Low res Tolla and Randy

Randy Chan and Tolla Sloane during the installation – January 2014

Q: So what’s your background Tolla?
I came to Singapore in 2006 and worked with Time Out as an arts writer and Singapore Tyler Print Institute as a consultant and project manager on the Matisse and Josef Albers exhibitions. In 2009, I set up a gallery space working with Singaporean and British artists on curated group exhibitions. I’ve always been passionate about creating a dialogue between British and Southeast Asian artists and finding opportunities for Singaporean artists in the UK and Europe.
This led me to propose the idea of a residency exchange programme between Singapore and the UK to the British Council in 2010. They supported the idea and together we developed it. Ultimately, it became the SIF-BC AiRx Programme in 2011. This is the third edition of SIF-BC AiRx and I have been Programme Manager and Curator throughout.
Q: How did the AiRx 2013-14 develop? I understand the 2011 and 2012 editions of AiRx took place in a gallery setting?
It started with a desire to bring AiRx into the public realm. Both organisers, the BC and SIF are interested in cultural relations and community. As a result, I proposed an ambitious vision of an interactive temporary art installation for a public space in Singapore and London. The organisers were enthusiastic about this idea so I approached a number of public spaces. Singapore Botanic Gardens and Inner Temple Gardens were selected as ideal sites, both rich in local heritage.

 

Q: I’m always intrigued by the “Curator/Programme Manager” job title, what does it mean in this context?
In this context, I wear the Curator hat and the Programme Manager hat interchangeably. Curating is the creative, story-telling and nurturing side of the role. Programme management is the practical, budget wielding, timeline generating side of the role. It’s a real left brain, right brain dialectic! I’ll share a little more detail about the curatorial side.

As Curator, I research Singaporean and British artists who may be suitable for this challenge. I look at mid-career artists whose work has a strong identity. This year, it was important to look for artists who had worked in public spaces and created site-specific work that really responded to the sites’ heritage and collective memory. I invited a handful of Singaporean and British artists to submit joint proposals.

Once the artists have been selected, I am involved in many of the developmental discussions as conceptual and practical questions arise. I input ideas where there may be sticking points and help to find solutions when practical concerns threaten the vision. My role is to support the artists and ensure the work addresses the brief and the budget. The development of the work takes place on email and Skype as the residency period is short.

I work on curatorial notes which seek to distil the concept of the work into a narrative that is accessible. These notes form the basis of the curatorial essay in the publication.

Other aspects include graphic design briefs, web design briefs  to realise the artists’ vision of instant public interaction, media releases, collaterals, website, blog posts, bringing in meaningful supporters to add strength and depth to the programme, setting up outreach activities, visits to construction workshops, worrying about sharp edges, slippery slopes….it is an eclectic mix
Q: How did you select Philippa and Randy?
Philippa is a British artist with a strong interest in land-based work. She has carried out commissions for UNESCO world heritage sites and other gardens and landscapes. Randy is a Singaporean artist-architect and has a reputation for his collaborative work with artists, in particular, with Grace Tan at the Substation. Both have demonstrated a unique sensibility in responding to land based sites.

Philippa was interested in working with an architect on a cross-disciplinary collaboration and I made the introduction. The two hit it off and submitted a strong joint proposal. Their proposal was selected.
Q: How does an artistic collaboration like this work in practice?
You have to make compromises to accomplish anything. Whilst you may be satisfied with your work at the end of the day, your collaborator will roll their eyes and say “no”. You have to push it further to satisfy both of you. During this process you have to let go of a little of your artistic identity and decide when to fight for something and when to let go. This helps you identify and define what is really important in your own practice. It is an ebb and flow. In return you have a trusted supporter and honest critic of your work during that time.

The cross-cultural nature of the collaboration adds an extra layer of complexity and makes it a richer experience. When collaborating with a friend or partner from the same culture you can fall back on cultural shorthand, bias and habits. During AiRx you can’t do this and have to work harder to communicate and define your work and ideas.
Thanks Tolla. We’ll chat some more next time about the practical side of a public art installation of this scale