GLOBAL CITY RESIDENCY SINGAPORE
GREY PROJECTS MAY-June 2018
words by Dan Gladden
Images below may contain nudity
Applying for and succeeding in a getting a residency had been high on my list of career goals for quite some time. I have long loved travel and the opportunity to go somewhere I had never previously considered to visit (other than pass through) seemed like an interesting adventure. Singapore. A futuristic city, with visions of technology and modern architecture intertwined quite literally with lush green gardens, even halfway up buildings. My residency certainly opened my eyes, in some ways positive and others not so much.
Prior to my residency, my arts practice has focused primarily on the gay male body, body image and connection of physicality to identity. I have explored the idealised western male form and its representation in the media and how problematic that can be to an already marginalised section of society, as well as developing ideas of how the male form in the future could be morphed and recreated as pleasurable units of desire. My solo exhibition from 2017 was titled “frag/men/t” and examined the idea of the gay male clone gone wrong, and also began to introduce some semi-autobiographical / self-portraiture elements for the first time.
I submitted my application for the Artsource Global City Residency to Singapore in the midst of the gay marriage debate here in Australia, and by the time I had been selected the war had been won and equality had been achieved. The reason this seemed pertinent was that despite the inequality so many of us in the gay (and wider) community felt, the reality of our lives as gay people in Australia is safe and quite legal. Upon researching Singapore, I learnt that it is still technically illegal to be a gay male, and even punishable by prison.
I decided that it would be interesting to spend time in a place where identity was forced to be hidden, and possibly connect with queer artists who lived in this situation to see if and how their work was impacted by these challenges. I was fascinated that a place so keen to be seen as at the forefront of modern ideals could have such archaic traditions of control over people’s lives.
My arrival in Singapore took me straight from the plane to the door of Grey Projects, where I was greeted by the gallery manager Nicole and gallery owner Jason, who gave me a brief overview of Grey Projects, showing me through the space – which includes an apartment, studio, two gallery spaces and library of pretty amazing books as well as a quick insight into the neighbourhood of Tiong Bahru: where to get food, phone cards, and daily shopping needs. The gallery hours are from Wednesday to Saturday, and I had arrived Saturday night, so when the gallery staff left I was then suddenly on my own in a completely unfamiliar place – definitely not what I was expecting only hours after arriving in a new country. Realising I had days to myself (I was the only one staying in the space) I began my adventure, taking my time to explore the neighbourhood and then gradually moving out further, learning public transport and the best ways to get around to see all that Singapore had to offer.
Tiong Bahru itself is quite a fascinating place (and I was reassured by Jason that it is also a bit of a gaybourhood): an old Chinese area with fascinating architecture (some old and a lot of new), café’s, a fantastic independent book store and (as is the case with all of Singapore) so many food options. Whilst it is promoted as a hip neighbourhood, it was also very traditional and very “local”, not a tourist area (thank god) but like most of Singapore, still incredibly easy to navigate and get around.
My aversion to extremely touristy things was at times possibly limiting to my experience of Singapore, as I don’t like crowds and shopping and this is much of what Singapore has to offer – at times it feels like a maze of giant shopping malls connected by a fantastically smooth-running subway system.
That said, I took time to visit places like the Singapore Botanical Gardens, Gardens by the Bay, the Merlion, Sentosa (a nightmare of tourists and shoppers), The Singapore Zoo, China Town and Little India, as well as a multitude of shopping malls and many of the galleries across the city including the stunning National Gallery, The Art/Science museum and the expansive Gillman Barracks. Everything on offer is perfectly curated and this veneer of perfection and flawlessness, whilst initially is incredibly impressive, becomes at times overwhelming, soulless and borderline banal when the edges are consistently worn off. To spend a long amount of time in a place that seems geared toward the tourist shows a different side to a place, and I found in my interactions with the locals that people were genuinely shocked at the amount of time I had to spend in their city.
That said, I decided quite early on to space out my time visiting touristy things, opting for one maybe two experiences a week. I began to spend more and more time at Grey Projects and in my studio creating work. This was entirely unexpected, as my initial plans were to focus on experiencing the place and to put the idea of making work to the back of my mind. Grey Projects is a truly fantastic space, housing two good sized gallery spaces, a large and bright studio, tiny apartment (with nothing other than table, single bed, drawers, mini fridge and microwave) and a fantastic collection of books in the library that I was free to access 24/7. Living in and having largely free reign over the entire space was a pretty incredible experience once I got used to the isolation of being almost completely alone for six weeks.
My emotional experience was probably the most unexpected part of the residency, and since coming home and discussing with others, seems to be par the course of the experience of a residency, but not one I was prepared for. Days and days of being alone led to inevitable loneliness, and it’s certainly an odd feeling to feel lonely in a massive international city that is always bustling.
I learnt early on in my dealings with Jason and Nicole that being openly gay in Singapore, while technically illegal, is not something that is policed and artists are quite able to express their identity through their arts practice, and there is quite a thriving queer arts & literature (especially poetry) community that was centred around Grey Projects! They even have an annual queer show there. However, I found it was difficult to make connections with any other artists, as nearly all the people I had wanted to connect with were out of Singapore on their own residencies, so almost all connections bar with the gallery staff were made over social media. I found it hard not to be disappointed by this.
The work I created however was borne out of a reaction to this isolation which led to serious introspection. I began to focus on my own reactions to being alone, to being alone with my body, questioning my sense of self-worth and value. What value did I as a Western white man, bring to a place? Probably not much.
The amount of time I had to myself as well as the practicalities of transporting work pushed me to develop a suite of different drawings, looking at my body, my identity and the idea of the empty reflection – everywhere I went, a mirrored surface would reflect my image back to me, be it the subway window, shop windows, mirrored walls, cameras, the inevitable selfies to show “I was here”. I found it easy to lose myself in hours of drawing, and the idea of the handmade seemed especially valuable to me in such a technological world. The work pushed me to refine my drawing skills and to really step back and think about my own connection to my body and my own ideas of self-worth when taken away from the comforts of home.
My residency culminated in an open studio on the last weekend of my stay, which was unexpected but a nice way to round out the time. I was also generously offered the use of the main gallery space to display my work due to the volume of drawings I had created (24 in total). One downside however was that although it is ok to be openly gay in Singapore, the government still frequently shuts down any pro-queer events and as such the promotion of my open studio/exhibition was extremely limited and only around 10 people attended. Despite the difficulties and isolation, the end of my residency saw several promising offers (my work is still on display over there) and upon reflection the time spent was unlike anything I have experienced and would be able to have here in Australia – being able to live full time in a space that I could work constantly on my art in, with no one around and no interruptions so I could fully immerse myself. As such, the experience was massively valuable and I am deeply thankful to Artsource and Creative Partnerships for the opportunity and Grey Projects for hosting me.
Dan Gladden's figurative paintings and drawings explore ideals of the masculine form, and analyse the construction of archetypal male identities. The work is intended to create questions rather than answers. By confronting the notion of masculinity being homogenous and heterosexual, he explores the notions of Heroism and masculine bravado, with religious iconography becoming more important in referencing traditional masculine representation.
Artsource Global City Residency Singapore is supported by Creative Partnerships Australia through Plus1.
IMAGES (top to bottom)
Dan Gladden, self portrait at Singapore Botanical Gardens, 2018. Image courtesy of the artist.
Images 2 to 4: Dan Gladden, Untitled drawings, 2018. Global City Residency 2018. Images courtesy of the artist.
Dan Gladden, installation view of Untitled drawings at Grey Projects, 2018. Global City Residency Singapore. Image courtesy of the artist.