The Substation



The Substation is the first independent contemporary arts centre established in Singapore. Located on Armenian Street, it is regarded as a key venue for the production and staging of young, experimental and contemporary works in dance, literature, music, theatre, and visual arts. The aim of the centre is expressed in its slogan "A Home for the Arts".1

History
The Substation was founded in September 1990 by Cultural Medallion winner and playwright-dramatist, Kuo Pao Kun. The centre derives its name from the conservation building which it now occupies. Constructed in 1926, the building was formerly a power substation.2

The idea of an independent arts centre first came to Kuo in December 1985. He envisioned the future of the then abandoned power substation as a place where people could gather to interact and engage with different arts forms.3

In collaboration with renowned architect Tay Kheng Soon (who later became the founding chairman of the centre), a proposal for the arts centre was prepared and submitted to the former Ministry of Community Development (MCD).4 The centre was awarded S$1.07 million by the MCD in 1989 for the reconstruction of the building. The renovations were completed in June 1990, and the centre was officially opened on 16 September 1990 by then Minister for Community Development Wong Kan Seng. Kuo was artistic director of the centre from its founding to 1995.5 He was succeeded in 1996 by T. Sasitharan.6 In 2000, Audrey Wong and Lee Weng Choy were appointed artistic co-directors. Noor Effendy Ibrahim was artistic director from 2010 to January 2015.7 Alan Oei has been the artistic director since September 2015.8

Venues within a venue
The centre contains a variety of venue spaces to cater to different art forms. While the centre has its own lineup of events and shows, the venues are also available for public rental.9

The ground floor of the centre houses the two main venues: The Theatre, which  has 102 elevated seats for performances and screenings, and The Gallery, 113-square-metre space for exhibitions and receptions. There is also a 20-square-metre room on the ground floor for small-scale workshops.10 The theatre and gallery have hosted a number of important presentations by Singaporean and international artists.11 The second floor of the building contains a dance studio and a meeting room.12  

The garden, once regarded as one of the main venues, has hosted numerous live events, notably rock concerts by local musicians.13 It was also the venue for a popular flea market that used to take place on Sundays.14  Since 2005, the area has been tenanted to Timbre, a bistro and bar, which help to attract young adults to The Substation.15

Many artists have come up with novel uses of the centre’s spaces.16 Over the years, even off-site spaces (the stairwells, spaces beneath the staircases, and the rooftops) within and around the centre have been used for artistic presentations.17

Programming
The Substation's programmes were initially organised according to the various art forms: dance (Dance Space), film (Moving Images), literature (Word Space), music (Music Space), theatre (Raw Theatre) and visual art (New Criteria).18

Other notable programmes include a series of bi-annual conferences about art and discourse entitled The Substation Conference. These have been held periodically since 1993.19

Engagements with artists
From the start, the centre has focused its attention on building long-term dialogues with artists.20 The Associate Artists Scheme, revamped as the Associate Artist Research Programme during Noor Effendy Ibrahim’s tenure, is a two-year residency programme which supports the research and development of contemporary art and interdisciplinary practice. Artists who have been invited to participate in this programme include visual arts collective Vertical Submarine, writer-curator Tania De Rozario, and performance and video artist Loo Zihan.21

Under the Artist-in-Residence programme, individual artists and artists groups live for an extended period of time on the third floor of The Substation – which have been converted into studio and living spaces – to carry out their research and work.22 Some notable participants of this programme include Theatre Ox, Ankara, Zai Kuning, Tang Mun Kit and Sanjot Kaur Sekhon.23

The centre has also hosted iconic works of Singapore contemporary art. These works often engage with the idea of the centre as a site for experimentation and discourse.24



Author

Heman Chong



References
1. The Substation. (n.d.). The Substation: A home for the arts. Retrieved 2017, January 3 from The Substation website: http://www.substation.org; The Substation. (1994). The Substation: A home for the arts. Singapore: The Substation, p. 3. (Call no.: RSING 790.205 S); Wong, A. (Ed.). (2015). 25 years of The Substation: Reflections on Singapore's first independent art centre. Singapore: The Substation: Ethos Book, pp. 11, 41. (Call no.: RSING 700.95957 TWE)
2. The Substation. (1994). The Substation: A home for the arts. Singapore: The Substation, p. 4. (Call no.: RSING 790.205 S); The Substation. (1996). The Substation: A home for the arts. Singapore: The Substation, p. 12. (Call no.: RSING 790.205 S); Wong, A. (Ed.). (2015). 25 years of The Substation: Reflections on Singapore's first independent art centre. Singapore: The Substation: Ethos Book, pp. 11, 91. (Call no.: RSING 700.95957 TWE)
3. The Substation. (1994). The Substation: A home for the arts. Singapore: The Substation, p. 4. (Call no.: RSING 790.205 S)
4. The Substation. (1994). The Substation: A home for the arts. Singapore: The Substation, p. 4. (Call no.: RSING 790.205 S); Wong, A. (Ed.). (2015). 25 years of The Substation: Reflections on Singapore's first independent art centre. Singapore: The Substation: Ethos Book, pp. 11, 17. (Call no.: RSING 700.95957 TWE)
5. The Substation. (1994). The Substation: A home for the arts. Singapore: The Substation, pp. 2, 4. (Call no.: RSING 790.205 S)
6. The Substation. (1996). The Substation: A home for the arts. Singapore: The Substation, p. 30. (Call no.: RSING 790.205 S); Wong, A. (Ed.). (2015). 25 years of The Substation: Reflections on Singapore's first independent art centre. Singapore: The Substation: Ethos Book, p. 53. (Call no.: RSING 700.95957 TWE)
7. Wong, A. (Ed.). (2015). 25 years of The Substation : reflections on Singapore's first independent art centre. Singapore: The Substation: Ethos Book, pp. 7, 41, 78, 120. (Call no.: RSING 700.95957 TWE)
8. Lee, J. X. (2015, September 30). The Substation announces artist-curator Alan Oei as its new artistic director. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
9. The Substation. (n.d.). The Substation: A home for the arts. Retrieved 2017, January 3 from The Substation website: http://www.substation.org
10. The Substation. (2016). The Substation: Venue hire package. Retrieved 2017, January 3 from The Substation website: https://static1.squarespace.com/static/56fcaa737da24fa2afc22beb/t/57c8f1bf15d5dbeb4af5408f/1472786883042/THE-SUBSTATION-VENUE-RENTAL-RATE-20161.pdf
11. The Substation. (1994). The Substation: A home for the arts. Singapore: The Substation, pp. 6, 9. (Call no.: RSING 790.205 S)
12. The Substation. (2016). The Substation: Venue hire package. Retrieved 2017, January 3 from The Substation website: https://static1.squarespace.com/static/56fcaa737da24fa2afc22beb/t/57c8f1bf15d5dbeb4af5408f/1472786883042/THE-SUBSTATION-VENUE-RENTAL-RATE-20161.pdf
13. The Substation. (1994). The Substation: A home for the arts. Singapore: The Substation, p. 8, 10, 18. (Call no.: RSING 790.205 S); Wong, A. (Ed.). (2015). 25 years of The Substation: Reflections on Singapore's first independent art centre. Singapore: The Substation: Ethos Book, pp. 106, 122. (Call no.: RSING 700.95957 TWE)
14. The Substation. (1994). The Substation: A home for the arts. Singapore: The Substation, p. 20. (Call no.: RSING 790.205 S); Wong, A. (Ed.). (2015). 25 years of The Substation: Reflections on Singapore's first independent art centre. Singapore: The Substation: Ethos Book, p. 8. (Call no.: RSING 700.95957 TWE)
15. Wong, A. (Ed.). (2015). 25 years of The Substation: Reflections on Singapore's first independent art centre. Singapore: The Substation: Ethos Book, p. 8. (Call no.: RSING 700.95957 TWE); Toh, C. (2007, October 23). From arty to party. Today, p. 32. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
16. Chong, H. (2000, September–October). Home of the arts for artists. Substance = Dian liu. Singapore: The Substation, pp. 2–5. (Call no.: RSING 700.95957 SUB); Wong, A. (Ed.). (2015). 25 years of The Substation: Reflections on Singapore's first independent art centre. Singapore: The Substation: Ethos Book, p. 54. (Call no.: RSING 700.95957 TWE)
17. Lee, W. C. (1997, May–June). New criteria V. Substance = Dian liu. Singapore: The Substation, p. 3. (Call no.: RSING 700.95957 SUB)
18. Hadi, W. A. (1999, November–December). Moving you. Substance = Dian liu.  Singapore: The Substation, pp. 9–10. (Call no.: RSING 700.95957 SUB); The Substation. (1994). The Substation: A home for the arts. Singapore: The Substation, p. 20. (Call no.: RSING 790.205 S); Lee, W. C. (1997, May–June). New Criteria V. Substance = Dian liu. Singapore: The Substation, pp. 2–3. (Call no.: RSING 700.95957 SUB)
19. Lee, W. C. (Ed.). (1995). Art vs art: Conflict & convergence: The Substation conference 1993. Singapore: The Substation, p. 1. (Call no.: RSING 700.95957 ART); Kwok, K. W., et al. (Eds.) (1999). Our place in time: Exploring heritage and memory in Singapore. Singapore: Singapore Heritage Society, p. vii. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 OUR-[HIS]); Lee, W. C. (Ed.). (1996). Space, spaces and spacing: The Substation Conference 1995. Singapore: The Substation, pp. 1, 11. (Call no.: RSING 700.95957 SUB)
20. Chong, H. (2000, September‑October). Home of the arts for artists. Substance = Dian liu. Singapore: The Substation, pp. 2–5. (Call no.: RSING 700.95957 SUB)
21. Tan, C. (2014, November 14). Substation artistic director steps down. The Straits Times, p. 17. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
22. The Substation. (2016, May 17). Artist residency: Introducing Loo Zihan. Retrieved 2017, January 3 from The Substation website: http://www.substation.org/artistinresidence-programme/artist-in-residence-introducing-loo-zihan
23. Chong, H. (2000, September–October). Home of the arts for artists. Substance = Dian liu. Singapore: The Substation, pp. 2–5. (Call no.: RSING 700.95957 SUB); Lee, W. C. (1998, January–February). Pedestals for death: An interview with Zai Kuning. Substance = Dian liu. Singapore: The Substation, pp. 2–3. (Call no.: RSING 700.95957 SUB); Ngaim, S. L. (1997, July–August). Tang Mun Kit: Artist out of hibernation. Substance = Dian liu. Singapore: The Substation, pp. 2–5. (Call no.: RSING 700.95957 SUB))
24. The Substation. (1994). The Substation: A home for the arts. Singapore: The Substation, pp. 20–21. (Call no.: RSING 790.205 S); Wong, A. (Ed.). (2015). 25 years of The Substation: Reflections on Singapore's first independent art centre. Singapore: The Substation: Ethos Book, pp. 7, 43. (Call no.: RSING 700.95957 TWE)



Further resources
Heng, A., et al. (2001). Open Ends: A documentation exhibition of performance art in Singapore at the Substation's Septfest, 7–21 September 2001. Singapore: The Substation.

(Call no.: RSING q700.95957 OPE)

Kok, H. L. (1997, May-June). Sing-a-drum... Come watch. Substance = Dian liu. Singapore: The Substation, p. 5.
(Call no.: RSING 700.95957 SUB)

Langenbach, R. (1998, July-August). Perhaps New Criteria? Substance = Dian liu. Singapore: The Substation, pp. 10–12.
(Call no.: RSING 700.95957 SUB)

Lee, W. C. (Ed.). (1995). New Criteria III: Ray Langenbach, Suzann Victor, Ng Siew Kuan & Jason Lim. Singapore: The Substation.
(Call no.: RSING 709.04 NEW)

Lingham, S., & Kueh, A. (2000, July–August). Review: New Criteria 8. Substance = Dian liu. Singapore: The Substation, pp. 7–8.
(Call no.: RSING 700.95957 SUB)

Tan, K. M., & Ling, H. (Eds.). (1999). Home house. Singapore: The Substation.
(Call no.: RSING 728.3 HOM)

Toh, H. S. (1997, July-August). New Criteria V: A viewer's impression. Substance = Dian liu . Singapore: The Substation, pp. 22–23.
(Call no.: RSING 700.95957 SUB)

Zai Kuning. (1996).  BlueMonkish. Singapore: The Substation.
(Call no.: RSING S822 ZAI)



The information in this article is valid as at 2016 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

 

Subject
Substation (Organization)
Arts facilities--Singapore
Organisations
Arts