Interactive Spaces: Siah Armajani Response

Here is a short writeup on why I did not enjoy my time at the CCAS Spaces for the Public. Spaces for Democracy. exhibition.

Image: Time Out

Spaces for the Public. Spaces for Democracy. marks the exhibition format in itself as civic structure at the threshold of everyday life and artistic engagement. The social aspect is made prominent by an open call to various groups and organisations to inhabit the exhibition space at different times, appropriating and responding to the installation. Through readings and workshops using the provided books as material, the conversational and educational potential of works of art, as Armajani calls for, can be explored.

I think that outreach to the general public is one of the biggest challenges facing the world of fine art. The vast majority of Singaporeans do not go to art galleries, and do not have the patience to untangle webs of semantics and “meaning” in the mind of the artist. To try to connect these disparate worlds is a noble goal.

It is therefore puzzling that Siah Armajani, in trying to create spaces that are publicly and civically useful, has chosen to exhibit his work in a tiny art gallery in the middle of nowhere — in one of the least-visited public spaces in Singapore.

Seriously, who are we trying to fool here? How many people are going to pass through the gallery space and use these spaces as Armajani has intended? Holding workshops is meaningless when considering the cross-section of the Singaporean population that would actually attend these workshops. This is not a “space for democracy,” it is a space for intellectual circlejerking.

And what of the intentional obtuseness of the design? Armajani has accomplished the remarkable task of making a series of reading rooms that nobody would ever want to read in. The seats are uncomfortable. The bookshelves are difficult to access. The lighting is poor. For some ungodly reason, every potentially useful surface bristles with the shafts of wooden pencils, rendering it useless to sit or put things on. These spaces are not only unfit for humans to use, but aggressively inhospitable and unwelcoming. How can these be “spaces for democracy” when the first thing they do is shut visitors out?

When I was listening to the museum guide ramble about Armajani’s works and manifesto (repeating everything written in the museum booklet in the process) the only question in my mind was when the ordeal was going to end. There was no comfortable space to sit and nothing in the exhibition space that connected with me. Devoid of any civic purpose or connection to real-life experiences, the exhibition space was sterile, clinical, pretentious, and unlivable.

The cardinal sin of a museum exhibition is to take all the passion and emotion out of an artist’s work. Throughout my experience at CCAS, I was unable to connect with Armajani’s pieces or appreciate any of their meaning, and not for lack of trying. I can only conclude that Spaces for the Public. Spaces for Democracy. has been executed in neither a public or inclusive manner, and in its mission of bringing useful civic art to the public sphere, has completely failed.

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Chin Kee Yong

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One thought on “Interactive Spaces: Siah Armajani Response”

  1. Sometimes artworks generate such strong dislike that it’s effects may linger and maybe even inspire one to create a counter-response in your own work or ideas.  In that sense the visit may be useful.  Defining what does not work in an artwork can help determine what not to do in your own.

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