Pause and take a seat at dynamic art benches inspired by punctuation marks along Singapore’s vibrant arts and culture precinct in the heart of town.
See the Civic District afresh this August with Benchmarks, a new public art trail commissioned by the Civic District Alliance (CDA) featuring the works of six Singapore-based artists. Part of the Arts in the Civic District placemaking initiative to enliven the arts and cultural precinct, the new trail is curated by local multi-disciplinary artist Justin Loke and accessible by the public from 2 August 2023 until 31 July 2026. Benchmarks is anchored on the concept of punctuation marks, and presents a poetic series of unconventional artwork benches situated in and drawing inspiration from historical landmarks within the Civic District.
Punctuating everyday conversations with pockets of art within the Civic District
Playing on the definition of a benchmark as a point of reference for measurement and comparison, the art benches artworks in Benchmarks are located within key areas of the Civic District, serving as markers for visitors to take a breath and reflect on the history and cultural significance of the area. Akin to punctuation marks that guide everyday conversations, each artwork bench flows naturally from one to the other, offering rest stops to catch one’s breath and enjoy the beauty of the vibrant arts and culture precinct.
Appointed as the project curator for the first public art initiative within the Civic District, Justin Loke said, “The connections one makes with art through dialogue are extremely valuable. That is why I used a typographical device that is key to all conversations — punctuation marks — as a visual metaphor to kickstart dialogues with the remarkable Singapore-based artists we have onboard. I invited them to create playful works that not only respond to the site but also tell the rich heritage of the precinct. As a result, the artwork benches throughout the trail form a sentence within the visual narrative of the precinct. Each artwork leads seamlessly to the other, linking the different histories of the landmarks within the Civic District together.”
Unpacking histories of the precinct through meaningful collaboration
With punctuation marks as the unifying visual metaphor, the CDA shortlisted proposals through a closed call submission and commissioned six Singapore-based artists Lua Boon Kai, Joyce Beetuan Koh, Immanuel Koh, Yang Jie, Jeffrey Tan and Jason Wee to explore functional bench artworks that not only encourage visitor interaction but tell the remarkable stories of the precinct while reflecting the diverse practices of the Singapore-based artists.
Beginning outside The Arts House, This is Not a Bench by Lua Boon Kai aims to redefine preconceived notions of the form and function of a singular bench. Injecting an element of fun and humour, the artwork invites participants to explore varied sitting positions such as leaning, draping, or even hugging – resembling the versatility of the arts and culture precinct with many heritage buildings being used as sites for arts and cultural activity. This bench also saw school involvement from six students selected by Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA)’s Special Project Unit. Moving closer to the Singapore River, interdisciplinary musician and composer Joyce Beetuan Koh presents A Micropolyphonic Stage, inspired by her performances within the iconic performance venues in the district. The transformative piece serves as a bench inspired by a stage for live performance, offering a space to seek solace while absorbing the natural soundscape of the precinct.
Embedding stories of the precinct through thoughtfully chosen materials, Restore / Neural Artefact Black by Immanuel Koh situated near the Asian Civilisations Museum uses artificial intelligence to regenerate a recycled bench using upcycled wood from sources including an old sampan. The work referenced artefacts from the archives of the Asian Civilisations Museum via 3D scanning, and responds to the Singapore River‘s role in the city-state’s development and how it is ever-changing with new urban developments and activity. Paying tribute to another notable marker in Singapore’s history, …all the King’s men by Yang Jie re-imagines the Singapore Stone, one of the 11 National Treasures of Singapore, through thick slabs of weathered granite that have been pieced together inspired by the traditional kintsugi techniques used in pottery.
The trail ends with two works situated around The Esplanade starting with Sayang! Satay Sayang! by Jeffrey Tan that pays homage to the now-demolished Esplanade Satay Club, inviting participants to gather once again to be transported back to the memories of the bustling food centre and the stories that lie within. Finally, Jason Wee ends off the trail with #iykyk a series of five circular benches mimicking the Morse code for the letters in the initialism “iykyk” (if you know you know). With The Esplanade being known as a place of gathering for both young and old, the work serves as a playful double entendre, reflecting the challenges in intergenerational communication. The older generation being more familiar with Morse code and possibly less familiar with the meaning behind the initialism while the reverse being true for youths.
Building a lively arts and culture precinct with a public art trail that connects landmarks within the Civic District
The CDA, comprising historical and cultural landmark institutions Asian Civilisations Museum, Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay, National Gallery Singapore, The Arts House and Victoria Theatre & Victoria Concert Hall, is committed to creating a vibrant Civic District for the community to gather, enjoy and be immersed in Singapore’s historical, architectural and cultural heritage. The five art institutions have worked in close collaboration to develop the public art trail to connect the various venues together, providing pockets of respite in open spaces for visitors to pause and reflect after exploring the rich and diverse offerings within each cultural landmark within the district.
Shining a light on talented Singapore-based artists guided by Justin Loke’s poetic vision, Benchmarks is an invitation for people to engage in meaningful exchanges with themselves, other visitors, or even the surroundings, and to better appreciate the beauty of the Civic District and its colourful stories.
For members of the public enjoying the new public art trail in the Civic District in the month of August, several buildings including the Asian Civilisations Museum, Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay, The Arts House, and Victoria Theatre & Victoria Concert Hall, and National Gallery Singapore will also be lit up in red and white as part of the National Day Light Up from 28 July to 25 August 2023. Public can also look forward to a storytelling project with the art benches in October, as part of the annual StoryFest, where participants will be taken on an outdoor roving experience encompassing three separate art benches, with storytellers activating them by performing original stories inspired by the artefacts and their locations.
You can follow #CVDBenchmarks at https://artshouselimited.sg/civic-district
Images: Arts in the Civic District