I was at The Substation gallery at Armenian Street in Singapore this weekend to witness a life and emotional performance. It was conducted in the flesh by talents in the acting and performing arts scene. Titled “A Map of Scars, Bruises and Broken Bones“, the 2 hour play is said to be a live performance based on skin, flesh and wrinkles.

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The Substation
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Main Entrance
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In the halls

Getting there

The Substation performing gallery is a small shop-house like building located beside the Peranakan museum. It is situated along the same street where the Singapore Philatelic museum is and adjacent to the SMU law school. The nearest MRT stations, Bras Brasah and City Hall MRT within a short 10 minute walk away.

An independent performing arts gallery

The Substation prides itself as an independent, privately funded arts and performing arts gallery founded in 1990. It presents a unique overarching artistic theme. This theme is refreshed every year, setting the stage for the exhibitions, programmers and initiatives for the calendar year.

Moreover, the art gallery building used to be a public utility electrical substation, which is now repurposed as an art gallery, museum and music jamming studio. The building comprises of two floors and, a reception box and a music (band) jamming of studio just from the building entrance via the glass doors.

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Main gallery
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Main gallery artwork
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Hole in the wall

The galleries

The main gallery hall is accessible just adjacent to the main double glass door entrance. Also, the entrance hall is a spick open white hall with a variety of floor pieces, wall hung photos and pictorials of interest. This includes those from the “Discipline the City” Exhibition.

Interestingly, a hole in a main gallery wall brings you past a design room, up a flight of stairs into The Substation Theater. Also, the Theater is a dark hall on the second floor housing a number of static exhibits, touted as a flexible black-box performance space.

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Narration Room
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White space
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Upper galleries

Furthermore, there are other art musings here in the ground floor gallery too. There is a tiny passageway to a hidden gallery at the back of the building and a void-less white space.

The Performance

The performance “A Map of Scars, Bruises and Broken Bones” in question is an open concept one. Live performers use the entire public floor area of the independent contemporary arts center and art gallery as their performance stage.

As such, the performers can be seen traversing the exhibition space, doing their acts right in front of visitors. You are welcome to move around the performers freely.

The act was performed by Catherine Sng, Beatrice Chien, Ian Tan, Farah Ong, Wu Jun Han and Jeryl Lee and Matthew Goh (RAW Moves). The performance concept and ideology is as conceived by Pat Toh in partnership with RAW Moves

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Catherine Sng
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Sprawled bodies
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Beatrice live voiceover

Catherine Sng, dressed in a transparent poncho played the role of a distraught old lady traumatized by the ideology of death. Questioning quotes of life and death, bewildered by the shock or the loss of loved ones. You may remember with Catherine Sng, an actress who performed in a variety of classic Singapore shows such as “Growing up” and Channel 8’s “The Unbeatables III“, “My Home is Toa Payoh” to name afew.

Beatrice Chien (who you may also know here from Channel 5 & 8 shows) did the live voice over narration piped from a microphone via speakers into the main performing room. Commendably, a very fluent lady indeed!

performers can be seen traversing the exhibition space, doing their acts right in front of visitors, where they are welcome to move around the performers freely.

Open concept acting

A blind-folded “blind” man who assembles a skeleton signifying “death” walks down the dark path from the upper floor. This is concurrently while the other performers engage in their part of the performance. Together, they put together the pieces of their actions which forms the storyline of the performance.

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Assembling the skeleton
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Chaotic entrance
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Ripped

Three performers slowly make their way through the rooms up into the upper galleries. They slump their bodies on the floor from one room to another as they make their way through the live theater. At times, they pile on top of each other to illustrate the point of fragility.

From accidents to anecdotal encounters, in addition, the performers drew from their own lives to devise walking, rolling, moving floor patterns punctuated by intimate and possibly private tableaus.

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Alone
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Floating open window
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Back-lit mannequins

Upper gallery

The upper floor, a theater is shrouded in black with serve all neon lit elements. This includes a floating open window, and a lit yellow neon border, a cinema screen as well as a line of mannequins backlit by a blue hue. Moreover, the upper floors are all dimly lit, which captures the gloomy atmosphere well.

The play touches topics along the interwoven interconnected lines, lifelines, lines of fortune and misfortune, drawing a path through the individual bodily history and its present.

Amazingly, Beatrice performs her act life with a microphone, her voice is very well regulated which you can mistake as a recording. Furthermore, she goes about preparing an embalming process as she prepares a “Dead body” (the “blind man”). Hence, invoking an emotional reaction by Catherine. This was when she encounters the performer’s “bodies” as they become bound up with the other in a ritual of holding and washing.

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The blind man
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Washing the body
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Crying through the glass

In all, the acting was expressive and emotional. Especially having to perform on a chaotic stage with no fixed boundaries and an audience which is constantly moving around the venue to catch the various points of interests littered all around the venue. Firstly, the play touches topics along the interwoven interconnected lines, lifelines, lines of fortune and misfortune. Secondly, the act draws a path through the individual bodily history and its present.

Moreover, we have to own it to the performers who are able to improvise on their feet and use up as much of the free gallery area as their stage. We saw the teamwork of professional dancers and actors, bringing together old and young actors, mapping the life-cycle of mortality and that of the immanently challenged body that evolves over the cycle of one’s life.

Altogether, this “live” two hour long performance ran from 4.30pm ending at 6.30pm on October 21st to 22nd. Each run lasts about one hour, with a running time for at least two runs.

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Trapdoor ladder
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Ending projection room
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Exit alleyway

Substation permanent exhibition

In addition, you are free to explore the gallery permanent exhibitions during or after the play. The second floor exhibition ends with a trapdoor, a vertical entrance with a red ladder and rope bringing you back down to the first floor of the building. Going down this red ladder brings you down into a sub-basement. This area used to house the substation hardware when the building was still in-service.

Here, a representative greets you and willing to take any questions you have. Thereafter, you will be pointed into the right direction to continue your exhibition journey by following a line of rope by hand through a dark room.

Lastly, the event exhibition ends with a projection show and back into the sub-basement welcome area before exiting out of the building into the familiar graffiti-lined alleyway out of the building.

Moreover, the street sitting between the substation and the Peranakan museum is all plastered with graffiti, as if shooting a sign of defiance, a break from your typical prim and proper streets you find in the nanny state.

In conclusion, the Substation is good for an hour or two for a visit, with plays usually conducted on the weekends. Hence, if you are in town, do check it out. “A Map of Scars, Bruises and Broken Bones” concludes on the second act of the “Discipline the City Exhibition“, with the Act being refreshed in November this year. The performance today are part of the closing weekend before the exhibitions are revamped to make way for the third act. More awaits!

Venue Info- The Substation
45 Armenian Street Singapore
Singapore 179936

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