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A Round-Up on HEARTH Community Art Space in 2020

Updated: Jan 28, 2021

Earlier in September, we launched HEARTH, a community initiative that provides independent art practitioners with a free safe space to work on their projects, as well as hold exhibitions and workshops related to their craft. The project expanded the use of our office in Gillman Barracks, a flexible open plan gallery space that was left temporarily vacant while the team pivoted to working from home, and was part of our effort to support the art ecosystem in tough times.

The HEARTH community art space hosted nine groups of art practitioners over the course of three months, with several using the space as a private studio to create new works, while others ran open studios, workshops and exhibitions to engage the public. It was heartening to see such diverse mediums and rich artistic explorations play out over those months. At the close of the first edition of HEARTH, we spoke to each of the artists involved to find out more about their experience of creating art in a pandemic and in the space.

Mother-daughter duo Loh Soh Cheng and Jillian Chan turned HEARTH into a shared studio space for their independent creative practices.

Loh Soh Cheng and Jillian Chan developed their individual practices in the shared studio.

“I am grateful for Art Outreach's empathy towards

artists like myself, allowing me to create artworks

without any interruptions.”

–Loh Soh Cheng

Soh Cheng: I am a retired art lecturer, whose practice is focused on monotype and lino print. To me, the medium is unique for its imperfections and unpredictability, just like us humans.

I have been using my home space to continue my artistic journey, and so I really treasured the opportunity to create artworks without any interruptions in a space like HEARTH. I am grateful for Art Outreach's empathy towards artists like myself, and relished the daily creative experiences in the space. It was a productive week for me. Going forward, I hope to share my passion for the humble yet phenomenally diverse medium with my students.

Jillian: I recently co-founded a journal and stationery brand Tittle&Jot with my fiancé and it has been nothing short of a challenge working on this business as a side hustle, while conducting all production processes, out of a 3-room apartment. Being able to use HEARTH as my studio for a week was a dream; I had the luxury of space to create new products, photograph and fulfil orders. HEARTH is an amazing space for artists as it is flexible and cost-free. Not having the overhead of a studio space is of tremendous help, and provides an environment to focus on ideas and the creative process. I'm looking towards growing T&J, making it a familiar and established name in the bullet journaling and stationery scene.

Sofiya Shukhova created a series of large-scale paintings on the Asian songbird trade, inviting artists and conservationists to exchange thoughts.

Sofiya Shukhova at the HEARTH community art space

(Source: Sofiya Shukhova)

“I use my artworks to urge public attention to less known,

less covered conservation issues.”

–Sofiya Shukhova

Sofiya: As a wildlife artist, I use my artworks to urge public attention to less known, less covered conservation issues. The pandemic made it extremely difficult to showcase art offline. Many shows and events were cancelled or postponed, and I had to explore new ways of bringing my art to the audience. Thanks to HEARTH, I was able to work on larger-scale, mixed-technique art pieces and experiment more. I spent eight days creating several works about the Asian songbird trade, and that week was just as productive as a month (maybe even more) in my own studio. I enjoyed working in this space and had chance to invite other artists and conservationists to visit me and share their opinions on my work. I am planning to continue working on the pieces that I created at HEARTH, and also create more art about the songbird trade and mount an exhibition next.

Yoko Choi and Roshni Bhatia of FoundSpacea collective of artists, art therapist and mental health practitionersheld an exhibition of self-portraits concurrently across Bangalore, India and Singapore, titled In Search of Self.

FoundSpace at the HEARTH community art space

(Source: FoundSpace)

“ artists, we often have several ideas but fewer

opportunities to bring them to life.” - Roshni Bhatia

Yoko: I am currently serving a few local charity organisations and educational institutions as an artist, art educator and art therapist. I mainly focus on people with special needs, chronic illnesses, physical challenges, as well as women and children. We used HEARTH to run our exhibition, which showcases our online archives and collection of self-portraits from an initiative of ours that promotes self-awareness and mental wellbeing, while using art as a form of expression. Personally, I think the pandemic created effects across two spectrums: shows were suspended or cancelled, which led to a state of unknown and caused a sense of disorientation, loss and anxiety. On the other hand, this created opportunities to explore new platforms and new ways of working such as virtual art teaching, online art therapy sessions or tele-consultations. Spaces like HEARTH are also very much appreciated as it provides artists and art practitioners a “breathing” space to explore new initiatives during this challenging time, especially for those whose income sources were already unstable before the pandemic started. Moving forward, I am hoping for the recovery of our economy and society, so that we can move on with more open hearts, compassion and flexibility. FoundSpace will continue to reach out to bring the therapeutic benefits of the arts to communities, locally and globally, while creatively seeking sustainable resources to support our vision.

Roshni: I am currently an art therapist in private practice, and mostly work with children and adolescents with traumatic backgrounds. I am also an art educator, while continuing to build my multi-disciplinary art practice. In my personal art practice, I noticed a change in the mediums and methods I am inclined to during the pandemic. I usually work more intuitively with drawing and digital mediums, but I have been more drawn towards working with clay and creating forms. This is probably because it gives me a sense of direction and control, which we are currently lacking in the world. Such shared spaces are very empowering because as artists we often have several ideas but fewer opportunities to bring these to life. I want to continue to grow our work at FoundSpace in Singapore and India, by bringing therapeutic practices into wider communities, and spread awareness of the benefits of the arts for wellbeing.

Art R’eev, who creates upcycled art with an environmental angle, organised his first solo exhibition Trash to Treasure.

Art R’eev’s first solo exhibition at the HEARTH community art space

(Source: Art R’eev)

“Most large-scale events have either been postponed or cancelled so

I have been spending. Most of my time at home creating art..” - Art R’eev

Art R’eev: I am a local self-taught artist who specialises in upcycled art with an environmental angle. The pandemic affected me drastically – as a freelance artist, my income took a plunge, to the extent that my daily expenses were affected. Most large-scale events have either been postponed or cancelled so I have been spending most of my time at home creating art, whilst feeling perturbed about the situation. Having a space like HEARTH is awesome and I appreciate it very much. I used the space to host my first solo exhibition, Trash to Treasure – Where Ugliness is Turned into Beauty. I was both excited and nervous I did not know if people were going to be able to appreciate my artworks. Ultimately though, it was an awesome experience: the response was overwhelming and the concept was well received. It gave me the drive to move on in my artistic course as it provides me the opportunity to excel, create awareness and showcase my talent. Spaces for art in Singapore are pretty scarce, and usually subject to rental fees or a commission cut on artwork sales, and as a freelance artist hit by the pandemic, honestly many of us cannot afford to pay rent, so such an opportunity and space means so much to me and I am grateful for it. Looking ahead, I will be exhibiting at Senikita, an exhibition showcasing works of artists in the Malay community at Kamal Arts Gallery. I hope to also be able to exhibit my works in the International Upcycling Festival in Yogyakarta in March 2021.

Merryn Trevethan is an Australian independent visual artist based in Singapore, and a regular volunteer for our ARTLink programme. She used the space to test out an installation inspired by the circuit breaker.

Merryn Trevethan’s “Until Further Notice” at the HEARTH community art space (Source: Merryn Trevethan and Matin Latif)

Merryn: My practice examines the architectonics of space as they relate to the urban environment and public spaces. I place an emphasis on perception, spatial response and colour in paintings, drawings, and large-scale installation works. I create works that remind us of the uncertainty of human perception and of the joy of seeing and experiencing the world in real life. I used my time at HEARTH to test out the creation of a large-scale, layered installation of work that I created during the circuit breaker. This included a large wall drawing made of MT washi tape. In many ways, the circuit breaker was a time for me to focus on creating new work, albeit in a limited space. I channelled my anxieties about what was happening into the process of making. The work I created reflected our changing relationship to public space, and traveling in the "new normal.” I have been looking for somewhere to test out this installation idea without having an exhibition as such and it is very difficult to find affordable space in Singapore especially for short term projects. I think it would be great for our local art community for more of such spaces to be made available to artists.

Saleem Hadi, founder of the Singapore Indian Theatre Film & Explorers (S.I.T.F.E), and a group of aspiring theatre and film enthusiasts used the space to stage, film and explore monologues and experimental shoots.

S.I.T.F.E at the HEARTH community art space

(Source: S.I.T.F.E and Saleem Hadi )

“I am truly very thankful to Art Outreach for giving me and my artists a space to explore and inspire us to create works together. Creation is so therapeutic. It calms you one moment and before you know it, your adrenaline rush is crazy (for the good). Thank you.”

- Saleem Hadi of S.I.T.F.E

Saleem: I am a filmmaker, bilingual writer and theatre practitioner. I’ve been practicing in the local arts and media industry since 2001 and have written, produced and directed over 20 theatre productions to date. I used HEARTH, along with young and veteran artists, to stage and film several works, including excerpts from my latest theatre production, readings of Haresh Sharma’s scripts (in English as it was written, and in Tamil, which we wanted to explore), monologues and experimental video shoots. Having the HEARTH art space was a truly valuable experience as we got to explore creating new works without any pressure. Most of the time, artists are pushed to create new works that are safe or check off KPIs, so to have a space just to explore after a long time was truly enjoyable. I missed this part of my own exploration since I am constantly on the go and rushing. The period at HEARTH allowed me to slow down, think, and most importantly, have fun creating art. The pandemic did make me question my existence and the contributions I make as a creator to the film and arts industry. I couldn't not do anything. A space like HEARTH is truly necessary for emerging and existing artists, as it allows one time to create and reflect. If I were given the opportunity to use the space again, I would like to do an introspection on all the short films I have made, and unearth what I was trying to address, the demons I was trying to engage with, and maybe even explore them. Along with my introspection, I would like members of the public, artists in Gillman Barracks and all around to come and engage in dialogue sessions. An intentional invitation to others is needed to really know how one's works are regarded and understood. There are moments when a creator wants to be in the dark, and there are moments where he would like to walk into the light, totally naked, to be transparent with the truth he has discovered for himself. I strongly feel that this openness should be embraced in a comfortable and safe space, and a space like HEARTH can allow for that. In 2021, I am hoping to write and direct three to four short films, while reworking the script for my theatre production script, Where are my crows and pigeons, as well as grants and proposals to support S.I.T.F.E projects. I’m also contemplating on doing a PhD with National Technological University (NTU) and am trying my level best to inspire myself in this lonely, lovely journey of creation.

Contemporary artist Sunaina Bhalla, held her solo exhibition, Sharps and Such, bringing together her diverse art practices and personal battle against cancer.

Sunaina Bhalla’s “Sharps and Such” at the HEARTH community art space

(Source: Sunaina Bhalla)

“The pandemic, for me, was a time to burrow into my studio space and create. It was, and is, a time to reflect and slow down and focus on what really matters in life. “ - Sunaina Bhalla

Sunaina: My work revolves around the ritual of pain and relief in chronic health conditions. I focus on the repetitive gestures of medical interventions and their residual marks using the mediums of wax, embroidery and spices to create installations that address the ‘de-fossilisation’ of traditions of home remedies using natural herbs and spices. The training I received during my diploma in textiles has been reintroduced in my practice and I explore the use of printing and repetition in my work. I had a fabulous experience mounting the show at HEARTH. The team at Art Outreach was extremely supportive and encouraging; I was free to use the space and realise the exhibition as I visualised. The pandemic for me was a time to burrow into my studio space and create. It was, and is, a time to reflect and slow down and focus on what really matters in life. More time with my family, looking after my health and definitely more time to research and create what I have been wanting to but have been unable to do because of lack of time! This space is invaluable to artists in Singapore – there are few spaces that are available for artists to grow, to share their work, reach a larger audience and get feedback. HEARTH provides the necessary infrastructure for exploration of artistic ideas and creation. In the coming months, I have a couple of group shows coming up and am beginning work on my next series of works with print and embroidery.

Shirly Koh transformed our office space into an immersive installation, inviting visitors to participate and engage in meditative self-reflection.

Shirly Koh’s Speaking to You at the HEARTH community art space

(Source: Shirly Koh)

“Thank you so much for having me (and the rest of the artists)!

The team at Art Outreach was very warm, swift and clear throughout

the process.”

- Shirly Koh

Shirly: I am interested in understanding and learning more about my internal world in order to relate and connect better with others in the world. My goal is to introduce a more evocative perspective and understanding of the everyday and the mundane. I transformed the space into an immersive sound and visual installation titled Speaking to you, which was a visual and audio log of my feelings and moods recorded in 2018. The project aims to highlight the importance of acknowledging feelings that might get lost in the daily hustle, and explores art as a much-needed space for one to process emotions. It was a wonderful experience. The space allowed me to have some quiet time in between receiving visitors and catching up on my work. The pandemic made me take a break, breathe and rethink my priorities. HEARTH provides a space for ideas, no matter how unconventional, to take root, and a safe space to create. It offers hope. As the year ends, I'm looking forward to a warm and relaxing time with my friends and family and mentally preparing for the next. I'm currently in a month-long residency with Objectifs’ Woman in Film and Photography 2020, under a platform called Conscious Connections, and will be showing my works in a group show at The Substation titled Blackboard Schemes in December.

Post Museum held a community installation, Renew Earth Sweatshop, inviting visitors create art pieces out of old clothes.

Post-Museum’s “Renew Earth Sweatshop” at the HEARTH community art space

(Source: Post-Museum)

“Our aim is to make sense of this and learn.” - Post Museum

Post Museum: Post-Museum works in the area of social practice: we make art, curate, research and collaborate with a network of social actors and cultural workers. We believe that people reclaim their right to the city by practising the city in 'meaningful ways'. Most people are already practising meaningfully in their own capacity, and our aim is to make sense of this and learn from it to facilitate places for collective and collaborative activities, and to make meaningful practices infectious. We used HEARTH for our project, Renew Earth Sweatshop, which is a workshop and sewing space. We examined different aspects of the fashion industry and visitors were invited to create new pieces out of “clothes waste.” On the last weekend, we showcased everyone’s creations. We think that HEARTH is designed with a kind of generosity and openness in mind. Although somehow it is always difficult to read the impact of such values on art history in the long-term art history, we hope that more can understand the importance of such values in our art world now. As the year comes to close, we will be presenting The Last Supper, a project by interdisciplinary artist Fié Neo. Post-Museum has an informal tradition of gathering on New Year’s Eve. This year will be different and unique due to the pandemic. It is essential to do something for the community to make sense and gain some control over our lives, and to say goodbye to 2020 in a meaningful way. Physical distance doesn’t mean we have to socially distance - The Last Supper is a place to connect and convene (physically for some & virtually for others), especially those who are tired of zoom calls, anxious about the climate crisis and want to act and passionate about creating change.

The Art Outreach team would like to thank all the artists for taking the time to share their thoughts and insights with us. We enjoyed seeing our office space come alive through all their projects.

Applications for the HEARTH community art space in February to March 2021 are now open. Click here to find out more.

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