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Earlier in the month, I took a trip to the recently opened Singapore Art Museum wing 8Q SAM at 8 Queen Street. Thus came about the name for the former Catholic High School, 8Q. The building is now home for contemporary art space with fresh, multi-disciplinary, interactive and community oriented programming; a place where the public can directly experience the work and ideas of living artists, and in relation to its aesthetic and social context. 8Q SAM will support experimental art forms and is envisioned to become a crossroad of new ideas and expressions.

The inaugural exhibition 8Q-Rate: School features eight young contemporary Singaporean artists: Donna Ong, Tan Kai Syng, Jason Wee, :Phunk Studio, Jahan Loh, Grace Tan, Ahmad Abu Bakar and Chong Li-Chuan. As the title implies, 8 curators (one one whom is friend, Michelle Ho; who curated Feng Zhengjie's Primary Colours last year) worked with 8 artists, and they collectively explored on the theme of "school" in response to the site and location of 8Q which was once the Catholic High School. The artists brought us through a series of visual arts and impact us to recall the memories of our schooldays.

8Q SAM: New contemporary art space of the Singapore Art Museum, located in the former Catholic High School in 8 Queen Street

The 8Q-Rate: School exhibit was a parallel event that ran with the 2nd Singapore Biennale in 2008. It was one of the longer running exhibits and we figured we could all put it off till later. Which was a huge mistake and a reminder that good exhibits doesn't come around often enough for us to miss.

From the Bottom of my Pencil Case. 2008
:phunk studio formed in 1994 by Alvin Tan (* 1974), Melvin Chee (* 1974), Jackson Tan (* 1974) and William Chan (* 1973)

One of the pieces on show is a reconstructed half-life-sized classroom by design collective :phunk studio

Entering the room is more like a slide down Alice’s rabbit hole. Visitors have to squeeze into the miniature classroom, which has six mini tables and chairs, and a mini chalkboard

I grew up in the chalkboard years when I was in school. I remember how I enjoyed doodling when ever the teacher wasn't around. In this installation, I got to relive those days. There’s a huge chalkboard with chalks and dusters in the room, you’ll get to doodle and leave your mark, till someone erases it away with the chalky duster.

The chalkboard records every experience and memory as an imprint, yet appears to offer a clean slate each time it is wiped over. Though some words are erased, they leave a mark and a film of white dust – these fleeting memories overlap and contrast with the more permanent recollections indicated by the silkscreened text.

Contributions from Mom and Aunty Emily. A giant bird on a pony???

Oh... gone are the days... we now have whiteboards!!!

In My School Are Many Rooms. 2008
Jason Wee (1978)

A structure that recalls the paper houses burnt at Taoist funerals

At the same time the block like structures remind me of geometric toys used in early education of young toddlers

Reduced to its essence in shape and form, and unmoored from the muddled realities of its physical context, the architect’s model presents a vision of a building and suggests its potential to be realised into solid form. Meanwhile, a funeral house is an approximation of a house, as well as the house itself, yet it is also a structure that realises its full value only after it has been reduced to a pile of ash.

Let Us Walk Through the Burning House. 2008
Jason Wee

Another beautiful installation by Jason Wee with bamboo sticks

Journey of a Point to Geometry Series 14. 2008
Ahmad Abu Bakar (1963)

Flowers or Spiders?

Visual journey through school. 2008
Jahan Loh (1976)

Painting on the wall.

Didn't we all want to do this at some stage of our school life?

The things we dream and doodle...

And ending off with the most outstanding installation:

The Caretaker. 2008
Donna Ong (1978)

It's no wonder Donna Ong remain one of my most favoured local visual artists. Every piece of her artworks never fail to amaze and captivate me in the most creative and thought-provoking way.

I promised myself as a child, never to forget what it felt like to be a child - to dream and invest in the imaginary, the fantastic, the impossible. My work is about trying to keep that promise. - Donna Ong

The Caretaker's table

Through a half-opened door, one enters a small room filled with shelves, cupboards, tables and half hidden objects. It resembles a storeroom. The dim light illuminates numerous cardboard boxes stacked neatly on dusty shelves. A photograph and label on each box suggest an old doll within its secret interior, hidden away. However, all is not as it seems. Tiny ticking sounds emanate from each box, suggesting the passing of time as well as a sense of suspended animation, as if something were about to happen.

Cupboards filled with neatly labeled shoe boxes

The caretaker has been the faithful custodian and keeper of this space. Our voyeuristic journey into his world reveals a collection of personal belongings, selected, arranged and displayed in ways where stories may be discovered through our personal encounter with the objects and the sensorial experiences being evoked as we linger on in the space.

This is the historical story of the '1927 Doll Exchange'
In January 1927, missionary Dr. Sidney Gulick (1860-1945) hatched a plan to sow the seed of peace between the children of America and Japan. He organised his countrymen to send American dolls to Japan for Hinamatsuri, an annual Doll Festival, in which Japanese families display handcrafted dolls and pray for the wellbeing of their daughters. This project had an overwhelming response from the American public, and altogether, 12,739 of these "American Blue-eyed Dolls" were sent to Japanese schools, each with an accompanying letter professing friendship.

The dolls were greeted with delight by children and communities across Japan and in return, 2.6 million Japanese raised funds to make 58 32-inch high dolls each wearing a unique kimono. The dolls arrived in America and toured the nation as symbols of peace between the two great powers.

Sadly during World War II, many of the dolls, especially the ones in Japan, were seen as enemy icons and were burned or stabbed. Many people saved dolls by hiding them until the war was over.

If not for Donna Ong's installation, I would never have come to know of this wonderful piece of history which today is just a mere footnote in the annuals of international relations.

I left the room feeling both spooked by the creepy setting and enlightened by what I've learnt.

More 8Q Rate: School Pictures

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