“It is a deadly paradox for Singapore to be risk averse as a nation when Singapore’s very survival depends on its ability to coolly and rationally deal with the uncertainties, dangers and risks that constantly confront [it].”
– Tay Kheng Soon, ‘A World Class City Deserves a World Class Architecture. How to Get There From Here,’ Architecture Journal 1987 (School of Architecture, National University of Singapore, 1987): 38.
Uncertainties, dangers, and risks: factors that make for intriguing urban environments, yes? I don’t refer to a physical sense of risk and danger. I’m talking about surprising conditions that grab hold of our mental faculties, senses, and powers of perception until we come to terms with what we’re experiencing.
Encountering risk and uncertainty in public spaces often results in an affecting experience – the learning of something new, and an enhanced feeling of connection to a place. It can happen on Singapore’s sanitised and orderly streets, but not that readily. More often than not, you need to have an inkling of the areas in which it might occur, and make a project of seeking it out if you’re so inclined.
My curiosity was piqued when I heard about the Hub-to-Hub temporary public art project, which is currently being staged at seven sites in the Bras Basah and Bugis area. Risk is at the heart of its agenda – in both its animation of public spaces and its collaborations between creative professionals (and students) from diverse disciplines and nations. For this, I applaud its curators.
One of them, Prof Steffen Lehmann of The University of South Australia, revealed at the ‘Hub-to-Hub 2011 Symposium’ (held on Sunday 16 October at the NLB) that he hopes the art event will be a tri-annual one, encouraging Singaporeans to reflect on and “interrogate” the role of public space. Sounds great. Is it happening?
The sites offered to the creative teams ranged from the semi-Arcadian (Dhoby Ghaut Green), to the semi-commercial (outside The Cathay), to the intimate and tucked-away (Stamford Green), to the prominent and prestigious (outside SAM and 8Q), to the understated and circulatory (Waterloo Centre).
The varied installations connect with their sites to greater and lesser extents. The works I enjoyed the most, however, are those that thoroughly invite the passerby into an exploration and mental collision with the installation:
- Stilt House at Dhoby Ghaut Green by Team Europe. I wondered, “Is it safe to climb it?” and “What are its walls made with?”
- III Movement at Stamford Green by Team Aural. I thought, “This is an interesting way to listen to the city.”
- Multiculturalism and the Giant ‘Mop’ at SAM@8Q by Team Australia. I temporarily asked myself, “Do the creators want me to walk inside it or stay at the edge?”
The seven interventions will be in place until 4 November 2011. You can download a walking map with info about each project from the Hub-to-Hub site, as well as background info on the program’s aims and curatorial topics. Taking in each work involves an easy walk from Dhoby Ghaut Green to the Waterloo Centre.