We hear curators, academics, the random ah ma on the street say, we have good art, artefacts and documents in Singapore but there is not enough people doing research on them. Yet where do we find this fabled good material? It is not as easy as accessing the collections of the Metropolitan Museum and the Tate. Or so we think.
As ah ma says, we are hungry for more research work to be done on the stuff we are hoarding. So it has been a no-brainer for our local hoarders to make access free for anyone and everyone who has an interest in working on, or merely learning more about, the objects held in Singapore. In other words, if you want to conduct real research and be the one to write something completely original, and the National Library’s e-resources are not inspiring you, check out one of the places below.
Home of artworks and documents from Southeast Asia from the 18th century to the present (Over 8,000 discrete items available online). Lesser known is their Resource Centre, which has artist monographs, out-of-print exhibition catalogues, oral histories, letters, artist sketches, photographs, memorabilia…the list goes on. Did I mention that Singapore loves sorting, labelling and organising things? That’s why there is a comprehensive and easily usable database for the Resource Centre too. The more fragile items is only accessible on a by request basis but the digitised materials should be more than enough to get a researcher started.
The Resource Centre Library is at Supreme Court Wing, Level 4M (Open Mon – Fri, 10am – 12.30pm & 2pm – 5pm) and the Prints & Drawings Room is at Supreme Court Wing, Level 3M (Make an appointment via email).
2. NUS Museum
Once upon a time, University of Malaya (currently NUS) dreamed of setting up a History of Art department. To that end, they had collected several works of art by artists that have fallen out of the spotlight over the years, for instance Yeo Kim Seng and Lai Boon Kee. In its life, its directors have also begun to amass an impressive and rather large collection of Southeast Asian art and artefacts, and ancient to contemporary Chinese art. It also houses the largest collection of artworks and documents by Ng Eng Teng. The sheer quantity of objects on display is mind-blowing and confusing, which makes it a particularly enjoyable museum to walk through but also rather overwhelming. There is also a large number of objects that remain in storage. Thankfully, they do have an online database of a fair number of items from their collection here.
To view the any of the objects not on display in person, complete a Request for Collections Access form, and send it to firstname.lastname@example.org. An appointment time and date will be arranged and the process should take about a month. Appointments can only be made from Mondays to Fridays, between 10am to 6pm.
The best way to do research on contemporary art is to talk to the artists themselves. However, unless you are rich and/or well connected, it is impossible to do that. A resource centre is still rather important for researchers in the contemporary period. Beyond the semi-regular publication by NAC about Singapore’s Visual Artists, which is basically yellow pages for artists in Singapore, there is also NTU CCA’s Public Resource Centre. Here, there are over 90 artists, artists-in-residence and local art spaces being documented. Recordings of the talks and events held by CCA and artist interviews can also be found here. The information available is constantly being updated, so you can be sure you are working with the absolute present. In any case, with regards to connecting with the local artists, Singapore is a very small country. Quite a few of them would be residents in CCA’s studios at any one time in the year and you could easily just walk in, say hi and get information from the horse’s mouth.
The Public Resource Centre is at 6 Lock Road, #01-09 (Gillman Barracks) and is open by appointment from Mondays to Fridays, 10am to 6pm. Email email@example.com to make an appointment.
4. DECK Library
Print in general might be dying but what does end up in print is often beautiful, well done, and a work of art in itself. Unfortunately, it also means that they are often limited edition and self-published, which makes it difficult to get our hands on them. We may hear about the importance and difference paper and size makes on the finish and quality of the book, or even discussions about how different printing methods affect printed photographs, but that is all talk. Unless you head down to DECK’s photobook library, which holds over 3,000 printed matters from STEIDL and beyond. This is a true hidden gem that should become a regular haunt for any aspiring visual culture researcher, if only because secretly, all of us still prefer paper or digital.
The DECK Library is on the 2nd floor and is open Wednesday and Saturday, 12noon to 7pm and is closed on public holidays.
This performance art archive is probably one of its kind in Southeast Asia. Founded in 2012 by Lee Wen, the archive contains exclusive and unique documentation of contemporary art and performance from Singapore and the region from the early 1990s to the present. Lee Wen has been performing and presenting his work worldwide, and the documents that can be found in this archive reflects this. In particular, unearth a comprehensive collection of documents for Future of Imagination, a local performance art festival that happened between 2003 and 2015. There are also many out of print exhibition catalogues, brochures and pamphlets that cannot be found in any other public archive. This is also the place to go if you ever wanted to watch the programme for Artists General Assembly (AGA) at 5th Passage Gallery.
The Independent Archives is usually open Mondays to Saturdays but do send them a message via Facebook before stopping by.
This independent art space has and continues to support the practices of many cultural workers, including artists, curators, writers and performers. Their library consists of text documents and publications that are rare in Singapore, video documentation of past art events in Singapore, catalogues, brochures, booklets and pamphlets of exhibitions and an exclusive collection of visual material that has been donated by curator Silke Schmickl from Lowave, a 14-year-old curatorial research platform bridging Singapore and Paris. Lowave has been curating films, art and live performance and has been working with a variety of institutions in Europe, Middle East and, of course, Singapore. The brilliant material notwithstanding, the ambience in the highly intimate and cosy library should be a good enough reason to check it out.
Grey Projects is open Wednesdays to Fridays, 1-7pm and Saturdays, 1-6pm.