Written by Woong Soak Teng

When, and how, does a ‘space’ become a ‘place’? Who are spaces for, and what relationships emerge in places dedicated to the arts? These are some questions that the panel of ‘Middle Ground: Between Space and Place’ grappled with, while gathered at the open grounds of DECK on a cloudy Saturday evening. Moderated by Dr Hoe Su Fern, this second panel in DECK’s series of activations ‘Currents Above Ground’ urges a reconsideration of time, relationship with the state and collective imagination in cultivating spaces into places for the arts.

In a fast-paced society like Singapore, time is always of essence. But resisting the chronological order of time may help foster meaningful places for the arts. Independent curator John Tung alludes to the Greek term ‘kairos’ in suggesting that finding the right moments may encourage openness that allows communities to grow organically in a space. Often, these moments arrive spontaneously, outside of operational hours. Addressing the gap between spaces for art production and art consumption, Educator Audrey Wong stresses that developing soft infrastructure and conducting authentic dialogue with the dynamics of a place require a long time commitment.

Negotiations for space on a land-scarce island are often entangled with government agencies. As John and Heng Leun recount the challenges in presenting art in public spaces, we ask: who truly owns the spaces and how does it in turn shape the making of art in Singapore? Commenting on his exchanges with a statutory board for ‘Project 12’ at Pulau Ubin, Heng Leun adds, “But it’s good, because in a way I think we are educating them”. In tackling such bureaucratic conversations, there is hope that the dialogue can mature with time and a common ground can eventually be found.

Expanding on ideas of alternative visual art spaces, John points out, “If you were to really think very hard about it, almost every space in Singapore is an unconventional presentation space, perhaps with the exception of the National Museum and ArtScience Museum”. With the lack of purpose-built spaces for the arts, DECK’s ambition for a five-storey arts centre goes against the grain. As the audience ponder about spaces and places in the midst of a makeshift set-up, Co- Founder and Director of DECK Gwen Lee poses a thought experiment, “If both elements of time and space are present, what could this picture (of an art space) be like?”

Indeed, for it to manifest, the vision has to exist in the minds of people.