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Beyond An Art Destination

The showcase Dwellings at Gillman: Homes for Artists and Researchers proposes an alternative vision of what Gillman Barracks could be. Justin Zhuang writes.

Beyond An Art Destination

Top image: Gateway to Gillman by Muhammad Aditya. Images courtesy of Singapore Arts Club unless otherwise stated

An empty Gillman Barracks on a rainy Tuesday afternoon reminded me of its struggles. Last year, 5 of 13 art galleries left this contemporary arts destination in Singapore, prompting questions about its future.

One answer was in the showcase I had come to review. Dwellings at Gillman: Homes for Artists and Researchers is a month-long display of speculative residences for the enclave – an imaginative alternate vision to its current setup of art galleries and restaurants.

Canopy Studio by Lai Yann Ting. Photography by Justin Zhuang

Installed across four locations along the sheltered walkway of Gillman Barracks are 12 site-specific architectural models that came out of a workshop led by Roland Sharpe Flores and Dr Lillian Chee of the National University of Singapore’s Faculty of Architecture. Over five months, the duo led second-year undergraduates to seek out the “essence” of this former British army barracks and express it in residences that ultimately seek to “create an inclusive, nurturing ecosystem for the Singapore artistic scene.”

Gateway to Gillman by Muhammad Aditya

In response to specific sites as well as the requirement to house an artist and a researcher together, the students came up with a range of possibilities that show how architecture can turn this gem of a site, with its lush greenery and colonial heritage, into a more inclusive space.

Proposing an alternative entrance to Gillman Barracks is Muhammad Aditya’s Gateway to Gillman. This residence for a textile artist and entomologist uses alternating brick walks to weave in different views of the enclave’s surrounding Southern Ridges, highlighting how interwoven this art space is with nature. In another model, Tan Pei Yun dreamt up a residence for a dendrologist and a lantern artist that is made of a dense forest of pillars. As light projects in and out of the residence at different times of the day, the dwelling is a spectacle that aptly sits in the heart of Gillman Barracks.

Gateway to Gillman by Muhammad Aditya

Of note, Lai Yann Ting’s Canopy Studio proposes a more public mode of appreciating art as part of a dwelling for a textile artist and anthropologist. Unlike Gillman Barrack’s existing galleries that are close and private, Lai’s studio-cum-gallery space offers viewing decks and open studios that invite the public to view what is going on in and around the space. As a concept, it best proposes how Gillman Barracks can become a public site of art production and consumption – a shift that is already happening. This showcase is part of the Singapore Arts Club, an annual public art event in Gillman Barracks that was started by the Arnoldii Arts Club last year.


Gateway to Gillman by Muhammad Aditya

Even as efforts are underway to attract more visitors to this enclave, I recall an artist once remarking on how the area’s serenity is what makes it unique. This collection of speculative residences is a reminder of how Gillman Barracks can be more than a destination but a dwelling for art, too.

* During my visit, the architectural models displayed did not come with information for visitors, but the organiser has informed me that these will be put up soon.

Dwellings at Gillman: Homes for Artists and Researchers will be held from 22 January – 22 February 2016 at various locations in Gillman Barracks.

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