The rest of the article places the cultural projects that are currently taking place in the wider context of altering Singapore's image and hopefully resulting in more tourists and ex-pat businesses.
Art for arts sake?
Singapore has pumped billions into new cultural projects - but can art be made in a test tube? By Peter Culshaw
Could you name a famous Singapore artist or musician? Neither could I, until I spent a few days in the city state recently. Despite a push for the arts that began a decade ago, it is still seen as a country that has had great economic success, but is rather dull and authoritarian. This is the place that famously banned chewing gum, where it is illegal to be gay, where freedom of expression is limited and there is strict censorship. Good for shopping, but not promising as a new global centre of the arts. The writer William Gibson called it "Disneyland with the death penalty".
Eminently exportable: Singapore Dance Theatre
There are several reasons for all this activity in the arts. One is that Singapore's dull image was bad for tourism and for ex-pat businesses choosing where to base themselves. More significantly, an economy that was less dependent on manufacturing and more on information and software had to encourage innovation and creativity. However, there is a sense in Singapore of the development being a top-down phenomenon. One has the impression of officials giving directives: "You will now be creative! The country needs it!"
It was hard to gauge from a brief visit how repressive the country really is. Although homosexuality is illegal, there have been many plays with gay themes, and there are a lot of gay bars. Few plays have actually been banned, although writing that could inflame racial tension is seen as especially sensitive. But there does seem to be a lot of self-censorship going on. Several times when we visited arts groups, artists looked anxiously at the omnipresent representative of the National Arts Council if awkward subjects were raised. It reminded me of visiting Cuba in the '80s on an official visit when there was a Communist Party member with journalists at all times.
As the poet DJ Enright put it when he was a lecturer in Singapore, "Art does not begin in a test tube." Singapore may have the energy and resources to achieve its ambition to become a global arts centre, but there remains a sense if not exactly of fear, then of terminal uptightness.
Still, there were fascinating and strange collisions of music to be heard in nightclubs. And moments when I felt a real flash of the future, of what could emerge from this Blade Runner-ish fusion of technology and ancient culture. The highlight was an art installation, Andy Forever, which featured the Hong Kong action actor Andy Leow, showing death scenes from 120 of his films. The result was an evocative, poetic meditation on modern media and mortality. Just imagine what they might come up with now they can chew gum…
Singapore Season, at various venues until April 5.