Welcome to The Good Review Circle (GRC)!

The Good Review Circle is a critical art writing initiative. Over the course of 6 months, our five writers will post monthly reviews in response to exhibitions, art spaces, performances, film, and interviews, through the interrogative lens of The Substation’s 2019/2020 programme season, A Public Square.

Find out more about our five illustrious writers, their thoughts on public space (in Singapore and beyond), and how they’ll address these issues during their time with GRC!

The programme runs from September 2019 to March 2020. Read all GRC writings here.

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Akanksha Raja

Akanksha Raja often enjoys writing about art primarily because she believes in its potential to connect, provoke and transform. She grew up in Singapore and graduated from LASALLE College of the Arts in 2014, where she wrote a dissertation exploring the practice of forum theatre in Singapore. She was formerly assistant editor at ArtsEquator.com since its launch in 2016, and is an alumna of the Points of View Performance Writing workshop organised by the Asian Dramaturgs Network in 2018.

What does public space mean to you?

Public space is an invitation. 

What issues of public spaces and spheres would you like to explore through your writing for GRC?

I can’t presume what issues may present themselves over the course of this journey, but I’m interested in personal memories and accounts of lived experience navigating public spaces and spheres, in relation to concerns such as physical accessibility, cultural inclusivity, social conformity, notions of identity and belonging, for example. I’m also interested in how these private truths rub up against the imaginative or empathetic bounds of public spaces, or even etch or engrave in them new, hidden realities. 

Alfonse Chiu

Alfonse Chiu is the creative director and editor-at-large of independent film editorial platform and collective, SINdie, and an independent culture journalist and researcher. His writings have appeared in publications such as Kinema: a journal for film and audiovisual media, published by the University of Waterloo, the National Museum of Singapore’s Cinematheque Quarterly, and Hyperallergic. He is the lead resident of SINdie for the Objectifs Creatives Residency, where he will be spearheading the platform’s first durational research project investigating independent cinematic spaces within Southeast Asia and their potentials as sites of social memories, cultural literacy, and alternative discourse.

Find out more about Alfonse at alfonsechiu.com.

What does public space mean to you?

Based on its very definitions, a public space, to me, represents a potential for open conversations, for thinking beyond the surface within the public domain, and a definition for democratising our built environment that allows inclusivity and celebrating the pluralisms within our society.

What issues of public spaces and spheres would you like to explore through your writing for GRC?

I would like to explore notions of occupancy and how they shape the way we perceive a space, both the physical and discursive manifestations of it; the variegating definitions for what a public constitutes in our modern context where even such a basal term is curated and instrumentalised to within an inch of its life; as well as the politics and methods of representing spaces in various media.

Sharaad Kuttan

Sharaad Kuttan is a journalist who has worked in print and broadcast, and is perhaps best known for his work as anchor on BFM89.9, the Malaysian capital’s premier English-language talk radio station. While pursuing a postgrad degree in Sociology from the National University of Singapore, he was co-editor of the NUS Society’s journal Commentary. One issue was published as a collection of essays on cultural politics in Singapore titled  “Looking at Culture”. He is a member of the Singapore branch of the International Association of Art Critics. In 2006 he was awarded the Nippon Foundation’s Asian Public Intellectual fellowship. Apart from Art and Culture, he is a regular commentator on local politics and contributed a chapter to “Elections and Democracy in Malaysia”, a scholarly study of the Malaysian electoral system.

Listen to Sharaad twitter away at twitter.com/sharaadkuttan.

What does public space mean to you?

It’s a structure of possibility outside the state,  beyond the personal or domestic, that embraces the notion of collective but also creative response to living with others. 

What issues of public spaces and spheres would you like to explore through your writing for GRC?

I am both troubled and excited by the struggle to define through dialogue, as well as antagonism, utopian ideals of community, the  nation and the political. We need to listen emphatically and critically to these struggles.

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Reena Devi

Reena Devi is a Singaporean journalist and cultural critic writing about art and society in the 21st century. Reena holds a Msc. Renaissance to Enlightenment from the University of Edinburgh and worked at the Singapore Art Museum and National Heritage Board from 2012 to 2016. She became a senior reporter at TODAY newspaper (SG) in 2016, fronting the shift to a news oriented coverage of the local arts scene. Reena broke over 15 stories in the span of a year, exploring issues such as cultural leadership, diversity in terms of race, and censorship. Subsequently, she moved to Yahoo Singapore where she wrote in-depth features and broke stories on arts, lifestyle and entertainment, before leaving in 2018 to write independently for international media such as ArtAsiaPacifc (HK), Cobo Social (HK), Hyperallergic (NY), and Artsy (NY). Reena has become known for writing critical, fact-finding analysis about developments in Singapore and SEA art world. She also edits and writes content about art, technology and 21st century society.

Find out more about Reena at reenadeviwrites.wordpress.com.

What does public space mean to you?

The notion of public space in the 21st century has taken on a fluid and futuristic veneer that conceals an increasingly conforming and rigid social space. Never is this more apparent than in our global online space today.

What issues of public spaces and spheres would you like to explore through your writing for GRC?

Through my writing for GRC, I intend to highlight international artistic efforts to document, explore and analyse public spaces specific to 21st century society. For example, the Chinternet Ugly exhibition at the Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art (UK) examines the complex nature of Chinese online space through a whole new aesthetic by a generation of young contemporary Chinese artists. Another example is UK research collective Forensic Architecture investigating global contemporary crises, issues and individuals highly visible in the public sphere through research, technology and artistic output. Such initiatives go beyond the socially accepted veneer of 21st century public space presented to us consistently through the white noise of social media and other global online spaces. Instead, these artistic efforts explore the true nature of the intangible worlds we inhabit from the moment we wake, be it online or irl.


Ng Yi-Sheng

Ng Yi-Sheng is a Singaporean poet, playwright, fictionist, critic, journalist and LGBT+ activist. His books include the poetry collections “last boy” (winner of the Singapore Literature Prize 2008), “Loud Poems for a Very Obliging Audience” and “A Book of Hims”, as well as the film novelisation “Eating Air” and the best-selling non-fiction work “SQ21: Singapore Queers in the 21st Century”. Additionally, he translated Wong Yoon Wah’s Chinese poetry collection “The New Village” and has co-edited national and regional anthologies such as “GASPP: a Gay Anthology of Singaporean Poetry and Prose”, “Eastern Heathens: Asian Folklore Subverted”, and “Heat”. He was the winner of the first Singapore Poetry Slam in 2003, and served as a founding member of the spoken word collective the Party Action People. He is currently a PhD student at NTU, and will soon be publishing his short story collection “Lion City”.

Yi-Sheng tweets and Instagrams at @yishkabob.

What does public space mean to you?

I realise I associate the term less with issues of private vs. public ownership, but more with access and freedom. 

Access means that a broad spectrum of the public should be able to enter it without significant barriers to entry. E.g. a shopping mall, though privately owned, effectively does function as a public space. The Parliament Building, though belonging to the people (in theory), does not.

Freedom means you should have the liberty to exercise a wide variety of behaviours within the space. E.g. a carnival gives you many options with which to entertain yourself; you do not have to follow them in a prescribed order; as long as there’s free or low-cost entry, it’s pretty much a public space. A school restricts behaviour, and does not function as a public space.

What issues of public spaces and spheres would you like to explore through your writing for GRC?

As a gay man, I’m very interested in how queer folks are able to negotiate these spaces. Many of us do not feel safe in mainstream society; we therefore cannot enjoy the liberty of gender, romantic or sexual expression in public spaces. We therefore inhabit more private spaces like bars, clubs, bathhouses, faceless online forums, private messaging apps, theatres and literary clubs. But we can also make public spaces more welcoming, by becoming part of the management or growing in numbers within the community that regularly inhabits them. 

I think that’s an issue that applies to other communities, e.g. women, children, religious/racial minorities, immigrants, the disabled. How do we make public spaces safe?