Making a rail connection

For years, the sleepy Rail Corridor has been a quiet sanctuary for nature and heritage lovers.

People who walk the 24km green trail from Woodlands Train Checkpoint to Tanjong Pagar Railway Station can enjoy greenery and retrace the path taken by old Keretapi Tanah Melayu trains.

But over the next few weeks, parts of the Rail Corridor will come alive, thanks to two upcoming events.

The first is an arty party under a bridge. Off The Rails is a live art jam happening tomorrow under a viaduct along the section of the corridor in Commonwealth Avenue.

Home-grown illustrators and street artists such as ZERO and eeshaun, alongside Malaysian and Australian artists, will use spray paint to create works of art and murals on the 6m-high structure. Collective WeJungle will also invite the public to participate in their interactive installation, which is made up of recycled trash and paint.

There will also be live music performances by New Stream Brass Band, a local New Orleans- style brass band, DJ sets and food and drinks on sale by Caribbean restaurant Lime House. Admission is free.

The one-day event, which takes place from 4pm to midnight, is part of Noise Singapore, an initiative by the National Arts Council to promote creative expression for artists under the age of 35.

Then from June 18 to July 4, you can join 15 Stations, an augmented reality tour of Tanjong Pagar Railway Station using a smartphone app. The name is taken from the sum of the numbers one, nine, three and two, which is the year the station was opened.

During the tour, when you point your smartphone's camera at a designated landmark using the app, it might show you a video, a simple game, interviews or archive images.

For instance, while standing on the train tracks in the station and using the camera in the app to view the sky, images of lanterns will appear on the screen, which the user can tap to "launch" them skywards.

There are three routes - Reflect will take you through the station's history; Connect will tell you a love story connected to the station; and Imagine will present future possibilities for the station. Each route takes 30 minutes to go through.

With its art deco features and grand facade, the train station is an iconic historic site for Singapore. It was designated a national monument in 2011, the year it was closed. Now it is open only on public holidays and during special events such as exhibitions and flea markets.

The tour will take visitors to key areas such as the tracks and departure platform, and also a previously out-of-bounds place: the cavernous porter's room.

15 Stations is created by artist and educator Noorlinah Mohamed in collaboration with writer Christopher Fok and students from Nanyang Technological University, who worked on the Imagine route.

It is part of the O.P.E.N, a pre-festival event that leads up to the Singapore International Festival of Arts, which runs in August and September.

Noorlinah is also the director of the O.P.E.N, which stands for open, participate, engage and negotiate.

Tanjong Pagar Railway Station is among the venues for the arts festival. The station will also be one of the venues for Dance Marathon, featuring works by 14 choreographers, including Japanese artist Zan Yamashita, in August and September, as well as a cross-disciplinary performance called The Incredible Adventures Of Border Crosses in September.

Festival director Ong Keng Sen, 51, says: "Tanjong Pagar Railway Station is a naturally impressive site, harking back to a time when connection and travel were different. Very often, we institutionalise these sites rather than give them to individuals such as artists, who could make them into something dynamic."

During the Singapore International Festival of Arts, Yamashita will present an existing work based on a railway track titled Daikoushin (A Grand March).

During a recce trip to the site last week, he told Life!: "I am happy to perform in a beautiful place like this. Usually, I have to bring a railway track to the stage. This time, the performance is on the railway itself."

Singapore artist Soh Ee Shaun, 34, popularly known as eeshaun, says he does not know what he will do yet at Off The Rails and will respond organically to the space and the people around him.

For him, working on an existing viaduct structure beats working on white walls. He says: "There's an energy to the space that will affect the output of the work."

Singapore artists have a history of inhabiting old or disused spaces in the name of art. In September, Eminent Plaza in Lavender was taken over by artists who created installations and interventions in the mall's spas and karaoke pubs.

An old rice mill in Jalan Kilang also hosted an art-themed party following the theme of destruction and rebirth earlier this year before the building was torn down.

In 2012, audiences were led down a 1.5km stretch along the Bukit Timah Railway Station in search of the Bukit Timah Monkey Man in theatre company Drama Box's eco-themed drama, Project Mending Sky: US.

The authorities are starting to see the value of letting artists revitalise idle or forgotten spaces.

For example, the Singapore Land Authority recently concluded a round of public consultations on possible creative uses for land under viaducts, flyovers and MRT and LRT tracks.

The viaduct in Commonwealth Avenue, which is part of the Rail Corridor, for example, is an authorised space for street art termed the Rail Corridor Art Space, slated to last till the end of this year. The venue for Off The Rails is already filled with colourful pieces and tags by street artists.

Off The Rails kick-starts a series of monthly programmes, such as a street art competition, an event combining fashion and art and a dance event, which will be held there.

Mr Kenneth Kwok, the National Arts Council's director for arts and youth, says that it hopes these programmes will "draw more attention to the availability of the space to street artists as well as expand the appreciation of urban art forms to a wider audience".

One downside to events held in unusual spaces, however, is the logistical requirements. Event planners have to contend with unpredictable weather, mosquitoes and a lack of lighting.

For 15 Stations' Noorlinah, one challenge has been to make sure the augmented reality component of the app works properly. It is especially sensitive to lighting changes. "If a shadow is misplaced or if the sunlight falls differently, sometimes the technology won't work," says the 47-year-old.

Arts lover and public relations manager Niki Torres, 29, is excited about 15 Stations, having visited the Rail Corridor twice. She says: "These projects give former spots a new lease of life. They inspire us to imagine the potential of these old places and what they might become in the future."

On visiting railway locations for shows

Wear comfortable clothes and shoes - it will be hot and the ground is not always even.

Slap on mosquito repellent.

Bring a smartphone and earphones for 15 Stations, but there will be some on loan onsite. Tablets are also available for loan for the elderly.

The augmented reality app relies on specific light conditions. If it does not work as intended, move on to other markers and come back to it later.

Devote enough time to explore the areas, and leave and come back later if need be. With the live art element in Off The Rails, what you see might change later in the day.



What: A one-day live art jam by street artists from Singapore, Malaysia and Australia held in a space under a viaduct along the railway corridor.

Also enjoy live music by New Orleans-style local brass band, New Stream Brass Band, and DJ sets with drum and bass and hip-hop tunes by A/K/A and Jaydah from Singapore all-girl DJ collective, Attagirl!.

Food and drinks such as Jerk Beef Burger ($10) and rum punch ($10) will be sold onsite by Caribbean restaurant Lime House.

Where: Rail Corridor Art Space, under the viaduct along Commonwealth Avenue

Getting there: A five-minute walk from Buona Vista MRT station or a two-minute walk from the carpark in front of Block 44 Holland Drive. Once in the carpark, look for a clearing in the bushes for the entrance to the viaduct.

When: Tomorrow, 4pm to midnight

Admission: Free


This article was first published on May 22, 2015.
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