Definitely Not Singaporean (p-10, Singapore, 2004-2008)

"Unframed¬7" with Lee Wen performing and Juliana Yasin holding the camera, 2004 April. Images courtesy of p-10.

A Conversation with Jennifer Teo and Woon Tien Wei on p-10
(Singapore, 2004-2008)

p-10 was a curatorial collective founded in 2004 by Charles Lim, Lim Kok Boon, Lee Sze-Chin, Jennifer Teo, and Woon Tien Wei. In 2008, p-10 disbanded and the different members have since focused on other things. The group organized numerous exhibitions and talks in their space along Perumal Rd. and curated Koh Nguang How’s “Errata” exhibition. p-10 was also instrumental during the early days of Post-Museum, an initiative which was subsequently managed by Jennifer and Tien. In this conversation, we discuss with Jennifer and Tien curatorial practices in mid-2000s Singapore, the phenomena of biennialization, collectivism, and issues surrounding archiving. 

Koh Nguang How, "Errata" at p-10, 2004.


Woon Tien Wei (WTW): p-10 started after [Lim Kok Boon, Lee Sze-Chin, Charles Lim, and I] finished our studies in London and returned to Singapore. The ground floor unit in the building where Kok Boon and Sze-Chin’s studios were was available so we rented it. 

At first, p-10 included Jennifer [Teo], Charles, Kok Boon, Sze-Chin, and myself. Rather than open another studio, we decided to form a curatorial team because we thought that maybe curators can do something different from what artists were doing back then.

Jennifer Teo (JT): That was in 2004 which was also the start of the Renaissance City Plan (RCP), the cultural policy of the National Arts Council (NAC), which we thought was too focused on just creating and having a lot of exhibitions. We thought that the government and the artists were focused on doing a lot of exhibitions — the NAC was giving out grants for exhibitions and the focus was on producing those. Nobody really took the time to look at the  exhibitions and artworks seriously. 

As a curatorial team, we wanted to slow it down and form some kind of discourse. Even artist talks weren't done then. We were basically interested in looking at the issues and practices surrounding the production of art. Everyone in the team had their own artistic practice already so we decided not to focus on our own artwork, but to find other artists and look at their practice. 

WTW: I guess we were also thinking about other people that were regional like Project 304 or About Café in Bangkok. I think Plastique Kinetic Worms (PKW) really introduced us to a lot of this because of their relationship with some of the networks in Southeast Asia.

Merv Espina (ME): You mentioned before that you both were involved with The Artists Village (TAV) before p-10. Can you also describe that time period leading up to the creation of p-10?

JT: We were active with TAV from around 2000 to maybe 2002 so there wasn’t much overlap. We were still TAV members but we weren’t really active then.

WTW: I think it was also a different sense of collectivity or mode of working. Actually, maybe most of us were not curatorial but I think, strategically, we just felt that the curatorial had more power than the artistic because curators were more in-between in those days.

JT: Independent curating wasn’t a profession or even a thing yet in Singapore.

Sau Bin Yap (SBY): Were there any curators, art historians, or researchers operating in Singapore at that time?

WTW: I think if there were, they were probably in the museums. You would think that curators function like art historians but in hindsight I’m not sure if they were. I doubt it. I think today we can also think that the art historian does not need to be curatorial. They are also quite different. In fact, I think the curatorial now has its own space as opposed to the art historical. Maybe in those days you would think we imagined them to be very close but we actually imagined that we were not that close to art history or making art history.

JT: I think it was also like mutual aid or a self-help thing in the late ‘90s when artists were creating exhibitions and doing things together. We weren't trying to be professional curators.

Kuala Lumpur collective Rumah Air Panas (RAP) giving a talk during their residency with p10, 23 Aug 2005.


ME: Was the curatorial collective already formed before you found the space?

WTW: We found the space first.

ME: How did you find this space in this residential area? 

JT: Colin Reaney and Karee Dahl, an Australian artist couple who were teaching at the NIE (National Institute of Education), were the first to rent a unit there. They told us there were other units available so people started going to have a look. This was in Little India so it was really convenient and it wasn't that expensive. 

So then at least five other flats were taken up. Later on, we collaborated to have this open studio thing where the different people opened up their spaces in the building and around Little India. It was really like a small community then.

ME: How did you guys support p-10 and yourselves living-wise?

WTW: We had some grants for the projects we were working on. 

JT: Some of us were working like the two teachers, [Kok Boon and Sze-Chin].

WTW: Some of us were alright financially and so we didn’t have some of the financial pressure and I think it is important to acknowledge that. I felt that we are trying to figure out what to do in the art scene and figure if what p-10 was doing could be sustainable financially.

JT: Also, it was like the start of your careers after coming back so everyone was trying to figure out their own place in Singapore and what they could do. At the same time, I think you guys said that you missed these kinds of places where you used to hang out in the UK? 

WTW: Right. I think we wanted something like studios which are also not always very common or trendy, but maybe during that time it was a little bit trendier. I definitely think that that culture of studios is quite British.

JT: Definitely not Singaporean, at that time at least.

WTW: I'm not sure exactly. Even today, I think the whole idea of studios is not very popular. People find it really difficult to get it.

SBY: It's interesting because I think that studio culture is not only about making art, but also the discussions and meetings that may lead to organizing or even curating.

WTW: Also, to just think about the modes of production needed to fit something. I mean, to have something as big as the RAP house in Kuala Lumpur would be completely unimaginable in Singapore. But, at a certain point in time, it was affordable. Definitely before 2000, you could imagine something like that. There was also this idea that Singapore could never be as free as KL. 

JT: Or Manila I think. 

SBY: That's interesting. I remember when you guys came to KL and visited RAP, you said that it actually sort of reminded you of [Ulu] Sembawang and TAV. 

WTW: Yeah, but we never really went there so we were just imagining it. 

SBY: We haven't been there as well, so we were all imagining. So, there is actually a rustic nostalgia of TAV at Sembawang.

WTW: Yeah. But we were not sure whether you could do things outside. That means, in order to have an exhibition, you have to be formal. I think now it's a lot more free; you could just do anything anywhere.

JT: No, I think we just see it that way but maybe for younger people they don't. 

WTW: Okay, it’s subjective. But let's see. I think people still think that you need some officialness. 

JT: I think now even more so.

WTW: But I think that's why we didn't know whether we were allowed to do that so everything was by-appointment then. We weren't sure whether we could actually be open. It wasn't clear.

JT: Well, the place that we rented was actually residential so officially, we were not supposed to hold events there.

ME: How did that work considering you got grants?

JT: Yeah, but they didn't really... 

WTW: I don't know why they allowed it?  

JT: Maybe now they wouldn't anymore.

WTW: I think they were more relaxed then. We just weren’t sure and we didn’t know how to check. We weren’t as flexible as we are now.

Exchange 05, slideshow of Lim Kok Boon's food intake for a year; photo by Jennifer Teo, 2005.


SBY: In 2003, when p-10 visited RAP, I remember thinking you guys were serious researchers because you had mics and recorders. That left quite an impression that you were sort of doing this regional research and networking and it’s interesting how it’s connected to your positioning as a curatorial outfit. I’m wondering what spurred you or what informed your consciousness? What kind of discussions did you have that led to the creation of p-10?

WTW: I think it was mainly a way of reframing the situation and changing some of the context because when we started, it was not a trend to give talks and reshow your work. If I'm not wrong, during that time, exhibitions did not last for more than two weeks.

I think there were a lot of things that we were figuring out but also, I guess it was, discursively or strategically, a way to start rethinking what we could be doing. Things like TAV’s work about going back to Bali were not common because looking back historically wasn’t popular then. 

But I think that's the only thing that was very different then. Now, everybody wants to go back and research. I think there's also a tendency to change, but I'm not sure how much of it is driven by this whole biennialization because it is also a privileging of something intelligent.

One of the things that I feel is valuable talking about when it comes to regional consciousness is how it's also pretty much dominated by the biennialization of the artworld. That seems to be the driving force. 

ME: It seems that p-10 had this regional awareness and that it was like an advocacy project where artists advocated to take on a curatorial role to highlight certain artists and practices.

WTW: Yeah. Because, back then, let's say I have a show at The Substation, it will last one week and one would never show the works again because it is “old work.” Just one week. Who can see your show? Nobody. So, it was very [modernist] in the sense that...

JT: You had to be productive and creative. It was also the time where it was cool to say that you're a full-time artist and people would look down on those who are not full-time artists.

WTW: Just a side note, when we were in the UK, David Medalla was an extremely important person to us. Even before I met him, I was already really interested in what he was doing. I guess his generosity and TAV or [Tang] Da Wu’s kind of collectivity were really important for us because, in a sense, there wasn’t this kind of modernity involved? The modern as in like “the genius.” There was a different kind of value structure and sense of openness within that sense of collectivity which I thought was interesting for me. I was interested in how people can come together, do something, and be influenced by each other and then just go and do their own thing. There was no sense of something permanent that needed to go on, but it was a confluence of relationships. 

David taught me a lot actually. I think he played a big role in why London became an interesting place for me. I don’t think London is a place that makes people feel at home, but David did. I think that generosity is something that, in contemporary art writing, we don’t really talk about.

JT: A bit more now. Generosity, care, hospitality...

RAP with Koh at Singapore History Museum for another version of "Errata", 2005.


JT: Our first show was Lee Wen’s “Unframed¬7” and that had to do with this policy regarding grant applications. He was like, “No, we just want to do this,” so we very quickly had an exhibition, a performance, and several discussions in seven days. We then moved on to quite a few bigger projects one of which was Koh Nguang How’s “Errata.”

WTW: For us, it was a really different way of curating because we were contextualizing Koh’s practice. For the longest time, people didn’t understand Koh’s practice fully. He was just very historical but nobody could really pinpoint what it was exactly. After he was invited to the [2011] Singapore Biennale, his practice really shifted a lot but I think it developed from the “Errata” project.

JT: “Errata” also revived attention towards a whole generation of artists, the Equator Art Society (EAS). 

WTW: “Errata” was about Chua Mia Tee’s painting “National Language Class” that had been wrongly dated in Kwok Kian Chow’s book Channels & Confluences: A History of Singapore Art (1996). It touched on that whole Cold War period when, here in Singapore and Malaysia, the British were arresting anyone they suspected to be communists. The project was interested in unpacking the suggestion that there was some kind of leftist link with the EAS.

JT: Also, the EAS was kind of left out or forgotten so “Errata” actually brought them back in a way.

WTW: People were afraid of being associated with the left or being called “communist” or “Marxist.” 

JT: At the time, the museums wouldn't have been able to do this project. They wouldn't have wanted to work with Koh.

WTW: There was one time that Koh, Chua Mia Tee, and Kwok Kian Chow, who was also a museum director, were in the same room talking about this whole thing. It was really obvious that there was nothing more to it; the caption was definitely a mistake. But that caption kind of opens up that lost time. 

At the time, I think we weren't very good at researching; it was just research in a very general way and it was driven by what Koh sees as his research.

JT: In “Errata”, what we did was really to complement him.

WTW: And we had to curate him. We had to put him somewhere. It's a particular history that just wouldn't have resonated anywhere else. I mean, you would not have known this book. I don’t think it was a hot seller but it’s completely sold out. No more second copies. It’s completely colloquial; the national collection is based roughly on the same script.

ME: Official narrative.

WTW: Yeah, I thought it made sense. What Kian Chow did was to put concepts in time and had the concepts propel the movements. So, it made sense if they were just concepts at the same time; just different people who felt different about things. As a structure, it was pretty sound. It’s just that nobody was interested in reading about the “past.” Which contemporary artist would want to read about art from the past published in 1996? Nobody. 

Many would have difficulty connecting with Liu Kang or Nanyang Style in the search for the contemporary. Back then, if I painted in Nanyang Style, I feel that people would laugh at it because it was not contemporary. That’s what I felt was driving some of the interest in the project, that it was restoration of something no one was looking at.


JT: For the artists then, it was a very intentional break away from the past, to something new.

WTW: Yeah. Because I think in Singapore, it was very important for people to be contemporary and that meant you have no past in a way. 

p-10’s facade, 10 Perumal Building.


ME: How did the idea of Post-Museum come about? Because it was founded in 2007 when p-10 was still around.

JT: The father of someone I know had a property in Little India and he asked whether we would be interested to move p-10 to this bigger space.

We thought about it and we decided that if we were to move, it would no longer be the same p-10 anymore because we would have to pay a lot more rent so we needed to have a proper income and since the space was bigger, we would also have to do more. So, it kind of came about because someone offered us a space rather than us thinking of doing something more “proper.”

We decided to run it as a business and that became a problem for the two teachers because legally, as civil servants, they are not allowed to be co-owners of private businesses. 

ME: Since p-10 closed in 2008, it seems that it overlapped with Post-Museum for about a year. What were the circumstances that led to p-10’s closing? Did it lose its space?

JT: By that time, Charles left and [Cheong] Kah Kit joined. The two teachers were getting too busy with school and Kit was planning to do his master's abroad so it was just the timing. We thought maybe we should end because everyone wanted to go and do their own thing. We didn't think of changing the team. None of us were really trying to hang onto it so it just felt right to end there.

Our last project as p-10 was when we participated in the Asia Art Triennial in Manchester in early 2008. It was a huge independent initiative that was supported by the government there, and we worked with Kwong [Lee] from Castlefield Gallery. After that, we stopped p-10 because we were also getting really busy with Post-Museum.

WTW: But we kept the space for a while.

JT: Yeah. We rented it to other people

WTW: But it was very difficult to maintain financially.

JT: We still used the p-10 space for residencies.

ME: p-10 positioned itself as a curatorial rather than artist collective and, in Tien's dissertation, he distinguished p-10 from Post-Museum by saying that it's a “fixed team working in the field of fine arts,” whereas Post-Museum is like a “networked collective” engaged in the fields of cultural work, education, etc. We were wondering if this eventual shift or expansion was a result of your experiences in p-10?

JT: When we were doing p-10, we already felt that it was too insular and that we were only talking to art people. So, with Post-Museum, we intentionally wanted to open it up to everyone. And then also, as I mentioned, because of the space and its whole set-up, we had to also do more things, include more people, and really try to work out certain ideas we had about what participation was and also how art could change the world. I think we all had some kind of idea, but we never really tried it on such a large scale. 

At that time, The Substation was the only place where people could gather and that was where you could meet different artists and musicians. We wanted that sort of atmosphere where people could just come and things could happen. In many ways, we were thinking of it as an open platform. The attitude was really quite open and we didn’t want to fix what Post-Museum as a space was; we wanted it to be decided together with everyone who came and visited. It was meant to be a completely different thing from p-10.

WTW: When we started, Post-Museum was trying to be less art and more social. I think even with p-10, we wanted to think that art could shape and change the world but, if you really work in the artworld, that’s something you actually do and see less of. That was something we felt and we weren’t sure why it wasn’t happening but we knew it was not happening. So, with Post-Museum, I think that’s why we decided to just open it up to anybody who’s interested in doing something.

JT: We were much more interested in other people as participants and not just as audience, so it was quite different. It was an intentional change in direction. 

WTW: Honestly, I thought it would be different, but I didn't expect it to be so different. I'm not saying that art doesn't really have a way of opening itself up; art does have a way of being very flexible and fluid, but it doesn't have access to certain networks which actually takes time to build. For the first few years, we felt that Post-Museum was mainly different because we had a café. People would hang out and gradually trust each other over time.

JT: A lot of people actually came to eat so it really was a whole new group of people that we never encountered. 

WTW: I think that was very important for us and that kind of changed our perspective. 

Handdrawn neighbourhood map.

Floorplan of p-10.


ME: Why was p-10's Facebook page started in 2015?

WTW: I think Kah Kit did it.

JT: It's so full of holes because we don't know where the other materials are and it's all over the place. I think Kah Kit just wanted to put what he had there. I guess we're also supposed to put in what we have but we haven't. 

ME: There seems to be some investigation or reinvestigation about your own history.

WTW: Maybe it was not so intentional. I think it's just one of those things that you see once in a while, like a very small pet.

I guess it’s just our way of making sense of the archive because I think it’s difficult for us to make time to actually work on it. We have a lot of materials but we just need time to go through it.

JT: But we really haven't been going through it.

WTW: Yeah but we just felt that it was very important to do so. One of the things I always say is that archives are monsters — they consume you and they consume everything around them. Koh is a very good example. He’s half-consumed, a bit like that Naked Lunch thing. But yeah, it’s just impossible for me. I think to even have an archive is an unreasonable request. But, as researchers, we know how valuable it is; it’s just so hard to know when these things become valuable. It’s the most unsexy thing ever.


The online interview took place on 6 September 2020. This interview was edited for length and clarity


Post-Museum is an independent cultural and social space in Singapore which aims to encourage and support a thinking and pro-active community. It is an open platform for examining contemporary life, promoting the arts and connecting people. In addition to their events and projects, they also curate, research and collaborate with a network of social actors and cultural workers.

More info:

p-10 Singapore Facebook page

p-10 Blogspot

June Yap. “Singapore: Censorship, Institutions, and Alternatives.” (March 2016)

Fang-Tze Hsu. “Escape or Advance: The Politics of Independent Art Spaces in Singapore.” (28 April 2014)

Woon Tien Wei "Arts in a Knowledge-based Economy: Activist Strategies in Singapore's Renaissance." (2012)

The Bali Project, 2001


Woon Tien Wei. “Still Here Somehow: Artists and Cultural Activism in Singapore’s Renaissance.” (December 2017)


Georgi Gyton. “The First Ever Asia Art Triennial 2008 Kicks Off In Manchester.” (15 April 2008)

If you can:


Right People, Wrong Timing (RPWT) is a series of texts on defunct or inactive independent Asian arts initiatives that had crossed paths or ran parallel to Papaya’s own 20-year history. With new posts every Friday from August to December 2020, RPWT is kindly supported through a local grant by the Japan Foundation Manila.