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52 Weeks of #ExcitingSG: Week 33 with Anmari Van Nieuwenhove

Anmari Van Nieuwenhove

Welcome to Time Out Singapore's 52 Weeks of #ExcitingSG – our commitment to showing you the best of what's going on in the city this week. Every Monday, a guest writer who's "in" with the scene shares a recommendation on what to see, eat, do or buy in the city. This week, we chat with the curator of the multi-concept space Telok Ayer Arts Club, Anmari Van Nieuwenhove. Here, she talks to us about SPRMRKT's new space on McCallum Street that features art, music, food and drinks, and her current favourite local artist. 

Hi Anmari! What gets you excited about Singapore?
Hello! Lately I’ve been really impressed by young and upcoming talents in Singapore. I think our country’s heading in a very exciting direction, especially as the ‘millennial’ generation starts to have more of a voice. I have a feeling they’ll have a big role to play in producing cultural capital and in shaping a thriving art scene, especially because the foundation has been set with all the right infrastructure in place to study, see and talk about the arts. I’ve been meeting a lot of young artists as well as musicians with a lot of energy and I’m excited to hear what they have to say.

Tell us a bit about the Telok Ayer Arts Club and your role as Curator.
Telok Ayer Arts Club is pushing forth a new model for people to approach the arts. By being open-ended about definitions, and mixing non-traditional forms of art like food and drink, partying and DJing with more accepted ones like painting and sculptures, co-curator Kamiliah and I hope to create more entry points for people to access the arts. We see it as a launchpad for discussions about our lives and the creative work that fills it. I see the role ‘curator’ as being largely programme-driven, but because it’s so collaborative, we find ourselves mediating between artists, chefs, bartenders, DJs, and most importantly the audience. It’s fun because the possibilities are endless.

As Curator, what determines your art selection?
There are many ways to think about what we could do in a space like Telok Ayer Arts Club, but Kamiliah and I felt that we should think about what works best for our space – it not being your traditional ‘white cube’. It’s not a gallery; it’s a fully operational bar and bistro, which has many upsides and possibilities if you think about it.

Usually, we work backwards from an idea about what would work given our location, and the contemporary and current issues that affect us as Singaporeans. We approach artists based on their practice, and from there we keep it organic and open-ended. For example, we knew we wanted our first show to be about the rapid change that goes on in a fast-paced neighbourhood like ours, and to reflect the upheaval in our Arts Club. Hence, we approached an artist whose practice dealt with space, and capturing unfelt or forgotten elements – in her case, through sound. Another idea we wanted to work with was intimacy and desire, so one of our upcoming exhibitions touches on that. It’s very specific to Telok Ayer.

Thoughts on Singapore's art scene? What would you do to elevate it or appeal to the young?
I think the Singapore art scene is very appealing to younger people today. It’s “cool” to be in art now. There’s a lot of ‘mystique’ around being an artist, or making artworks. Maybe it’s always been that way, but I’m not sure how much more we can elevate things, to be honest. I wish things would slow down to allow for deeper contemplation and understanding. In today’s world, you only have a few seconds to impress someone or get their attention – so works are often very large and interactive, which is all people come to expect from art. I guess it’s a sign of the times, but I hope that the scene develops just as fast even when art isn’t ‘cool’ anymore.

Who are some of your favourite local or emerging artists and why?
I’m really enjoying the process of working with our current artist at Telok Ayer Arts Club. Her name is Goh Abigail, and she introduced me to the idea of sound in a space, which makes one more aware of concepts like relativity and energy. Her drawings and performing objects are truly remarkable in the way that they convey these ideas through the medium of sound. One of her sculptures, which she calls “performing objects”, creates this constant drone noise which is so subtle, but jarring enough - similar to the sound of the drill we hear at construction sites. These sound really transport me to those months when the Arts Club was under renovation. It’s pretty on point.

Do you have any other side projects lined-up?
Other than planning a restful holiday, I’m also the Arts Manager for SPRMRKT so I’m juggling three spaces in total. We show eight artists a year across our venues. We have two upcoming shows I’m really excited about: ROOM with Jodi Tan at STPI, which opens on 5 October 2018, and Among Plants and Animals with Weixin Quek Chong at our Cluny Court venue, which opens on 18 October 2018. It’s interesting how both artists in a way speak about images and how we read them – but one chooses to work in the abstract, and one creates images that are almost ‘hyper-real’. Weixin’s show will be interesting because Cluny Court is right beside the Botanic Gardens, and her work features a lot of flora and fauna in different ways. I’m really excited about Jodi’s work too as it’s the first time she will be making sculptural forms, taking her primarily 2D practice into 3D! We’re also creating limited edition artist merchandise with Jodi – it’s going to be hard for me not to spend all my money on them. Ha!

Having said that, I am planning to start a platform for writing about the arts, through a series of interviews with artists and curators. I’ve been thinking about it for a long time but hope to finally launch in 2019. Baby steps.