Ride through the last of Biennale
Bras Basah Bugis
When a Facebook post about the Singapore Art Museum’s (SAM) Biennale on Wheels popped up on my feed, I jumped at the chance to try it out. For those who are unfamiliar, this event allows members of the public to rent a bicycle from SAM to explore the Singapore Biennale across seven different locations, including SAM.
Combining the appreciation of art with a healthy dose of cardio? Count me in! Read on for a pictorial perspective of how you can explore the Biennale on two wheels.
It all starts at SAM entrance, where there is a makeshift table and a kind lady who’ll register you for the event. Do note that aspiring explorers need to be quite confident on their bikes, as there are no tandem bikes available for rent.
Depending on how ambitious you are with exploring the different locations as the tropical sun beats down on you, comfortable shoes and clothes are strongly advised. Don’t worry about drawing strange looks at the Biennale stops in your active gear - I survived the sartorial challenge, and so will you.
In the hall just across the table, there are lockers to store your bags and belongings. Don’t forget to keep some cash with you as there are some spots along the route to stop by for a drink and some munchies. The locker only accepts the old one-dollar coin and once it’s unlocked, you’ll need to use another coin to lock it again. You’ll want to have the nifty Biennale on Wheels map on hand, too, as it tells you everything you need to know about the different art stops.
SAM staff unlocking the bicycle
Equipped with my earphones, phone and map, along with a reminder from the SAM staff to bring back the bicycle in three hours, I was all ready to go!
Not wanting to pose a danger to others as I set about my discovery of the Singapore Biennale, I obeyed traffic rules like a good cyclist and responsible citizen.
Waiting for the light to turn green
SMU’s de Suantio Gallery
My first stop was the de Suantio Gallery at SMU. It was an enjoyable ride, aided by my best friend Google Maps as the roads in the bustling city centre can be tricky to navigate. Watch out for narrow roads, as quite a few of them had ongoing construction work, as well as the unforgiving peak hour pedestrian crowds.
The vicinity didn’t have a designated bicycle parking spot, so I was directed to an empty area behind the gallery by a helpful security guard.
I found my way into the exhibition at the de Suantio Gallery that wasn’t ticketed. Titled Kra-Tua Taeng Seua (A Tiger Hunt), it revolves around a play based on one of southern Thailand’s traditional folklores. In recent years, the number of traditional theatre troupes performing the play has diminished. Collaborating with one such group, artist Sakarin Krue-On reimagined the folktale as a work of art reflecting life in a megacity.
For those looking to fuel up, there are also some food options next to the gallery, like Gong Cha and Ya Kun Kaya Toast.
National Museum of Singapore
National Museum of Singapore
Just across the road from SMU was my next stop: the National Museum of Singapore (NMS). Parking was tricky here and I had to enquire at the information counter before finding my way to the right side of the building.
There are two Biennale artworks at NMS: The Great East Indiaman on the Front Lawn and Cooking the World – a jaw-dropping sculpture made out of plates, cups, pails and pots – hanging in the Rotunda. Non-citizens and non-permanent residents will have to purchase tickets for access to other exhibitions like Robert Zhao’s Singapore, Very Old Tree.
Just as I was about to leave, there was a sudden downpour and everyone was stuck. I spotted a bride scurrying to get out of the rain. The NMS, with its stunning architecture, is a popular location for wedding photoshoots.
Seeking shelter from the rain
The next stop was a short ride away, just next to the National Museum. Created by Perception3, this work explores the idea of “staying” and “going” as what the artist-duo calls “two perspectives of a single decisive moment”. Two mirror-finished walls face each other. One bears the phrase, “There are those who stay”; the other, “There are those who go”.
Perception3. The art stop next to the National Museum
Shortly after that, the rain subsided enough that I could get on my way. As I was leaving the premises, I spotted a charming cafe that I wished I had discovered before the rain came. Located at SMU’s School of Accountancy and School of Law, Kraftwich definitely looked like a cosy place to hang out at with its abundance of seats.
A gourmet sandwich and coffee would have been great while watching the rain.
The Peranakan Museum was next on the trail and a five-minute ride away. I wasn’t sure where the parking spots were so I ended up parking my bike just outside the museum for a short while. If you’re considering staying longer at the museum, the map indicated that the nearest designated parking spots are located at SMU.
The only exhibit available for free viewing is entitled Setting Off, an installation that hangs in the lobby of the museum. While the artwork speaks of the artist’s personal experiences of being displaced from her country of birth, Cambodia, it’s also a general representation of the numerous and varied journeys people find themselves embarking on.
The Peranakan Museum’s permanent galleries require paid access for non-citizens and non-permanent residents. Paying visitors can also view their special exhibition, Nyonya Needlework: Embroidery and Beadwork in the Peranakan World.
Lobby of the Peranakan Museum, with Setting Off hanging in the background.
Asian Civilisations Museum
With the sun bearing down along with the humidity from the rain, I decided to embark on the longest part of the trail before it became too uncomfortable. The Asian Civilisations Museum (ACM) was quite a distance away, and I was excited at the prospect of being able to cycle more.
It was intriguing to see City Hall in a different light as a cyclist. Pedalling my way through the city centre somehow made me appreciate the sights more.
Hey Funan, you are missed. Come back soon. Love, BBB.
Bicycle parking spots at the National Gallery Singapore. These are the parking spots closest to the ACM.
Here, the route can get confusing for the unfamiliar. From the parking spot, cross the road to the Old Parliament House and walk for a short distance until you see the Victoria Theatre Jubilee Walk route marker.
Make a right turn and cut across the back of the theatre and a statue of Sir Stamford Raffles will soon greet you. Turn left and you’ll see the entrance of ACM a short distance away. The Unity of N Monuments, is a Biennale exhibit that’s just in front of the entrance.
Facebook / Singapore Art Museum
If it’s about time for your afternoon cuppa, Privé is located onsite at the museum. Alternatively, you could even sneak in a scenic stroll or ride along the Singapore River.
Ending off at SAM AT 8Q
With the ACM checked off the list, it was time to head back to SAM and see what it had to offer. Wanting to make the most of the Biennale on Wheels experience, I decided to try a longer route back, but still felt the ride was over all too soon.
Singapore’s very own Met Steps? Hmm…
In desperate need for a drink and some snacks, I concluded my journey at SAM at 8Q with a bite at Love Pal Cafe. There are two Biennale exhibitions available to the public for free here. The first is Putar Alam Café, an interactive space with a transistor radio, a television broadcasting a news channel (with the volume muted), and recent works by the artist.
The second is a quirky display of a body-length garment knitted out of leeks. Titled Knitting the Future, it recalls older rituals of food preparation and suggests that perhaps our future lies in our past.
If you’re wondering where to park your bike, there is a parking zone just behind the Love Pal Cafe.
Once fed and watered, I returned my bike to its original spot with a heavy heart. I had grown quite fond of it as it had taken me on an art-fuelled trail through the Biennale offerings around Bras Basah.Bugis and Civic District.
More accustomed to getting around on foot, Biennale on Wheels was an exhilarating opportunity to rediscover the heart of Singapore’s art scene with some fresh perspectives.
I felt a natural high as my three hours concluded, which I suspect was only partly to do with the cardio I went through.
Parting is such sweet sorrow
As I looked down at my oil-greased hands, and cast a final glance at the bicycle’s wet and dirty wheels, I felt a sense of satisfaction for having gone through Biennale on Wheels with flying colours.
Biennale on Wheels is available daily from 10am to 6pm until the conclusion of the Singapore Biennale on 26 Feb. Bicycles should be returned within three hours or by 6pm, whichever is earlier, otherwise the organisers reserve the right to keep your deposit of $50.
Author: Bras Basah Bugis
17 May 2017