Conceptualised by Jean Tay and Thong Pei Qin, Love Letters to 42 began as a repository of letters as tributes to Centre 42 for its 6 years of existence (also in conjunction with its 6th birthday) and each artist’s relationship to the space of 42 Waterloo street prior to mid-2020, at times even expanding to the larger Waterloo street precinct and the history of the space prior to Centre 42’s birth.
The letters reflected the sentiments of various artists, some being unhappy with the change, others welcoming it and embracing the ever-evolving nature of the space. Artists sent in letters in the form of text, images, music compositions and poetry. This repository was initially designed to be a static web page where users could click and view each letter. The concept soon morphed after bringing on a few more people into the project. Pei Qin approached Secretive Thing (Lemon x Koko) and Timothi Lim of The Doodle People and began to conceptualise an interactive version of this work.
This conceptualising took several months but soon began with some simple principles:
1. We want to preserve the space as we remember it because we do not know how the space would change after the renovation.
2. We want to allow users to interact with the different letters, in ways beyond “click and read”.
3. We want some of the letters to be more than just text, and take on other artistic forms/ mediums, for a more visual engagement with the selected stories.
4. We wanted the users to be able to roam around the space and see Centre 42 as they remember it.
5. For audiences both existing and new to Centre 42, they can also still see Centre 42 as a space that hosts performances live.
Space is connected to memory. As artists, arts housing spaces are closely connected to seasons of our creative journeys and careers. Centre 42 cultivated rigour in experimentation and critical discussion. Even though the space and usage of 42 Waterloo street has changed, the image of the iconic blue house and its cloud logo continues to represent these principles and serves as a reminder in our practice.
The nostalgia that comes with revisiting it digitally can inspire new developments and ways of art making, upon reflection of our time spent in the physical space – a revision of the premise and reasons to keep experimenting and a reminder to keep dialogue open. Being able to walk and experience the digital space in itself is a manifestation of this spirit.
This is a good venue or platform to start exploring making digital performances differently, outside of regular and co-opted platforms like Zoom, YouTube or Vimeo (which mostly co-ops from the film discipline). In a space that is familiar, and already has a following and community, we have been blessed to find supporters and fellow artists who are happy to go on this journey with us, even on a pro-bono basis out of goodwill.
Being on this project, and building this version of Centre 42 has revealed reasons why it should not be a neutral or unrecognised space. Despite being in its early stages, an unintentional product of this project has been the conversation held surrounding arts housing and art making, not just pertaining to Centre 42.
This Creation Residency is a period of exploration, testing, proto-typing and sharing learnings from the process of envisioning and making what the potential future of digital works can be like, through the creation of a virtual Centre 42.0.
Can a community continue to exist and grow without a physical space? This is the question we are interested in exploring.
After the NAC (National Arts Council) announced renovation works to 42 Waterloo street in 2020, Centre 42, as its artist community has come to recognise it as a physical space since 2014, is now gone. Although the NAC will still keep 42 Waterloo street as a shared arts space with the inclusion of ARH (Arts Resource Hub), the way the artist community gathers in it, and their relationship shared with Centre 42 in relation to the use of the space is perceived to be irrevocably changed. This narrative of spaces in transition and loss of arts spaces in Singapore is not a new one, and the change in the use of 42 Waterloo street prompted us to reflect and respond, in a bid to process this change, and understand how we would want to remember and re-imagine the space as we knew it.
Coupled with the measures and impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on performing arts, the circumstances have presented us with challenges to physically meet and make art like before. Taking advantage of interactive media, volumetric capture and mixed reality technology, we want to create aversion of Centre 42 in a digital space to expand the limits of social connectivity, accessibility, interactivity and the making of performance.
Centre 42 @ 42 Waterloo Street has been pivotal to the ecology of the Singapore theatre scene. We have chosen to digitalise Centre 42 and to inquire if we can build art works and community in a digital space that has the familiar shape of a beloved arts space, and ultimately expand this digital world to a wider audience of art makers and creators.