10-million makeover of a former British military camp, it was compared to Beijing’s famous 798 Art District, and there were high hopes of it becoming an iconic international art destination.
However, widespread popularity has not arrived instantaneously for this visual arts precinct. For one, its seemingly inaccessible location (in reality, it is a short walk from Labrador Park MRT Station) — a sprawling 6.4-hectare hilly site within the Southern Ridges — means that it is not always the top-choice hangout spot for Singaporeans.
Last April, it received its worst blow yet. Five out of the original 17 galleries decided not to renew their leases due to low footfall. However, for Edwin Low, founder of Supermama who has just opened a second outlet at Gillman Barracks, it is precisely this relative “ulu-ness” which he feels is ideal for his studio/gallery/shop-space. “It is like asking, ‘Why is it so quiet?’ in a library. If we wanted a store with a high footfall, we’d have gone to the shopping centres. The charm of Gillman lies in this irregular flux of traffic. We wanted a space where we can take time to work and to present our works to our clients and not be rushed into a sales mode,” he says.
Despite this, Gillman Barracks is definitely getting more buzz these days. According to Low Eng Teong, director, sector development (visual arts), National Arts Council (NAC), “Gillman Barracks has seen a lot of positive changes since 2015. We have broadened our tenant mix by bringing in visual arts organisations and creative businesses such as Art Outreach, Playeum Children’s Centre for Creativity and Supermama that attract new audiences and complement the gallery core.”
One major new tenant, the acclaimed Sullivan+Strumpf gallery from Sydney, is excited about developing relationships with Singaporean and other Asian clients in their permanent Singapore space after successfully participating in fairs such as Art Stage Singapore and Art Basel Hong Kong.
“Gillman Barracks was the only venue we ever considered in Singapore. It is a truly unique area — a hub for anyone interested in contemporary art — and there is certainly nothing like it in Australia. We will definitely be bringing the best of our gallery to Singapore, including major solo exhibitions by exciting and progressive artists such as Alex Seton, Sam Jinks and Karen Black,” says its co-founder and director, Ursula Sullivan.
Gillman Barracks’ anchor tenant, NTU Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore (NTU CCA Singapore), a research centre focusing on the contemporary art ecosystem in Asia, which opened in October 2013, also gives a cerebral burst of life to the place with its regular exhibitions, public programmes (lectures, film screenings, open studios), and artist residencies. There are additional plans to develop an art walk and offer short-term courses to those who want to deepen their knowledge in the visual arts.
“The NTU CCA Singapore takes topics currently discussed in contemporary art and brings them close to audiences, providing them with creative experiences and showing how art enhances our knowledge,” says Professor Ute Meta Bauer, its founding director.
OZ TRULY Australian gallery Sullivan+Strumpf, led by Ursula Sullivan and Joanna Strumpf (below), opened their art space at Gillman Barracks
While the overall aim is to get more art galleries to open and succeed in Gillman Barracks, the government has adopted a long-term view of developing this art enclave by boosting its public programming. Bimonthly precinct-wide open houses Art After Dark and Art Day Out! are organised — and attendance even peaked at 6,000 visitors one night. Guided Art & History public tours by Friends of the Museums are also held weekly and have been growing in popularity.
“We believe that over time, these public programmes will increase interest and literacy in the arts and groom a new generation of art supporters and collectors,” explains NAC’s Low.
Tenants are also encouraged to hold events. In September, Supermama will host a Supermama Design Mart, where designers, makers and buyers can connect. The company will also be organising their first Supermama Porcelain Festival.
“Through these events, we hope to encourage Singapore designers and artists to create local content and develop the material culture in Singapore. At the same time, these events will allow meaningful conversations to take place between the designers and the visitors,” says Supermama’s Low.
Even with 11 international and local galleries as well as seven food and beverage outlets, the government is on a lookout for more established galleries and creative businesses to set up shop in Gillman Barracks.
“Galleries here can enjoy the benefits of being within a wider arts precinct, such as cross collaborations with other galleries, NTU CCA or Art Outreach. Over the next few years, we also see Gillman Barracks playing a more integrated role in the local art ecosystem, and galleries here can capitalise on Singapore’s art market as it matures,” says NAC’s Low.
UNDER ONE ROOF NTU CCA, a research centre focusing on contemporary art, houses a suite of studios and library (below).
PHOTOS NTU CCA Singapore
(Till 8 October) ARNDT
VENUE Block 9 Lock Road, #03-21 & Block 47, #01-25
A group exhibition exploring the Filipino contemporary art landscape featuring famous Asian artists such as Louie Cordero, Norberto Roldan and Ronald Ventura. This show was first presented in Berlin last year, and will travel to London in 2017.
FOR MORE INFORMATION arndtfineart.com
IN THE LIGHT OF THE EPHEMERAL SILENCE
(Till 23 October) FOST Gallery
VENUE Block 1 Lock Road, #01-02
Local artist Eric Chan’s new series of paintings are inspired by the elements of Western cinematic traditions. An imposing snow-capped mountain range, crashing waves, trees silhouetted in mist — each work is akin to a melancholic still frame from a film noir.
FOR MORE INFORMATION fostgallery.com
AMAR KANWAR: THE SOVEREIGN FOREST
(Till 9 October) NTU CCA Singapore
VENUE Block 43 Malan Road
A debut Southeast Asian showcase of the poignant multimedia installations of New Delhi-based artist and film-maker Amar Kanwar. For this project, Kanwar focuses on the industrial development and subsequent displacement, conflict and destruction of Odisha in East India.
FOR MORE INFORMATION ntu.ccasingapore.org
Gillman Barracks was built in 1936 for the First Battalion of the Middlesex Regiment. It is named after the late General Sir Webb Gillman, a well-known British officer. In 1971, the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) took over its premises when the British military withdrew from Singapore. When the SAF vacated this camp of 14 buildings in the 1990s, the buildings were used for commercial purposes and renamed Gillman Village in 1996. In 2010, the site reverted to its original name and was redeveloped and relaunched as a visual arts cluster in 2012. Today’s Gillman Barracks is jointly developed by the Singapore Economic Development Board, the National Arts Council and the JTC Corporation.
EVEN IF YOU’RE NOT INTENDING TO BUY ART, HERE’S WHY GILLMAN BARACKS IS WORTH A VISIT.
GILLMAN BARACKS FOURTH ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATIONS
23 September 7-11pm, 24 September 2-7pm
Block 9 Lock Road
The whole of Gillman Barracks is having an open house this particular celebratory weekend. The Friday evening event will have outdoor food and beverage pop-ups, local music acts, and a live mural painting by Singapore artist Speak Cryptic. Saturday’s daytime activities include open studios of NTU CCA Singapore’s Artists-in-Residence, a farmers’ market and family-friendly art activities.
FOR MORE INFORMATION gillmanbarracks.com
GUIDED ART & HISTORY TOURS
Friends of the Museums organise public tours in partnership with the Economic Development Board so more Singaporeans will acquaint themselves with what Gillman Barracks has to offer. The Art & History Tour is perfect for those looking for insights into the contemporary art works located within the Barracks. The History & Heritage Tour focuses on the Barrack’s evolution from military base to art precinct.
THE NAKED FINN
Block 39 Malan Road
If you want to impress a date, one of Gillman’s more popular restaurants, The Naked Finn, offers that perfect combination of fresh, succulent seafood and an intimate scenic dining spot. In particular, their legendary (yet value-for-money) lobster roll has enticed many foodies back for repeat visits.
FOR MORE INFORMATION Visit www.nakedfinn.com
Block 5A Lock Road
Popular artisanal ice-cream café Creamier recently opened a new outlet at Gillman Barracks that’s a little more spacious than its other outpost. Surrounded by lush greenery, it’s the perfect place to catch up with friends during a lazy weekend afternoon as you savour a scoop of Kaya Toast ice cream.
FOR MORE INFORMATION Visit creamier.com.sg
Block 47 Malan Road #01-23
Singapore’s first Children’s Centre for Creativity offers hours of fun and exploration for young ones. Its current exhibition ‘Hideaways — Creating With Nature’ invites children to engage with nature and natural materials through hands-on exhibits and interactive art installations.
FOR MORE INFORMATION Visit playeum.com
NEW INSTAGRAM-WORTHY INSTALLATIONS
LING TING 2 (LISTENING NO. 2)
by Sai Hua Kuan (till 6 October)
Block 9 Lock Road
This interactive sound installation, which debuted at the Art Paris Art Fair last year, has now made its way back home. Speak into the mouthpiece located in the middle of the sculpture to listen to an amplified version of your voice.
ALL THAT IS LEFT BEHIND
by Speak Cryptic (till 1 February 2017)
Block 9, Lock Road
A series of outdoor wall murals will be created in tribute to Gillman’s military past. Speak Cryptic illustrates an assortment of trees and shrubs as an extension of the forested environment in this precinct, painting in various British army paraphernalia from the 1930s to look as if they are slung over the branches of these plants.
Visit gillmanbarracks.com for more information.