Chewing Gum & The Library of Unread Books

I went to Gillman Barracks yesterday, a naval base and military barracks built by the British in the 1930s.  The site has an interesting history; among other fun facts, it was one of the last British outposts on the island to fall to the Japanese in 1942, and the British handed it over to the Singaporean government in 1971 for $1.  The buildings then languished for a while before becoming a “contemporary arts cluster” in 2012.  I’m pretty sure that the British soldiers of the 1930s would be surprised by how it looks today.


The soldiers would probably also be amazed at the food upgrades at their barracks.  This was my not so healthy but deliciously decadent lunch:


My attempts at appreciating contemporary art have not always been successful over the years.  I look at something like this and have no earthly idea what to make of it:


I do better with contemporary art on walls …




… or in the form of outdoor public art:




I appreciate sculpture that invites interaction (though it stretched my imagination to call this “art” — it looked more like playground equipment to me):


This piece was very odd …


… but I spent a lot of time inside, because I found the nest of an olive-backed sunbird hanging there!  Indeed, I spent more time observing this nest than I did any of the pieces of human art at the Barracks.



Sadly, I am not a good enough wildlife photographer to have captured a photo of either the baby birds or their mother, but I was lucky enough to have to the chance to see both.  I also found a laced woodpecker hopping around underneath one of these mirror tents, but it also flew away before I could take its picture.


The barracks themselves are now filled with artists’ studios and a variety of art galleries.  One of the most intriguing and repulsive exhibits was by an Italian artist who makes all of his pieces out of chewing gum.  It’s unclear whether he chews it first, and I don’t know if the art gallery has to fill out any extra paperwork to get it through Singapore customs.  But he has chewing gum portraits of everyone from Obama to Pope Francis to Mao, as well as chewing gum animals:


In the same gallery as the gum guy, in a smaller room, I stumbled on a Chagall:


I spent a while in that room studying two hyper-realistic paintings by Luciano Ventrone, trying to figure out how he does work in oil with no apparent brushstrokes.  It’s nice to look at art in galleries rather than in museums, because you can get up very close to the pieces without fear of setting off an alarm or being rebuked by a guard.


I did come across some other art that I actually liked.  These strange little sculptural figures made me smile…IMG_1772

… this globe by Qiu Zhijie gave me good reading material …


… and a huge room full of these huge, colorful oil paintings (each based on Bhutanese prayer flags) offered a calming place to breathe and relax.


One of my favorite spaces was called The Lab, which housed an exhibit called “The Library of Unread Books.”  The artists had collected books that their owners had never read and set them out on these tables.  Visitors were invited to sit and peruse them (though I have no answer to the question, “what happens to a book in the exhibit if a visitor sits there and reads the whole thing?”)


Last night, Prescott and I went out with several friends to a bar called Highball, which is owned and crewed entirely by women.  The mixed drinks were interesting, if a bit too sweet.  This one, called an Amoxycillin, came with a doctor’s note excusing me from work.  I’m keeping it on hand just in case…






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