Can We “Lepak” Better at Orchard Road?, Orchard Road, Singapore
Public Community Art Project: Public Workshops culminated to Participatory Public Art Intervention
Orchard Road, Singapore
Orchard Road, Singapore
Orchard Road, as seen from recent news headlines, has lost its attraction. While it projects a glossy international image, it remains a place that people lack a sense of belonging to. How could one create an intervention that could help reconfigure Orchard Road as a space for greater social interactions to build a sense of belonging?
Shifting Concretes: "Can We Lepak Better at Orchard Road?" is a public art intervention that focuses on how we inhabit our cities, and questioning who gets to shape the urban spaces we live in. The intervention aims to provide a comfy space for those walking along Orchard Road to rest, and participants are welcomed to create your own “lepak” (relax) space amidst the bustling Orchard Road with materials available, such as cushions, rugs, bean bags, flowers and more.
The public intervention was conceptualised during Shifting Concretes, one of the Workshop programmes co-hosted by The Substation as part of their 2017 Season Discipline the City. This intervention examines the nature of Orchard Road both as a space and a place, as well as how we can enhance our experience at Orchard Road. Populated by a mad scurry of individuals along the pedestrian walkway, the public spaces of Orchard Road function as conduits that individuals enter and exit. Thus, we seek to engage an audience in reassessing their urban experience and pace of life, by allowing individuals to extract themselves from the ceaseless flow of human traffic to observe and personalise their experience at Orchard Road.
Would you come lepak better with us if we provided Free Seating smack right in the middle of our hot-spot shopping street at Orchard Road?
So recently in August, a team of us brought together bean bags, picnic mats, fake grass patches, flowers, rugs, pillows and more to invade the pedestrian walkway of Orchard Road to encourage passerby to join us to “lepak”. It started out as an experimental pop-up space to provide more comfortable seating spaces, a space for connection, and to reassess our urban experience at OR, especially investigating underused public areas of OR that functions almost like a transitionary space.
But it all turned out to be a far more interesting process.
At the start, we did not know what to expect - an experiment that presents so many variables and revealed existing behavioral trends and culture with pedestrians coming to us going, “is it really free”, “what are you selling me?” Questions on invisible power relations, surveillance, and objectification of space and participants were raised: What constitutes a public art intervention? How do we reach out to audiences outside the privileged art spheres, to challenge our usually spatial and social relations in direct encounters? But with those deliberations, also brought in new connections, not just between existing friends, couples, families and even bringing our foreign friends and local friends together. Singaporeans might not be known to be the most spontaneous crowd, but we’re so thankful to have opened a discursive space to present an opportunity for the public to insert their contents into the structures we (or they) have created. We saw teenagers using our speakers to have a mini karaoke session, parents bringing their kids to engage playfully. or just couples chilling on the beanbags, being completely present in the space. Most memorably, we also attracted a group of Turkish tourists that came over to hang out, which led up to an hour conversation sharing our local friends about their first time experience in Singapore.
Our hearts are so full knowing that we’ve made a little difference to your otherwise typical day at Orchard Road and we’re here to share and spread the joy. It was a great learning experience to facilitate and generate a framework for interaction while collaborating to create a work that is conceptually provocative and distinctive. While there was the challenge of bringing in every individual’s expertise and interests and putting them into service in the collaboration and collective motivation, it was also a privilege to be working alongside with participants with incredible minds from different disciplines to collectively examine the precocity of our urban life and consider how we can conceive public spaces, and turn them into more meaningful social spaces. There are so many inspiring existing models to learn from and create, but the challenge of adapting them to the realities and possibilities of the environment we are working in remains. Despite blurring the boundaries between the art and experience, in the same way, authorship and collectivity are blended, the strengths of the communities were created, best in the process of exchanging authorship. I have always been interested in my art practice as a socially- centered disciplined, and in this case perhaps what art-making has to offer is not accurate representation but rather the complication of readings so that we can discover new questions. Nevertheless, as we all continue learning the nuances of these dynamics, this public art intervention is only a beginning - the means, not the end, of a bigger possibility that awaits.
About Shifting Concretes
Shifting Concretes is a public art project that focuses on how we inhabit our cities, as well as questioning who gets to shape the urban spaces we live in. The public intervention manifested in the main stretch of Orchard Road. The workshop series co-hosted with The Substation as part of the 2017 Discipline the City programme, which culminated in a participatory public art intervention, "Shifting Concretes: Can we 'Lepak' better at Orchard Road.
Over the course of a month, participants will be engaged in a series of workshops, working together to conceptualise an intervention that generates much-needed conversations and engagement with Orchard Road. Collectively, participants will reflect and reassess our urban experience in our city, cultivating a social experience of what truly makes this space a place for those who inhabit in it.