The Singapore Biennale 2011: Turning Singapore into a cultural capital

The Singapore Biennale 2011: Turning Singapore into a cultural capital

Art works from international and Asian artists add a twist to the city’s spaces and its growing art quotient
Elmgreen & Dragset
A stuffed goat, farming tools, antlers and performers help recreate a traditional German barn.

In a disused hanger, sunlight streams through broken windows. Rainwater drips from rusty iron girders. In this unlikely setting stands one of the key works of the Singapore Biennale 2011 (March 13 to May 15) -- a big barn with a stuffed goat.

Created by Scandinavian duo Elmgreen and Dragset, this traditional German barn looks out of place among the remnants of Singapore’s former Kallang Airport. Inside, fresh hay is piled high, filling the barn with the smell of the countryside, while three hunky Asian youths laze on the bales.

Simon FujiwaraSimon Fujiwara's "Welcome to the Hotel Munber, 2010". Such incongruity is typical of contemporary art and in this Biennale it centers on the theme of "Open House."

More than 161 works by 63 artists from 30 countries at four more venues besides Kallang -– Singapore Art Museum, SAM at 8Q, the National Museum of Singapore and Marina Bay –- address this theme in an attempt to make audiences react and think.

"Open House" looks at issues of home, borders, identities, public and private space and the ability (or inability) to transcend them. This theme is fitting for the ever-changing, cross-cultural, entrepôt hub that is Singapore, and is explored in hugely varying ways by the artists, often to good effect.

It also examines the creative process itself -- what goes into making a work of art and how the audience engages with a work and its artist.

Mark SalvatusMark Salvatus' "Wrapped Traces", an ongoing piece using pencil traces from people.“Open House is not so much a theme as an attitude," says artistic director Matthew Ngui. "I would like the focus for the third Singapore Biennale to be on the city as site and as home, where art engages audiences and represents realities through unique creative processes."

"These give fresh insights into the spaces we inhabit, and in Singapore we hope to connect the public with artists, starting from the very process of art making.”

Biennales have long been seen as a sign of maturation of a city’s art scene, and Singapore’s continuation of its biennale is encouraging.

More than half of the works at this year’s Biennale were specially commissioned for the event or specifically constructed to fit the exhibition sites -- which is a much higher proportion than at the two previous biennales.

Staging a mega arts event like a Biennale injects currency into Singapore’s fairly new cultural capital fund, which in time to come will grow and indeed turn Singapore into the cultural capital it aspires to become.

Singapore Biennale 2011

Old Kallang Airport (9 Stadium Link); Singapore Art Museum and SAM at 8Q (71 Bras Basah Road); National Museum of Singapore (93 Stamford Road); and Marina Bay (The Merlion Park, One Fullerton)
March 13-May 15
Tickets at S$10 (adults) and S$5 (children); admission covers all venues.
Tickets available at venues except Marina Bay.
Go to for more information.

Elaine Ee writes about Singapore, the city she lives in, covering the arts, events, personalities and social issues. Her stories have appeared in Time Out SingaporeTatler HomesFood & Travel and Jetstar Asia. She’s also an editor at, a Singapore community-driven website run by socially conscious denizens. When she’s not at her laptop, she practises Bikram yoga, spends time with her three kids and makes it a point to keep trying something new. 

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