An interview with Gwen Lee by Vanessa Low.
Wedged between tall white buildings in the Bras Basah District is a stack of 19 dark grey shipping containers, Singapore’s newest independent art space dedicated to Singaporean and Southeast Asian photography, DECK.
An acronym for Discovery Engagement Community Knowledge, DECK is a holistic creative space aimed at attracting artists, students and curious minds alike. Opened just last year in October by the team behind 2902 Gallery, DECK consists of 2 gallery spaces, a resource library, activity space, artist studio and café. Speaking with the director, Gwen Lee – who is also the director of the Singapore International Photography Festival – it is evident that DECK is truly a labour of love.
Could you tell us about the backstory of DECK?
In 2007, my partners and I were going around Singapore looking for a space to exhibit photography – and also looking for a space to kick-start the first Singaporean International Photography Festival – and we came to the realisation that there was actually no proper gallery space for photography. We arrived at the conclusion that we had to start a space in order to carry out the activities of the festival that we had in mind. So, in 2008 we started 2902 Gallery in Mt Sophia and we became the first gallery that put photography works as the core program. Then, we decided to kick-start the festival. It was so overwhelming but we received a lot of support from visiting artists, curators and festival directors from the US, Europe and such. And we came to the conclusion that, yes, it is important to have a platform where people gather and meet, to have conversations and spark discussions. And we found that we truly needed a much bigger space that could bring people together and encourage engagement.
Can you describe the unusual architecture of DECK and the idea behind using shipping containers?
We chanced upon this unused piece of land that belongs to Singapore Land Authority; it was really a piece of land with nothing – no building or structure; we couldn’t even find a postcode for it! So, we approached the Singapore Urban Redevelopment Authority about activating this space that had been wasted for the past 20 over years. And we had no idea if the authority would like what we are doing, so we thought, what could we do within a short span of time? We met a very good architect and we said, let’s put together a temporary space; if it stays, it stays, but if it can’t stay then it can be moved out very fast. As such, we came across using the containers.
DECK stands for Discovery Engagement Community Knowledge. Can you explain these concepts?
We hope that with discovery, a conversation will be sparked. Engagement comes in once the conversation has been started, and we hope that can affect the exchange of ideas. And C stands for the Community; we are surrounded by the arts colleges and arts museums nearby. There is also SMU close by, a lot of churches, and residential areas. So we find that it’s quite a diverse community. People matter to us, so knowledge is about the programs and the education activities, as well as the library.
DECK consists of several unique spaces combined together. Why is it important to have such a variety of spaces in close proximity?
With the mobile dark room, the gallery, the studio, the library, activity space and the café we want to create a very holistic space with different entry points whereby people can be engaged whether they are just curious or passers-by or people with deep interests in sharpening their skills. Every program that we start here, no one has done it before. There are no references to see how it worked out. Is this better? Is this an efficient way? A lot of it is a bit of experimentation and gamble.
What can we expect from DECK in the future?
We hope that in the future we could expect DECK as representing Singaporean photography and bringing it to a bigger, international platform.
Current & Upcoming Exhibitions at DECK
The Apprenticeship Programme Exhibition: “c. 2015 –”
Following four months of guidance from creative industry professionals, 34 young artists from Noise Singapore’s The Apprenticeship Programme come together for a group exhibition, c. 2015 –. Curated by OH! Open House, these works interrogate the self in relation to time. Experience the showcase at two venues for the first time.
Dates: 19 September – 11 October 2015
Venues: DECK & Chapel Gallery, Objectifs – Centre for Photography & Film
Hours: Tue – Sat: 12 – 7pm, Sun: 12 – 4pm. Closed on Mon & PH
Find out more about the exhibition and artworks showcased and join the weekend artist-docent tours on any of these dates: 20 Sep, 26 Sep, 27 Sep, 3 Oct, 4 Oct, 10 Oct and 11 Oct 2015. These free tours start at 2pm at Objectifs. Each tour runs for approximately 1.5 hours and takes you to both venues.
“The Two of Them” – Solo exhibition by Liana Yang
Over the period of two months, Liana occupied the artist studio at DECK, where she worked in a conducive environment to produce new works. The showcase features installation and photographic works.
The exhibition, which seamlessly switches lenses between the personal and the sociological, examines the subtleties, nuances, contradictions and pitfalls of modern romantic relationships. Combining installation with photography, the works seek to push the boundaries of image creation and presentation. Alongside the exhibition, there will be an Artist Residency Tour & Talk on October 24 (Saturday), 3pm.
Dates: 16 October – 4 November 2015
Venue: DECK, 120A Prinsep St, Singapore 187973
Hours: Tue – Sat: 12 – 7pm, Sun: 12 – 5pm. Closed on Mon & PH
Tour & Talk: 24 October 2015, 3pm – 4pm
Photos: Vanessa Low