We had a special interview with Dr. Eugene Tan, the director of Gillman Barracks.
─It seems to be an Eastern way of thinking to combine nature and art. We are amazed by Gillman Barracks.
Eugene: I’m glad you like it. The greenery around Gillman Barracks makes it a good environment to enjoy art. And we are quite near the city, even though it doesn’t feel like it.
─Is Gillman Barracks part of a bigger strategy?
Eugene: Yes, Gillman Barracks is a key initiative to grow the visual arts scene in Singapore through the creation, exhibition and discussion of contemporary art. And good galleries play a very important role in the visual arts ecosystem because they do more than just sell art. They also groom artists and educate the public on art through talks and exhibitions. That’s why we made an effort to have good galleries set up in Gillman Barracks. So far we’ve got three prominent galleries from Japan, one from China – ShanghArt, as well as several top galleries from South East Asia. Beyond Gillman Barracks, Singapore also has Art Stage Singapore, an established biennale, as well as strong museum institutions, including the upcoming National Art Gallery.
─There are many Asian galleries in Gillman Barracks. Why the focus on Asia?
Eugene: Because we are in Asia, artworks by Asian artists are the most relevant for the public and regional collectors. But we also try to introduce artists from other parts of the world; we have two galleries from Berlin and one from America. Sundaram Tagore, the American gallery, is interesting because they also represent prominent Asian artists.
─We heard that in Singapore, the primary art market is less established than the secondary market, and Gillman Barracks helps build the primary market here.
Eugene: The primary market is important for any art scene because it is a key platform for artists to produce works. And Gillman Barracks promotes art creation through the galleries. Many of them have chosen to set up here to use Singapore as a base to source for regional artistic talent, given the increasing interest in Southeast Asian art. The Centre for Contemporary Art in Gillman Barracks also has a residency programme where local and international artists can participate.
─It has been four months since Gillman Barracks officially opened. Could you share with us how is it coming along?
Eugene: We have been very encouraged by the responses to Gillman Barracks since its launch. To date, we see increasing interest in the place from the international art world and media, and this has raised Singapore’s profile as an Asian arts hub. That said, Gillman Barracks is still a young project. We have 14 galleries here now, and it will increase to 17 galleries by the end of this year. There will also be a Centre of Contemporary Arts which will officially open by the end of this year. By then, you can have a fuller experience of Gillman Barracks.
─Could you tell us more about the residency at Gillman Barracks?
Eugene: The Centre of Contemporary Art is driven by local university Nanyang Technological University. It has three key components: exhibition, residency and research. For the residency programme, it has nine studios and will be opened to both Singaporean and international artists. I want Gillman Barracks to be a place for cultural exchange. The idea of exchange will be fostered through the residency programme when local and international artists will spend specified periods of time at Gillman Barracks producing their work and engaging with the local art community.
─It’s really a good thing to support artists.
Eugene: Right, I think artists and the artworks they produce are the core of the art scene, so we want to put up platforms such as the residency to support them. The galleries at Gillman Barracks will also function as platforms of exchange between the local and the international arts community. This will happen through the exchange with the international artists visiting Singapore to prepare for their exhibitions and through the talks and outreach programmes that the galleries are planning. Many of the galleries are also already exploring exhibiting artists from Singapore and the region as part of their exhibitions, which will create interesting dialogues between artistic practices in Singapore and the region, with those internationally.
─Could you share which other galleries will be setting up in Gillman Barracks?
Eugene: Pearl Lam Gallery from Shanghai and Hong Kong will open later this year. The others are still under discussion.
─Was it difficult to choose the galleries for Gillman Barracks since because there are so many out there?
Eugene: EDB conducted an open call for galleries to set up in Gillman Barracks in the middle of 2011. An evaluation panel comprising members from both the public and private sectors selected the galleries based on criteria such as exhibitions portfolio and artist representation. I am really pleased with the quality of the galleries selected.
─ What sort of visitors are you expecting at Gillman Barracks?
Eugene: I hope art collectors will see Gillman Barracks as a must-go place to add to their collections. Artists, whether established or emerging, will create their works in Singapore through the Centre for Contemporary Art’s residency programme. And their works will be exhibited in Gillman Barracks too, appreciated by Singaporeans, as well as art collectors and tourists from around the world.
─By the way, how did you get become involved in the arts? You have a degree in politics and economics.
Eugene: It’s a bit complicated. We have a military service in Singapore and my parents wanted me to go to university before that. And the only way to do so was for me to enroll in university by 16 years old. So I had to speed up my high school education. At 15, I wasn’t too sure what I really wanted to do. I chose to study politics and economics in the end to please my parents as these subjects were seen to offer better career prospects. But while studying for my degree in London, I often visited the museums and galleries there. And I was inspired by the vibrant London art scene. That was when I decided that art was something I really wanted to do. So after completing my degree and national service, I went on to pursue my masters and doctorate in the arts.
─Could you tell us how you started working at the EDB?
Eugene: I was approached by the EDB in 2010 to help develop Gillman Barracks. And I agreed to take on that role and develop the Singapore art scene. It’s quite a different job compared to being a curator.
─That is great! Thank you very much for your time.
Eugene: Thank you. Please enjoy the rest of your evening here at Gillman Barracks.
(In Gillman Barracks, on Jan 25th, 2013)