Arts platform to break new ground

SINGAPORE - For emerging artists eager to score a break in the crowded arts scene here, the chance for a solo show at The Substation's annual anniversary celebration, Septfest, is a coup.

Home-grown sound artist Zulkifle Mahmod, for one, says he was honoured to be picked to perform at the event in 2007, never mind that he had just returned from presenting his soundscape, Sonic Dome - An Empire Of Thoughts, at the prestigious Venice Biennale then.

Zulkifle, 38, says: "I still considered myself an emerging artist then, so it was quite a big deal to show at Septfest.

"It is an important alternative platform in Singapore where different forms of arts - visual, performing and sound - come together."

Six years on, he remains involved in the month-long festival, albeit as a curator for its popular Open Call programme, which selects and showcases works by upcoming artists. This year, three new artists will present solo works.

Sound artist James Lye, 24, who is mentored by Zulkifle, will debut Power To The. An interactive sound installation, it empowers visitors to control and manipulate samples of sounds unique to Singapore, including people speaking in a local accent.

Visual artist Kin Chui, 28, will debut a multimedia installation, Performing Coloniality. The work is inspired by the Javanese dance form, Kuda Kepang, which was once widely performed here but has since faded away from the scene. It aims to raise issues of cultural identity and post-colonialism.

The performance piece Do Gorillas Peel Bananas?, by artist Chan Sze-Wei, 33, will also premiere at Open Call. Her first full-length improvisation piece with elements of choreography and dialogue aims to tackle issues of censorship.

The other anchor event of Septfest is the Indie Doc Fest, which features documentaries such as the Asian premiere of Herb & Dorothy 50x50. The new film is a follow-up to the story of how American art collectors Herb and Dorothy Vogel built a world-class art collection on their humble civil servant salaries and it looks at the couple's endeavour to gift 50 works of art to one museum in every state of the United States.

While The Substation supports independent arts shows year-round, its artistic director, Noor Effendy Ibrahim, 40, says Septfest stands out because "the month of September is devoted completely to events presented and co-presented by The Substation".

He adds: "All the events represent an aspect of The Substation's role as an independent arts centre, from developing young artistic talent to enhancing our ties to the broader arts community and encouraging discussion of current issues on the arts scene."

In line with this, the 23rd Septfest will co-present a forum on artistic leadership with the Nanyang Technological University's Centre for Liberal Arts and Social Sciences, as well as a site-specific performance, Decimal Points: First Station. The piece is a culmination of the Decimal Points series of four performances by Cake Theatrical Productions held at The Substation between 2011 and last year.

Also packing the calendar is an experimental performance, Chapter IV, by artists Bani Haykal, Rizman Putra, Nur Suhaili and The Substation's artistic director Effendy.

Summing up the anticipation for Septfest, Open Call artist Lye, 24, says: "I come from a commercial music background that includes songwriting and performing, but this is my first time showing something as art. As a new guy, an opportunity like this is hard to come by."

Septfest highlights

What: Performing Coloniality Who: Kin Chui When: Sat to Sept 13, noon to 9pm Where: The Substation Gallery, 45 Armenian Street Admission: Free

What: Do Gorillas Peel Bananas? Who: Chan Sze-Wei with David Lim When: Sept 13 and 14, 8pm Where: The Substation Theatre Admission: $10 (The Substation box office)

What: Power To The Who: James Lye When: Sept 20 to 29, noon to 9pm Where: The Substation Gallery Admission: Free

What: The 6th Singapore Indie Doc Fest When: Sept 5 to 8, various times, go to for the full schedule Where: The Substation Theatre Admission: $8 (The Substation box office)

What: Chapter IV: How To Dance Badly And Cock One Eyebrow When You Feel The Rumbling In The Ground, Burping As You Sneeze Who: Noor Effendy Ibrahim, Bani Haykal, Rizman Putra and Nur Suhaili When: Sept 19 to 21, 8pm Where: The Substation Theatre Admission: $20 (The Substation box office)

What: Decimal Points: First Station Who: Cake Theatrical Productions When: Sept 26 to 28, from 8pm Where: The Substation Admission: $35 (The Substation box office)

What: Performing The Local In Singapore Arts Who: Centre for Liberal Arts and Social Sciences, NTU When: Sept 15, 10am to 5pm Where: The Substation Theatre Admission: $10 a session, $20 for full day, tickets sold onsite Info: To register, go to

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