Have you ever really thought about music? How it affects us? Song-Ming Ang is someone who makes art that focuses on how we relate to it, both on a personal and societal level.
Drawing from the everyday and popular culture, Ang’s work has been exhibited internationally and this year, he's showcasing his latest work as well as representing Singapore at the Venice Art Biennale.
Commissioned by National Arts Council Singapore, Music for Everyone: Variations on a Theme explores the myriad of ways people relate to music. More on that later. First, we asked Song-Ming Ang if he would kindly share some travel recommendations and cultural hotspots from his home city of Singapore. Song-Ming Ang, it's over to you.
An unconventional tour of public housing
Eighty per cent of Singaporeans live in HDB (Housing Development Board) public flats, which form a unique part of our landscape. For an unconventional tour of these residential towns, hop onto the Light Rail Transit (LRT), a fully automated, driverless feeder service with overground lines.
I actually grew up in Bukit Panjang, one of the three LRT towns (Sengkang and Punggol being the other two), and to this day it’s a fascinating experience to be travelling several storeys above-ground in an LRT as it snakes its way through the neighbourhood. It’s definitely an unusual way of experiencing the residential areas and catching a glimpse of how Singaporeans get around in their daily lives.
Get back in touch with nature
The urbanity of Singapore can be overwhelming, especially if you’re not used to it. The perfect antidote is to retreat to the Southern Ridges, a 10-kilometre network of nature trails connecting various parks and nature reserves that contain a real variety of animal and plant life. There are some great panoramic views of the city, the harbour and the Southern Islands.
One of the highlights of the Southern Ridges is Henderson Waves, a pedestrian bridge between two hilltops easily distinguished by its undulating curved "ribs" or wave-like structures, but perhaps my favourite trail here is the Canopy Walk among the treetops. You’re at eye-level with the forest canopy and it feels like you’re a million miles away from the bustle of the city.
The place for the arts
There are lots of great places to see art in Singapore but if you only have 24 hours then it’s best to stay in the Southern Ridges and head to Gillman Barracks. It’s a visual arts hub set in a former military barracks with about a dozen galleries showcasing both Southeast Asian and international art.
Although it’s only been around since 2012, it already feels like a major centre for art in the city. I’ve presented a couple of solo exhibitions there since its inauguration, and there’s a diverse range of exhibitions from artists around the world all year round and even some late-night events. I love how Gillman Barracks feels so spacious and unhurried but if you need to take a break there’s a selection of cafes, bars and restaurants on site too.
Besides the galleries, Gillman Barracks is also home to the NTU Centre for Contemporary Art, which puts up great exhibitions and also runs a residency programme. In 2017, I was an artist-in-residence and focused on doing research on music-related artefacts and documents from Singapore in the past. The research has since become the foundation of my presentation for the Singapore Pavilion at the 58th Venice Biennale.
If you’re looking for something a little more underground, you should keep an eye on what Soft/WALL/Studs is doing. It is an artist-led studio space which hosts interesting events from time to time, including film screenings, participatory happenings, and rooftop catwalks so check their social media channels if you’re in town.
A different sort of culture
Haw Par Villa is a theme park with a difference. I would describe its theme as Singaporean-Chinese psychedelia, with over 1,000 colourful statues and 150 giant dioramas depicting various aspects of Chinese folklore and mythology. Many of them feature anthropomorphised animals and some of the dioramas just look absolutely bizarre. It’s free to visit and I can guarantee that you’ll never have been anywhere quite like it. This is the first place I’d recommend to friends who are visiting from abroad.
Food is a big part of our culture and apart from the many food centres (colloquially known as "hawker centres") that we’ve got around the island serving affordable local delicacies, I’d also recommend heading to Geylang for a little jaunt.
Probably most infamously known for its red-light district, Geylang Serai is also home to one of Singapore’s oldest Malay settlements. Here, you can find a hodgepodge of amazing street food from the various ethnic groups of Singapore, including Malay cuisine, Indian food and Chinese zichar (wok stir-fry). If you’re not squeamish, try some clay pot frog’s legs, which resembles chicken and tastes great with spring onions, ginger and chilli.
You’d have to be somewhat lucky to be able to catch my last couple of recommendations – Ujikaji Records and Horizon99. The former is a music label specialising in independent Southeast Asian music and organises experimental music concerts, while the latter organises raves with great music and just got featured on Vice. I think Singapore has an unfair reputation for being dull and straight-laced but if you know where to look, there’s plenty of exciting stuff happening.
Song-Ming Ang – Music for Everyone: Variations on a Theme is currently on show as part of Venice Art Biennale 2019, which takes place until 24 November 2019. Discover more at nac.gov.sg.