Substation’s Strange Bedfellows

Published on 31 January 2017

The Substation has recruited a merry motley crew they call The Co-op –  art-makers, students and non-artists who have been roped in to put together all its programmes this February. By Jo Tan

While Singapore has its fair share of programmes featuring artists ranging from advanced to amateur, the programmers themselves – who put together the lineup – are usually extremely experienced. And yet, what if the Substation (Singapore’s oldest independent contemporary arts centre) didn’t have programmers or an artistic director?

This is what the experiment The Co-op hoped to discover by assembling a diverse team of thirteen applicants – from students to novelists and theatre directors – to work on an equal footing with the Substation’s two programmers and decide all the Substation’s programmes in February. “The heart of this experiment is not just how decisions are made, but who gets to make them,” says Mok Cui Yin, the project’s Guest Producer. “The Co-op includes people whose only prior involvement in the arts has been as hobbyists or consumers. In Singapore, decision-makers tend to be of a highly educated, elite demographic. This experiment calls into question the people we put into authority positions.”

Of course, arriving at decisions was no mean feat. “Similar discussions float up whenever you have to choose one thing over the other, but here you have to balance fifteen different but equal voices. The first few weeks were spent just discussing the terms of engagement: Should decisions be made by majority vote, discussion, by absolute consensus? They actually christened their system the land of forever negotiation,” chuckles Mok.

“There were moments when it was uncertain if the Co-op would be able to finalise the programme in time, but it was important for everybody to know that failing to put up a programme was simply another acceptable experiment outcome, and to share their unique views rather than deferring to someone else because of the pressures of presenting a product. Otherwise we could just have just got an experienced programmer in the first place.”

After much jettisoning, revisiting and evolution of ideas, the Substation now has a complete four-event February programme collectively called A Common Ground, courtesy of the Co-op! Each event deals with what the members had to go through: sharing a common space. Come share it with them!

Berita Harian Panas Panas

Berita Harian Panas Panas – a communal translation project in which articles from Singapore’s national Malay-language daily are translated to English for non-Malay speaking visitors to get a glimpse of conversations and perspectives within.

Something to Say

Something to Say – where the Substation Box Office is transformed into a recording room where members of the public can book an anything-goes recording session, with the aim of collating a publicly accessible, continually expanding resource of audio recordings containing hidden knowledge and inside information about our neighbourhoods and the people that occupy them.

Off-Grid Autonomous Water

Off-Grid Autonomous Water System – a crowd-built water collection and cleansing system, split into three units designed to collect, filtrate, and act as a social space within The Substation

TogetherGatherTogether Concert

TogetherGatherTogether Concert : a concert uniting diverse music acts in Singapore including Myanmar rock, void deck jiwang, ethnic fusion, all-girl hardcore, and Japanese ska under the Substation roof.

A Common Ground runs 7-26 Feb at The Substation. More details at

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