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Universes in Universe: Singapore claims to be on the
move from an industrial production society to a knowledge-based and
innovation-oriented one, which finds its correspondence in a diverse
and dynamic, cosmopolitan cultural life. Is the decision to organize
such a Biennale, to be seen in this context?
Lee Suan Hiang: As we move from the industrial economy to the knowledge
based innovation driven phase of development, our people will need to
unleash their imagination capital, they will need to be creative, to
be inventive. And the arts are indeed a very important trainer of the
imagination. They allow people, to challenge the convention, to think
outside of the box and to do new and different things. This Biennale
in many ways has challenged people’s views on subjects, such as
on the theme of belief. Different art works, different ways of expression,
all add up to the diversity that is the reality of this world.
The Biennale has just started, but it has already captured the imagination
of a lot of people. Before, many Singaporeans may not have been involved
with contemporary arts, but since art works are displayed at different
sites, many Singaporeans have become engaged with the Biennale, not
only as visitors, but also by helping out and volunteering.
Although we just had the official opening, the Biennale actually started
two years ago. It was designed as a journey, not a destination and along
the way we have involved many Singaporeans and internationals in the
arts community. Through our encounters, through the way the Biennale
has been organized, including several places of worship, for example,
we have engaged different segments of the population. Through the community
work, we have involved young children but also older people. Along the
way we have educated our people in terms of what a Biennale is all about
and also in terms of the contemporary art discourse.
So the Biennale is multi-facetted, multi dimensional, touches people
in different ways, and that is where I think this Biennale has been
a difference. We did not want a Biennale just for the artists and the
international visitors alone. We wanted a Biennale that was also relevant
to our people and was meaningful to them. And I think this is happening.
For example I know of a contractor, who put up the art works, feeling
so excited that he wants to bring his grandmother to the Biennale for
the week-end. Or when I went to the church on Sunday, a lady came up
to me and congratulated me on the Biennale. She said that felt so proud,
so happy that we are doing something like that.
However, it still is the beginning and we have a couple
of more months to go. Of course we cannot achieve everything with one
event, but it has been a milestone, because it has already changed people’s
perceptions. Internationally, many people think of Singapore as an economic
city, which is very efficient in business. I think, this Biennale will
contribute to give people some sense of Singapore as a vibrant and creative
country that is also able to have fun. We believe that arts and business
are mutually enriching. We want to be a global business city with global
talents. And global talents and global business people want to operate
in an environment with good food, good wine, good music and good arts.
You need the magic of the arts. The Biennale is one of those events
that we do to promote this image. It is an international event with
many visitors from overseas. I think in that sense we have managed to
impact all the different stakeholders.
UiU: Some of the strongest art works of the Biennale are those of local
artists such as Ho Tzu Nyen and Donna Ong. What impact do you expect
this international exhibition to have on the arts scene in Singapore?
Lee: The Biennale allows us to provide a platform for
our artists and the arts community here to interact with the international
artists, and to gain international recognition. In the process, I think,
it will open up the minds of our people. The interaction will bring
about new ideas and will make for a stronger arts community in Singapore.
UiU: As a Board member of the IFACCA (International Federation of Arts
Councils and Culture Agencies), and the chairman of its Asian section,
do you think that the Biennale will strengthen the position of Singapore
as a mediator between South-East Asia and the international arts community?
Lee: We want to be a distinctive global city for the
arts and to achieve that, we cannot have events for Singaporeans alone.
We need to be connected. We need to bring Singapore arts to the world
and we also want to bring the world to Singapore. I believe our history
and our geography allow us to be connected in a meaningful way. We are
more East than West and more West than East. We are a multi-racial,
multi-cultural, multi-religious society, and here live Asians with all
kinds of origins. For all these reasons there are good conditions for
the Biennale to substantially contribute to strengthen the interconnection
of our region with the international art scene.
UiU: What are your expectations regarding possible economic effects
of the Biennale?
Lee: We have always taken a total approach to the arts and look at
them in terms of our ABCs: art for art’s sake, art for business’
sake and art for the community’s sake.
As our country grows, becomes more affluent and successfully alleviates
physical poverty, we now want to address the poverty of aspirations.
Young people become more affluent and more travelled and exposed, and
hence they also want to have more room for expression, for self-actualization
to pursue their dreams. Therefore art for art’s sake is an important
part of our social eco-system. It provides the soul of the country and
emphasizes the intrinsic value of the arts.
The second part, of our program is art for business’ sake. Moving
from the industrial to the innovation driven phase of development our
people need to be more creative, innovative and imaginative. Art is
an important catalyst in this aspect. Furthermore, art is also a very
important contributor to the economy in terms the creative industries,
such as media or applied arts. Our intention is to grow the creative
industries from 3 % to 6 % of the GDP. In this aspect the Biennale has
also helped to put Singapore on the world map.
At the same time, we also want the arts to play a role in community
developments, as the art for the community’s sake. By telling
the history of Singapore through the arts, we can pass it on from one
generation to another, and in the process shift the ethos, give people
a sense of pride, develop the national identity and help to preserve
the past and define the future. If we don't have our own art, if we
leave it to other people, such as the TV or Hollywood productions, they
will shape how we see ourselves. Thus arts play an important role in
social development, social bonding, community development as well as
preserving the past and defining the future.