[Abstract] The State and Artists in Singapore Dreamt of the Arts in the 1980s-90s – and the Global City of the Arts is the Result?

Abstract from Singapore Dreaming Conference presentation by C. J. Wee Wan Ling

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We live in what appears to be a distinctive moment in which the contemporary arts, new museums and art biennales have become linked to what is called ‘commodity reification’ and a near-frenzied consumerism that are part of the free-market capitalism that became pronounced after the fall of the Berlin Wall. In the city-state of Singapore, culture once used to mean race and the ethnic cultures linked to the so-called CMIO (Chinese, Malay, Indian, Other) model of ethic-cultural management in the city-state. Since the 1980s, though, cultural policy has expanded to include the more recognisable arts policy. This ‘moment’ of culture – essentially from the 1980s for Singapore – has led, with increasing speed from the 1990s onwards, to a seemingly overnight establishment of institutionalised art markets, museums and performing arts centres. Such developments have contributed to transforming the puritanical and (that long-favoured People’s Action Party [PAP] adjective) pragmatic city-state from a purported cultural desert into … what exactly?

Our moment of culture now, I think, was the result of two sets of actors who dreamt about the arts and culture from the 1980s onwards, and these actors were the Singapore state and artists in the city-state. This presentation will attempt to think through what these disparate yet not entirely unrelated dreams were and how we might think about these dreams in the present, given theire complex realisations & non-realisations – or even unexpected ways of being realised. The actors involved were not unitary groups of people – the state is not singular (it comprises a senior leadership who obviously do not all necessarily share the same political opinions, in the narrow sense of that term, much less share a fixed view on an area and subjects as amorphous as the ‘arts and culture’), anymore more than artists are. In terms of the state, I will try to indicate the various and mixed dreams of the arts and culture as articulated in public policy statements and as then manifested in the actual changes in arts policies and the development of physical infrastructure. In terms of the arts, I am concerned with artists who were committed – loosely speaking, as this is a complicated term – to contemporary art practices, whether in theatre, performance, the visual arts or literature.

Not to be reused without permission from Asian Urban Lab

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