Rights of the articles on No Man’s Land are reserved to the original authors or media. No Man’s Land is authorized to reproduce and distribute the articles freely. Users may distribute the articles on No Man’s Land accordingly to the above terms of use, and shall mark the author, and provide a link to the article on No Man’s Land .
Please fill out your information to contact No Man’s Land .
The information you supply will only be used by No Man’s Land .

Subscribe No Man's Land
Please fill out your email to get the latest from No Man’s Land .
The information you supply will only be used by No Man’s Land .
Unsubscribe No Man’s Land
ISSUE 46 : The Piracy, the Radiowave, the Bubble
An Autonomous Archive of the Unseen: Post-Museum’s “Bukit Brown Index” Project
September 17th, 2020Type: Interview
Author: Rikey Tenn , Woo Tien Wei, Jennifer Teo, Daisy Lee (translator) Editor: Rikey Tenn
Note: Post-Museum is a Singaporean collective co-founded by Jennifer Teo and Woon Tien Wei in 2007. Their work examines urban contemporary life and explores how inhabitants can critically and actively engage with the city as more than a mere place. Until 2011, Post-Museum operated an eponymous independent space which hosted artistic and socio-cultural projects, workshops and exchanges. Currently nomadic, their practice is rooted in curatorial, social and spatial concerns, and similarly, takes different forms from installations to events and research, and extends to social practice. Post-Museum has exhibited locally and abroad, including in Japan, China, South Korea and Malaysia, amongst others. They live and work in Singapore.
Post-Museum, “Lessons Amongst Trees” (2017) in 2019 Madou Sugar Industry Triennial; photo courtesy of artist

Rikey Tenn: I am conducting the interview in Open-Contemporary Art Center because the project “Nusantara Archive 2020: The Piracy, the Radio-wave, the Bubble” is a cooperation between OCAC and No Man’s Land. The first question is about the origin.  When did you start the Post-Museum project?

Jennifer Teo: Post-Museum is a very long story. Before we started this project we were both members of a space called P-10(註1) with three other friends. We founded the curatorial team in 2004, because the Singapore government at that time encouraged art exhibitions, and artists were always being asked to create new artworks. However, it was frustrating since there were hardly any audience, reviews, or feedbacks – even though we kept making new shows. Therefore, we were keen to further examine the process of art-making and the issues surrounding the artworks. After a few years, we thought that P-10 was too Art-oriented, and we preferred more community and audience-oriented endeavors. We wanted more interactions with non-art people; and we thought that it was only working within art scenes. Our friends behind the scenes owned some property, and the place where one of them offered us to run the new P-10 was on Rowell Road. But we didn’t want to replicate it anymore. That was how we started Post-Museum back in September 2007, in this three-story building.


Rikey: What kind of space was Post-Museum at that time? Did you receive government funding or support? Were there any artist-in-residency programs?

Jennifer: Post-Museum was an independent space without any funding or support from the government. We opened a deli-bar called Food #3 and Show Room on the ground floor. The second and third floors were semi-private spaces, which consisted of a shared  office space, artist studios and the Back Room for the artist-in-residence.(註2)

Woo Tien Wei: You can also check out the essay about our space in Art and the City: Worlding the Discussion through a Critical Artscape.


Rikey: Sounds very big! How long have you been running the space?

Jennifer: From 2004 to 2011.


Rikey: I visited Singapore several times between 2011 and 2013, and my friends would always tell me about Post-Museum. After closing the space in 2011, did Post-Museum still run the residency? Or does it simply refer to the two of you?

Jennifer: It is still a place for exchange, but we can’t afford the artist-in-residence program since there is no space. However, whoever passes by or is in town is still always welcome to contact us, if they want to find us.

Tien: Since we no longer owned our space, our management model has become more casual. We don’t announce open calls for the sake of it unless there is a need to do some projects. For example, we have only begun to respond to the issue of space after we learned about Bukit Brown. Perhaps you can say that we have expanded our perspective about art during our Little India stage. It impacted our view on how we could practice art in our city. The concept of urban practice is our goal. How can we reimagine this city? For people at different stages and levels, there are different aspects and viewpoints. In fact, the so-called “city” comprises varied aspects – the city provides us with the capacity to realize ourselves. This a concept borrowed from Urban Geography / Urban Studies.


Rikey: Is there any goal that you want to achieve when you started working on the Post-Museum project?

Jennifer: At that time, Singapore did not really have an independent space for people to gather. Just like The SubStation was the only art center in the 1990s, everybody would go there. It was the place where everybody got to meet everybody. You made friends with and talked to everybody, and then you came up with a new project. After the 1990s it was not like that anymore. Therefore, in our space, we wanted to create something similar to that.


Post-Museum, "Bukit Brown Index #132: Triptych of the Unseen" (2018) in 2019 Singapore Biennale; photo courtesy of artist

Rikey: Did you work together as an artist collective or did you work on your own projects separately?

Tien: We work on the space together, and then we form a sense of community. As an artist, my practice is barely object-oriented, or with certain forms. For me, the object is never the point. What made a difference in these four years (from the years before) is that a lot of friends visited our space. Most of the friends were from varied communities and were new to us; not all of them were familiar with art and some were involved in different practices. There were academics, and there were social activists. Many people would come (and sit for a long time with only one beverage). Facebook was just beginning (not like today’s ‘social media’). Imagine, most people in the art world had little connection with the outside world. Though we like to address ‘social engagement’, we actually know very little about the outside world. We only know names in the art circle. Out of our expectation, we have seen what everyone was doing in these 4 years, and we have learned from one another spontaneously. This has significantly inspired me about how art can improve or change the world in ways I had never thought about before. Singapore is very small. We were acquainted with all of those who were involved in social movements or politics in those four years; they have all been here before. Jennifer said just now that we don’t take any funding from the government because we feel that in this way, we can do whatever we want. A common situation is that if you are not from the ruling party and you want to book a hotel for a seminar on Friday, the police would call the hotel to see if you have applied for a license. If not, problems would arise and the hotel would reject the reservation. All activities that have been rejected in the past four years have come to us because we were the only ones bold enough to accept them. If you have been to our space before, you will know that the environment is not ideal. There is no place for them to sit. But if your event was canceled the night before, who will let you hold it? Only we would. Therefore, many people have visited the Post Art Museum, but a lot of them do not know that it is an art space.


Rikey: Operating a space requires financial support. Consider the different practical factors involved, did you plan to open a coffee shop to finance the project when you first started it?

Jennifer: We started the cafe because not many people will buy art, but everybody needs to eat or get a drink. This way everyone can support art by buying something to eat or drink. In the beginning, we had already thought of it as a way to get income, because we didn’t get government support and needed to pay the monthly rent. It was one way we thought we could make money. The other reason is that the cafe will make people come to our gallery. Otherwise, only artists will come. It’s a way to attract non-art people to our space. When they were waiting for drinks or food, we would talk about art. We also held a lot of meetings with many different people. When we had our own space, it was easier to invite people to come over. Now we have to go to someone else’s place or somewhere else. But it’s really hard to fund the whole thing or make money with a cafe. There were too many logistics to deal with in the cafe business.


Rikey: It could have hosted Chang En-man’s “Snail Paradise – A Gastronomic Experience” project” for the 2019 Singapore Biennale.

Jennifer: Actually we did not only have a cafe, but also a restaurant. It’s a lot of work and very complicated. If you only serve coffee it’s very easy and it is quite profitable. But…

Tien:We also hired employees and several artists worked with us – it reminded me of Gordon Matta-Clarke. In the 1960s, he opened a restaurant in the Soho District in New York with several artists, and the restaurant was his work. This can be seen as one of our references, but it was a mystery as there were only photos of the project and few have actually seen it. There are many examples of artists experimenting with restaurants or cuisine. It was also an experiment for us. Because we think we have already tried everything we could at P10, I couldn’t think of anything that art can’t do. Those years have proved our understanding of how art can change the world.


Rikey: Artists are always excluded from the discussion of basic income. How can we tell an artist’s identity from the other jobs they do for a living – can they still create art without distraction?

Tien: Artworks have not to be the objects. It can be in an obscure state. What we think about are community and relationship. If we look at it from the perspective of objects, art is about creating ‘artworks’, but then we won’t have the opportunity to learn about collectivism, collaboration, and art spaces, and how they can transform the ecology of art as a whole. We can say that for a while there were no art collectives in Singapore, and not many people wanted to open art spaces. Now there are only a few, but maybe there have been more recently. If there are more, it would be much more exciting for the art circle. If there were only formal or official spaces, it would be too safe.


Post-Museum, "The Bukit Brown Index" (2014-) in Unearthed; photo courtesy of artist

Rikey: Before the discussion on the institutionalization, I’d like to talk about the preservation of Bukit Brown. At the Singapore Biennale in 2019, “Bukit Brown Index #132: Triptych of the Unseen” (2018) was presented in Gillman Ballacks. How long has this series been developed? How would you introduce it? Is it a curatorial or community-based project? 

Jennifer: As early as 2011, the government announced that they were going to construct a road in the middle of the Bukit Brown Cemetery. At that time, a group of people concerned about cultural heritage and environment maintained that it was a important place. We had never been there before and didn’t know that there was such a place in Singapore. Since then, we started attending seminars and their other activities. Then we thought we should spend more time on the issue, but we hadn’t thought about using the topic in our work at the time. At first, we only wanted to stop the government from constructing the road. We drafted an open letter with a group of people and invited everyone to sign the petition.(註3) At first, those from the cultural heritage and conservation fields joined us and then more participated until it became a social movement. We tried our best to prevent the construction but our efforts still failed. The artists have successively organized activities and exhibitions, but we couldn’t think of a better way to address the issue so we did nothing. It was not until 3 years later that we started making our project. From 2011 to 2013, we organized a free guided tour each month and showed people around for two hours. Later, we discussed its history, environment, and government-related issues, hoping to learn and share knowledge about Bukit Brown with each other. In 2014, the demonstration failed and the government began to build the road. How did we keep a record of these events? That was when the “Bukit Brown Index” was first shown at the Singapore Art Museum (SAM) in 2014.


Rikey: I remember the exhibition M.E.L.T.Ing Project – One Year Conversation: Thread, Ghost Story, Escape (2014) curated by Chiu, Chun-Ta in MOCA Taipei; that was the first time “The Bukit Brown Index” was presented in Taiwan.

Jennifer: In April 2014, we participated in the joint exhibition Unearthed at the SAM, and that was the first time the “Bukit Brown Index” was exhibited as we are one of the artists.

Tien: Actually, the Index is only borrowing the case of Bukit Brown, a kind of urban resistance, or land contestation, as a way to understand the problems of urban development. In a way, we started as activists, and, of course, we wanted to preserve the land. Later on, we began to develop this index and have come to discover that, in the process of urban development, the fundamental questions are: How does one claim the right to the city? How do we shape all the processes that affect the city? This is our starting point. How do we as citizens claim our right to the city? How do we as people change things in the city? As for the land disputes in Singapore, we were not able to change things because the government had already decided its fate. The strange thing is that we all accept it. So for me, the “Bukit Brown Index” is about the rights to cities. It’s a story about the struggles of Singaporean souls. ‘Tolerance’ does not mean to accept whatever government says. Every actor plays his own role in the development of this city. Our latest work divides the story into three sections so that people can more easily understand. In fact, the problem does not lie with the government, but with the city’s ‘grammar’ or the logic of urban development. There is only one way for cities to develop, and that is through money. No other development methods can be taken into account.


Rikey:  How would you consider the position of “The Bukit Brown Index” project in Singapore’s art history?

Jennifer: We hardy know of any other artists in Singapore who were among the activists and trying to stop the land construction. We don’t know lah! We know of artists who have made works about Bukit Brown, but we don’t know if they have taken actions to save it.

Tien: Because our starting point was more like a social movement, we weren’t interested in making art. If we were making art, the process would be different and our thinking would have to change. When our goal was to save the locality, we had to use a lot of approaches as social movements because of different needs. But for the index, we had to consider it from different angles because the proposition lies in the grammar. If it was a question of the grammar, how could we change the situation? What we should change is the ideology. It is similar to the term used in urban geography when attempting to understand space—they are not called space but “place”, a focus on the locality.


Rikey: You think just like urban programmers or activists. 

Tien: We feel that art is only a part of it. What we discuss here is not only the activism but how everyone acts. I don’t know if the idea of ‘placemaking’ is popular in Taiwan because, in our current discussion, placemaking is crucial. Many governments will provide urban residents with multiple choices. In geography, placemaking is a relatively expansive concept. You can think of it very simply. It means that you need to have a place; you create this place in the city for yourself to let things happen. Therefore, it has a broader sense: the government is not the only one making facilities or public art, rather everyone is a placemaker. For me, the interesting thing about geography is that if you are a placemaker, I am also a placemaker, hence, (under this concept) it is the first step to changing the city. The question is how big is the place that we are making? You can shape this place when you make this place. When you make a place, you also see how the world was shaped… we say that the world is chaotic and unfair, but if it is such miserable, how can we change the world? One should think from one’s own place. What kind of place and what kind of world (do) we make?

Jennifer: Here’s my position: we are both citizens and artists. Art is something that we are familiar with, so we use these techniques to do what citizens should do to the best of our ability – compared to the Singapore government, Singaporeans barely have power. But if everyone does what they can within their power, we will be in a more equal situation. The same is true when it comes to placemaking. We shall all be able to shape the world we want. This does not mean that we have to do it as activists, but we can also fulfill our duties as artists.

Tien: It doesn’t have to be that we are the chosen ones, still, we always believe that everyone is a placemaker; everyone is doing what he or she can do, be it Jacques Rancière’s idea of ‘freedom’ or Gilles Louis René Deleuze’s belief in ‘becoming’.


Post-Museum, "Bukit Brown Index #132: Triptych of the Unseen" (2018) in 2019 Singapore Biennale; photo courtesy of artist

Rikey: How many works have been completed in the name of “Bukit Brown Index” so far?

Jennifer: The latest piece is No. 132. But it’s not really numbered from 1 to 132. Each work does not necessarily have a corresponding number.

Tien: The initial numbers were the index number of each document.

Jennifer: For example, 1 may be a certain law, 2 may be an open letter, 3 may be a map, and 4 may be a pile of mud. These different numbers will be exhibited together.


Rikey: Institutions are places, and so is the SubSstation . How does Post-Museum coexist with other institutions? Say, you were also making infrastructure when you worked in the SubStation this year, but you used to be more of an activist in the past. Do you think there is a gap between the two roles? Do you have any expectations for the SubStation?

Tien: Post-Museum has collaborated with art institutions of all levels. Most of them are very straightforward. The exhibitions, lectures, and workshops are quite normal in general. Our work have no direct relationship with my position as the artistic director of the SubStation, it’s just that now I can bring in what I think the art circle needs now. What the SubStation and Post-Museum deal with are quite different. I am currently thinking about how the SubStation can contribute more dialectic thinkings of the community.

Jennifer: The SubStation is an art center and funded by the government. The directions of the two are definitely different.

Tien: We wanted to know how the SubStation can build a sense of community and how to consider collectivism or activism. It has been around for 30 years. A lot of people think it is vital, but they each have their own ideas about it. I spend a lot of time thinking about collectivism in art. From the perspective of art history, many works are based on objects; this means that in modernism, art is unique and artist is genius and unquestionable. When we think about collectivism, artist is not irreplaceable and it cannot fit in the modernist setting. It is also challenging to address its meaning. Under the framework of modernism, some people try to explain collectivism by referencing Dadaism or Surrealism, but despite the movements in the art history, what matters is still the artist. How do we understand the history of ‘movements’? Collectivism is not common in the art history, but historians often study collectivism, especially its spirit. The collective spirit adjust as well . Take Ruangrupa for instance, it is different from the way it used to be. At least, what we’ve seen in the past 25 years is changing. In short, the SubStation needs time and space to develop the spirit of collectivism as there is something obscure in it, such as values.


Rikey: Aside from place and institution, can you talk a bit more about the other metaphors, such as currency?

Tien: We can talk about values. Currency is not totally about the value. Value may only be a part of the currency, which we interact and exchange with. As for social or cultural capital, few will spend time thinking about its currency. For example, we can exchange those capitals and benefit others even if we have no money. We just mentioned the grammar, how do we regard currency? It does not necessarily to be money, because money is only one way of assessment. If you are an artist, some of your capital may be fluid. This can change certain things in geopolitics, for some places have more cultural capital than others.

Jennifer: Singapore is a small country and doesn’t seem like an important one compared to the rest of the world. However, Singapore has other capitals, or else no one would pay attention to us. These capitals are different from monetary capital.

Tien: We think the situation is alway changeable. If I can’t change it head-on, I can still use other methods.

Jennifer: Do you know the “Milk Tea Alliance” on the Internet now? They are allied from Thailand, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and India, and together they become something greater than you. It also exemplifies how we think of currency.

Woon Tien Wei, A Screenshot for Sew Workshop (2020); image courtesy of artist

Tien: This is an alliance on a civic level. Whereas governments can negotiate state cooperation, we can collaborate with netizens from other countries too. Why is it that only the Prime Minister’s words are important? Research shows that in countries like Cambodia, when the factory workers protest against their administration for their welfares, they acquire the resource from international NGOs to amplify their strengths and fight by making alliances with others. The power of currency is far greater than we can imagine. It is easy to say we can’t change the world – it’s all over. You are nobody, and you have thing to lose. All we can do is wait and see, but it is not true. It is all about your choice. “No man ever steps in the same river twice.” Nothing is written in stone. It is difficult to remember this but things are never exactly the same.

From the point of being an emancipatory project, there are many cynical and skeptical thoughts. What Post-Museum considers is: how to adopt pro-activist thinking? How do we change those that are immutable? We are interested in various fields, like the free market. These plans do not limit the situation and are important to our philosophy. What we focus on is constantly repeated in these areas. If you want to change things, you have to rehearse several times. It doesn’t matter how many times you repeat. If you are a liberated and wise person, how do you enlighten those who have not yet liberated? The emancipation concerned here stems from Althusser’s argument. Rancière doubts that only intelligent people can voice opinions. We also often find our own fallacies, thinking that we should have done things this way if we had known earlier. However, if everyone has their own ‘beings’ and ‘becomings’, it is useless to say anything. But we know that if it happens, there is a chance. We can repeat the ways in making this city, that we feel hopefully for everyone, a place of self-emancipation, and they can see if they want to change the grammar, because grammar is the ideology of the city. As for “Bukit Brown Index”, people think that it cannot change anything, because Singapore needs the land and the money. Few people would demystify it. Land is not the currency. Not every land can be traded, but no one questions it.


Rikey: You just mentioned a paradox. If people are destined to have their own ‘becomings’, how can they be emancipated? Another question would be, how can the negotiation with the society be realised among the recipients of your message in art? As a city-state, Singapore’s multiculturalism and its post-election shifting interest me a lot…

Anyway, now we are having more homeworks to fulfill in our COVID-19 bubble, while the currency / capital gap between the rich and the poor is getting even worse.

Jennifer: But we can also connect with internet and use technology, as well our imagination, to organize international activities. It’s just that our bodies cannot travel abroad. It is also a good time for a break.

Tien: When the pandemic began, we used Facebook to live-stream artist talks. Taking a break may be a good thing – I mean, do we need to fly so many places? Of course, it’s great to travel, but is it a burden to the earth? I hope that after this, there would be more online events instead of traveling and that we can have benefit our environment better with new technology. Otherwise, we can’t think of other things. A lot of things cannot happen during the isolation, and everyone is forced to accept it. Nevertheless, we’d also survived from SARS (2004) and the Spanish flu (1918), even before the nationalist borders were formed. The explosion of (dis-)information about the pandemic is another issue to address. During the spread of the Spanish flu, 50 people died each day in Singapore. The colonial government used to arrange for Chinese workers to live together, which in turn caused more number of illnesses. Isn’t this still the case here? Many migrant workers are infected with COVID-19, but the economy has restarted. Why are we so anxious to restore the world of the past? Maybe we all need to think about it.

[1] The collective p-10 in the beginning: Charles Lim, Lee Sze Chin, Lim Kok Boon, Woon Tien Wei, Jennifer Teo. P-10 in the end: Cheong Kah Kit, Lee Sze Chin, Lim Kok Boon, Woon Tien Wei, Jennifer Teo.
[2] "The premises included the Show Room (multi-purpose space) and Food #3 (deli-bar and artwork of author Woon Tien Wei) on the ground floor... The second and third floors were semi-private spaces, which consisted of a shared office space, artist studios and the Back Room (multi-purpose space)." See Art and the City: Worlding the Discussion through a Critical Artscape, edited by Jason Luger & Julia Ren, "2 The collective moment", written by Jennifer Teo & Woon Tien Wei: Routledge Critical Studies in Urbanism and the City, p34, 2017.
[3] See the letter: on 7th September, 2020)
[4] "As curator and art critic Okwui Enwezor pointed out, collectivity and collaborative practices generate critique and question the modernist reification of the artist as an autonomous individual within modernist art (Enwezor, 2006). He raised three issues which problematise collectivity within modernism. The first is the issue of the authenticity of a work of art, as collective work complicates modernism’s idealisation of the artwork as the unique object of individual creativity. Second, as collectivity is often a response to crisis, the nature of collectivity often extends into the political horizon. This tends to give collective work a social rather than artistic quality. Hence, collectivity is often seen to be ‘essentially political in orientation with minimal artistic instrumentality’, challenging modernist formalism’s insistence on the primacy of the artwork. Third, collectivity can also be understood as a critique of the reification of art and the commodification of the artist. Under the operative conditions of capitalism, the loss of the individual artist is undesired, thus collectivity inherently rejects capitalism, and capitalism rejects collectivity.” See Art and the City: Worlding the Discussion through a Critical Artscape, edited by Jason Luger & Julia Ren, "2 The collective moment", written by Jennifer Teo & Woon Tien Wei: Routledge Critical Studies in Urbanism and the City, p31; 2017.
See Also
Bukit Brown Index #132: Triptych of the Unseen, 2018