Post-Museum is an independent cultural and social space in Singapore, founded in 2007 by husband-and-wife artist-activists Jennifer Teo and Woon Tien Wei, which aims to encourage and support a thinking and pro-active community, locally and internationally. It is an open platform for examining contemporary life, promoting the arts, and connecting people.
It was located in a central area in Singapore and functioned as a rental venue as well as organizing and hosting various events and activities including exhibitions, residency, workshops, research, community projects, among others. Currently nomadic, they will continue to arrange various events and activities in different spaces.
CS: Post-Museum is an active independent cultural and social space. Could you tell us something more about Post-Museum? What inspires and drives you?
The name refers to “what is beyond the museum.” Post-Museum emerged as a kind of impulse responding to the cultural shift in Singapore’s “Renaissance”—a period of rapid cultural development and liberalization introduced through new cultural and social policies by the Singaporean government. Singapore Studies scholars critique the cultural development as economically driven. Singapore’s Renaissance may have elevated the position of the arts, but it has been limited in its reach. We believed that art should change the world, or it should participate in shaping a better world.
CS: Currently nomadic, you continue your practices. How is living as a nomad? How do you achieve visibility and accessibility to your audience?
Before being nomadic, we operated a cultural space in two shop houses on Rowell Road in the Kampong Kapur area of Singapore between 2007 and 2011. During this time, Post-Museum became a place to ‘hunt’ for a network of cultural practitioners, from students to academics, artists to activists. That confluence of people and their practices allowed us to see how diverse practices could convene and learn from one other—how people could come together, find something in that encounter, and go forth and make something out of that. This period was essential in formulating our practice. Being ‘nomadic’ allows our practice to be ‘place’ driven. We are interested in how we can “practise the city” in more meaningful ways. To “practise the city” for us means asserting and claiming the “right to the city.”
CS: You rely on contributions from individuals or very little corporate sponsorship, and probably no government support. In this way, what role has the political system played in this project?
This was our initial operation ethos. During Rowell Road’s space, we wanted Post-Museum to be independent. By this, we didn’t want to take any funding from government agencies in order to maintain autonomy in our programs and activities. In a way, this autonomy was about creating a kind of ‘safe’ space for interesting connections in our community to take place. So, we didn’t really seek out much institutional support then. That position has changed, as our politics transitioned at the time that we left Rowell Road. These days, we want to see more public engagement with government agencies. Expanding on the idea of asserting and claiming the “right to the city” refers to one of the most precious yet most neglected of our human rights.
CS: Since it is an open platform, what is your relationship with the centre? Where do you place Post-Museum on the spectrum between centre and periphery? (Let’s assume the State is a centre and the independent is the periphery.)
In recent years, Singapore has adopted the strategy of place management to inject so-called heart and soul into the city. This strategy refers to similar strategies adopted in other cities like New York and Paris, known as “placemaking,” and aimed at developing participatory places and improving the quality of life for its residents. Rather than thinking that placemaking is reserved for urban planners—i.e., the centre—we should think of it as an activity in which all humans are partaking. Here, we refer to human geography’s notion of place and advocate for this idea that every single one of us is a human agent capable of transforming the world because we are always engaged in the process of placemaking. We create places so that our projects can take place, and that the activity of placemaking is, as Robert David Sack would say, how we help make the world or conjure a reality. It isn’t so much about who makes these places, but what is our place in these places? How do these places figure in the world we envision? Adopting a nomadic strategy is a way to see the city-state as a site to operate and at the same time as a place which needs to be practised.
CS: In the specific case of the art context: how do you see yourself as positioned within a global contemporary art discourse? And how do you communicate with your audience?
Generally, we are driven or preoccupied by discourses which happen close by. So, we don’t spend a lot of time making sense of our place within the global contemporary art discourse. Although, the global is defined quite differently in different places, isn’t it? In that sense, it is not easy to talk about audiences without some grounding of where we are speaking from. Perhaps, we can think of the global art world(s) as international exhibitions motivated by an ambition to be global or to present a globalised worldview.
Sociologist Terence Chong sees bureaucratic middle management, who have increasing power and play a decisive role in shaping the cultural landscape—and who also tend to have an appetite for art which creates spectacles and which is plugged into the global—, as having a distaste for art that is critical or not aligned with what is perceived as the nation’s value. With the participation of governments and corporations, we are witnessing these massive flows of capital into the art world. This is a worrying trend which is happening globally, and we see the shrinking artistic freedoms as a consequence—mirroring a world that is increasingly unjust and unfree. Perhaps, we, as audiences and cultural workers, need to reflect on our roles and responsibilities, and the actions we could take to counter that.
CS: About your activities, how did you come to work with communities (collaborators, artists, curators, audiences)? In what way have cultural differences within the collaborating group (or between artists in residence) played a role in shaping the project?
We continue to be inspired by and collaborate with this network of allies from the Rowell Road space. We keep a broad connection with friends from civil society movements, urban studies, arts and culture fields. In that way, our activities are how these worlds collide. For example, The Soup Kitchen project is made up of volunteers who are interested in working with the urban poor in a neighbourhood in the town. It is very clear for us that we are not trying to establish an art “centre” but a peer-to-peer network.
CS: In term of the future, how do you think the strategy for sustainability will evolve?
Recently, we have been formulating the idea of the in-curatable within the framework of national institutions or the art historical canon here. The in-curatable is a range of reasons and logic preventing institutions and art historical discourses from finding the curatorial vocabulary and the curatorial will to allocate resources to the care of the art in question. Often, the collective form is in-curatable because it is usually subsumed within the contemporary reification of art. What we hope to draw from the mode of collectivising is a kind of ‘action’ that always seems missing from the art. Today, it is more difficult for the art world to disentangle from institutions as we become more dependent on state support. In this age of precarious artistic labour, there is so much insecurity and fear that it takes courage to question and critique institutions. Yet, it is ever more urgent that we do so. Because the in-curatable framed our freedoms—it clouds our value judgements and warps our curatorial conscience. In that way, it isn’t so much about sustaining collectives but how we learn from collective forms. For us, collective forms remind us of their potency. They offer agency for each subject to find another, the ability to jump across geographic divides, and attempt to speak to power.
Post-Museum is an independent cultural and social space in Singapore which aims to encourage and support a thinking and pro-active community. It is an open platform for examining contemporary life, promoting the arts, and connecting people. In addition to their events and projects, they also curate, research, and collaborate with a network of social actors and cultural workers. Currently operating nomadically, they continue to organise and host various events and activities in different spaces.
Carolina Sanchez is a teacher, a curator and a CAS Curating student at the ZHdK. She works at la rada - spazio per l'arte contemporanea, based in Locarno, and collaborates with various cultural independent art spaces and associations. Her curatorial line focusses on the Swiss art scene between different regions with links to the international art scene.