DECK – Singapore’s pioneering container art space

DECK, Singapore’s latest cutting edge photography space, consists of 19 rustic shipping containers situated on unused urban land.

With its exclusive focus on photography and unprecedented use of public space, DECK is changing the game of independent art groups in Singapore.

External shot of DECK. Photo by Darren Soh. Image courtesy DECK.

Exterior view of DECK. Photo by Darren Soh. Image courtesy DECK.

Launched in October 2014, DECK is Singapore’s newest independent art space dedicated to Singaporean and Southeast Asian photography. Art Radar talks to Co-founder and Artistic Director Gwen Lee about her visions for the avant-garde space and the story behind its unusual architecture.

An exclusive platform for photography

DECK, which stands for ‘Discovery Engagement Community Knowledge’, was opened last year by the team behind Singapore’s 2902 Gallery“the first gallery [in Singapore] that put photography works as the core program”. Co-founder and Artistic Director Gwen Lee, who also kickstarted the inaugural Singaporean International Photography Festival (SPIF), tells Style By Asia about the story behind DECK:

[The Festival] 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 […] 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.

Exterior view of DECK. Photo by Darren Soh. Image courtesy DECK.

Exterior view of DECK. Photo by Darren Soh. Image courtesy DECK.

Lee identified a space for her visionary platform when coming across a piece of unused land in Bras Basah District. She and her team activated the barren space to create two galleries, a resource library, an activity space, an artist studio and a café – all dedicated to “supporting and nurturing the community of photography enthusiasts in Singapore and Southeast Asia”, as stated on DECK’s website. The art space online profile reads:

It all started with the belief that there has to [be] an accessible market available for photo artists to make a living through their creations. [After the] Singapore International Photography Festival, […] DECK, which marks the coming of age of art photography in the region, is […] another committed effort to bring this dynamic art form to greater heights.

The current exhibition on show, titled “The Two of Them”, features the work of Artist-in-Residence Liana Yang. It showcases experimental works and ideas conceived during Yang’s two-month residency at DECK. Other recent events include workshops, screenings and apprenticeship programmes.

Creative land use in Singapore

Speaking to Art Radar, Lee says that the land was previously barren without water, electricity and phone lines, lacking even a postal code. The application for basic amenities took longer than expected, and for the initial five months the team relied on generators and portal water. The space had been left unused for over 20 years. The website states that

DECK was creatively assembled to overcome the challenge of land scarcity in [Singapore].

Internal gallery shot of DECK. Photo by Darren Soh. Image courtesy DECK.

Interior gallery view of DECK. Photo by Darren Soh. Image courtesy DECK.

The use of shipping containers, brainchild of local architecture firm LAUD, stemmed from the need for DECK’s structure to be temporary while the team awaited approval for the space. Lee tells Art Radar:

[…] it is not common in Singapore to utilise containers as a functional public space. With the help of LAUD architects, we presented our proposal to the Urban Redevelopment Authority […]. Subsequently with the help of URA, we met up with various authorities to obtain the permit, and along the way, amendments [were] made to the initial architectural plan in order to comply with [the] nature of the residential area. Also, additional interior works were made to comply with Fire & Safety regulations.

Internal gallery shot of DECK. Photo by Darren Soh. Image courtesy DECK.

Interior gallery view of DECK. Photo by Darren Soh. Image courtesy DECK.

DECK’s innovative use of shipping containers in public space is an unprecedented case, involving many administrative procedures. According to Lee, the National Arts Council stepped in as their guarantor to enable smoother application procedures. Lee continues:

There is no precedent before DECK. The Singapore landscape is known for being well manicured ‘bonsai’, clean, structured and controlled. Hence to lease the land, and to independently fundraise an arts space without government funding is unheard of in Singapore.

A labour of love 

DECK’s coming about was truly “a labour of love”, according to Style By Asia. Obtaining government approval was only part of the challenge – with the other part being funding. Lee says:

Funding came from public donations and corporate sponsorship. [But] the idea to give to an independent art project/space is new or foreign to the public in general – to many people, donation is only for the poor, the elderly and orphans.

External shot of DECK. Photo by Darren Soh. Image courtesy DECK.

Exterior view of DECK. Photo by Darren Soh. Image courtesy DECK.

Lee’s team persevered in spite of all these challenges, ultimately overcoming all funding and administrative hurdles. Driven by the firm vision and belief that photography is for everyone, DECK’s unique and holistic platform “welcomes professionals and amateurs to come together, mingle and be inspired”. Lee tells Art Radar:

At the end of the day, the vision and the desire to make this happen keep us moving. […] Ultimately it is about navigating through the system and staying true to one’s vision and dream.

Michele Chan

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Related Topics: Singaporean artists, art spaces, photography, workshopsevents in Singapore

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