At the brief mention of an art exhibition in a mansion, one is likely to think that it is a rich man’s idea of fun. We visualize gold-framed world class pieces against ivory white walls of a quintessential gallery filled with warm lighting. However, as we made our way to 13 Wilkie Terrace, it became clear that whatever is in store for us will be anything but mediocre. Indeed, the word ‘unique’ does not even begin to describe our experience.
It seems that the massive development and building monster had finally found its way to the Selegie area at the doorstep of the Chia Family’s 77 year old mansion. What better way to part with a dear one than with a farewell party? So for 3 weeks starting 2nd June 2013, the space will be transformed into a community space for public appreciation; openly celebrating and sharing memories of the place in the name of art before it is torn down.
The façade of the mansion makes it difficult to miss. In fact, the run-down exterior and the narrow stairway leading to the mansion made us feel as though we had just found ourselves in one of the roadside quarters in Hongkong. Such places are not a dime a dozen in a rapidly urbanizing Singapore and the message soon became clear: This is not your usual art exhibition.
Upon entering the house, what caught our attention was the black and gold plaque prominently hung up on the wall along with other framed portraits of the Chia family’s great grandparents and grandparents. The corners of the main hall featured nostalgic remembrance from the 70s-80s, ranging from tiny trinkets like school pins and little toys to the larger knick knacks such as classic childhood board games.
Fortunately, our team had the pleasure of meeting Yen Phang, member of the Chia family who initiated this project who was kind enough to take us through the house corner by corner. It was a pleasure to hear him share some of his hopes and intents for the project. Suffice to say, Yen’s hospitality made up a large part of our Displacements experience.
It was an honor to experience the house in its rawest and most original nature. The place exuded strong character, and it didn’t even have to try. The high ceilings, tessellated flooring, glass windows and its patterned grilles are representations of the mansion’s unaltered and unpretentious nature. While the interior furnishings effortlessly created a lovely setting to be in, it was the ‘feeling of home’ that made us feel like we came to visit an old friend we have not seen in decades.
The artworks on display represented 16 artists’ interpretations of the term “Displacement”. While some explored the theme from a straightforward and physical angle, others did so through an emotional and abstract perspective with profound meanings that hit close to home.
The first room that we entered had a hand-drawn Singapore map sprawled across the wall. As the theme would have it, the different towns of Singapore were scattered all over the island. It is not every day that we get to vandalize someone’s wall and get away with it so we delighted in the colorful markers available.
“Excuse me, where is Simei?” (Tampines)
“Only JC in opposition territory” (Serangoon)”Best prata in Singapore found here!”
Here we heard the little voices of other Singaporeans through their expressive doodles and scribbles.
Think about something that has been displaced from your life. “No Due Date” by Karen & Alex Mitchell was an engaging exhibit that encouraged visitors to list a certain item they borrowed or lent that was never returned. Primly tucked in brown paper envelopes and hung up with string, these due date slips adorned the walkway towards the spiral staircase at the back of the house.
Images credit: http://whiteperiphery.tumblr.com/
A toothbrush that had its bristles encased. An ironing board. Some cotton buds. You may think we are just naming some unassuming items in a regular household. Underived and first-hand, “Quite Quiet” by Pang was striking in its own organic nature in presenting a space that had been lived. It put across blunt meanings of routine and habit attached to these inanimate objects; suggesting the feelings of displacement that the inhabitants of the house will be put through when their abode is gone.
As Yen brought us around the place, he shared that along with the other creators, they had tried to keep the place as genuine as possible in its own personality, rather than creating a sterile environment that would compromise the mansion’s authenticity.
“We welcome and invite visitors to explore the mansion and make themselves at home. There is a no certain route to visit because we don’t want it to be directed. We want to create an experience that is more immersive”, he shared.
During our chat with Yen, he also emphasized the importance of community. He believes that while the house is still around, it should support the sharing of the artists’ installations because art’s existence would outlast cement and concrete.
Displacements: Come Say Hello To Help Us Say Goodbye. Even though we have no history with the place, we couldn’t help feeling heavy hearted that such a beautiful place has to be traded for modern development. For those who had fond memories in this house or area which they hold close to their hearts, Yen expressed his wish for them to hold on to that reminiscence but let the place go without any baggage.
The story behind the project touched our hearts; celebrating what we had once held rather than grieving over what we will no longer hold. For these 3 weeks 13 Wilkie terrace may have been a gallery to us and an exhibition outlet for the artists. But for the past 77 years, it has been home to the Chia family; keeping them safe and warm on days storms raged outside. Even though the moment of parting has finally arrived, it’s a beautiful thing everyone had a moment to say goodbye.
“Displacements is about change – how we cope with it, document it, and eventually come to embrace it.” – Mr Yen Phang, 34 (Chia Family member behind the project)
Image Credit to The Straits Times