Retrospect: to reflect upon the past with a view to finding information and inspiration for the future
This season, we celebrate 10 full years of art-making at SMU.
From a one-day arts festival in our University’s infancy with only a handful of clubs, we now have 27 student groups who actively populate our calendar with two semestral-long seasons of arts every year.
Some of our clubs have even gone on to make a name for themselves not only locally, but also on the international stage; winning top awards and accolades wherever they travel. All this in just one decade. We have much to be thankful for.
For this season, we invite you to look back at our journey thus far. After all, to know where we are, we need to understand from whence we came and how we got here in the first place.
Some clubs will examine the origins and evolution of their chosen art practice. Others have chosen to revisit the past highlights and significant milestones of their club’s history. Whichever the approach, we hope you will be entertainingly enlightened.
So join us as we go prospecting for the shining moments of yesteryears to shed light on our past, present and future.
Ready to retro?
A brief history of the arts at SMU
The Early Years
It’s been an eventful ten years since the arts made its presence felt in our University, with the formation of our first student arts groups - Eurhythmix and Symphonia, in 2003. That year, the SMU Arts Festival was also inaugurated in a simple one-day affair. Three years later, in 2006, under new directions, the SMU Arts Festival grew to a three-day event, with minor collaborations with external artists – like multimedia artist Urich Lau’s two-storey video installation at the Big Steps – as well as art workshops for students. These formative years, though with relatively few festival audiences and participants, helped build the idea of creativity and founded the infrastructure for SMU arts in the years that followed.
SMU Arts Festival 2008: Extensive collaborations begin
With the expansion of the Office of Student Life’s arts cluster, and different managers overseeing various arts groups, the SMU Arts Festival was rescheduled from its previous slot at the start of the hectic academic Semester One to a more accessible period at the beginning of the calendar year, and morphed into a comprehensive two-week arts showcase entitled Non|sense in 2008, incorporating a thematic concept to fuse the arts with the senses. This festival marked a significant milestone in our arts history with the many collaborations with external artists during lunchtime and evening performance slots - including a specially commissioned opening gala piece where students hammered steel plates while roller-blading, a packed comedy session with Hossan Leong, performances by capoeira stunts-men and flamenco dancers, and a cappella group Budak Pantai, all sharing the stage with our student groups.
An essential visual arts component was also added to the year’s festival programming where 13 of Singapore’s top artists – such as Ho Tzu Nyen, Khiew Huey Chian, Donna Ong, Ian Woo, Joshua Yang, Ana Prvacki and Sunsook Roh, were commissioned to do site-specific works for our first-ever major visual arts exhibition. Probably the most impactful visual arts exhibition on campus to date, these artists presented hundreds of laser-like threads, bottles with magnified sounds of dripping water, a “massage-wall”, a darkened room with hundreds of minute glass containers, and a performance piece where money was “cleaned”. These were showcased throughout the Concourse area, alongside our own students’ visual arts exhibition which also included interesting works like a disco toilet and a performance piece involving half-baked apple pies.
2008 to 2009: Everyday Arts for the SMU Community
Along the way, a series of piano and U-Square concerts were held outside of the festival period to increase exposure of the arts to the SMU community. These events invited both internal performers like our very own law professor Prof Saw Cheng Lim, who charmed many on the ivory keys, as well as external artists like the Singapore Jazz Orchestra and Singapore Lyric Theatre, performing at our intimate U-Square - a space located near the Bras Basah water feature, and the Arts & Heritage District.
SMU Arts Festivals 2009 & 2010: Film and Musicals Take Off!
In 2009’s RE:PRESENT and 2010’s CONtENT: CONTENt, the SMU Arts Festival continued to expand in scale, with the inclusion of three- and five-day film festival segments respectively. Award-winning films screened included acclaimed pieces by local directors Boo Junfeng, Kelvin Tong and Han Yew Kwang, and British director Havana Marking, who was conferred Best World Cinema Documentary Director at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival for her documentary-film Afghan Star, was invited to showcase her film and discuss her prize-winning documentary with a full-capacity audience at the 2010 Film Festival.
2009’s Arts Festival also marked SMU’s first major musical collaboration with professional theatre stalwarts, including Broadway Beng Sebastian Tan - who directed the festival highlight Honk! The Musical, and which also featured a cameo by our very own Prof Margaret Chan - whose appearance marked her stage comeback. This was topped by Just So - again directed by Sebastian Tan - the following year for SMU’s 10th anniversary edition of the Arts Festival. These musicals were particularly significant as they starred all SMU students, one of whom, alumnus Joshua Jonathan Lim, is now a full-time professional stage actor. Just So also featured the creative inputs of OSL’s Deputy Director Jimmy Ye as its vocal director.
That same year, SMU and The Substation also initiated the first ever SMU-ASEAN Artist-in-Residence Programme, which saw nine ASEAN artists culminating their residencies here with a visual arts exhibition for the 2010 installment of the SMU Arts Festival. These renowned artists, such as Singapore’s Ming Wong, Kai Lam and Sookoon Ang, Indonesia’s Eko Negroho and Vietnam’s Rich Streitmatter-Tran, presented a variety of thought-provoking and slightly controversial works, ranging from a dart-throwing piece, a human-sized mousetrap and a proposed cricket-house.
In 2011, the SMU Arts Festival became the present U+ARTS Seasons, with the intention to showcase arts throughout the year and not just at a particular festival period. SMU now has two “peak” art seasons in a year - one for each semester, with a sprinkling of arts events featured throughout the year - majority of which are signature showcases and productions by our various arts CCA groups and clubs. In past years, SMU arts groups such as Symphonia, Samba Masala, Caderas Latinas, INDANCITY, SMU Komunitas Indonesia and StageIT have been very active and committed in delivering sell-out performances in the arts festivals; and visual arts group Artdicted has promoted visual arts extensively, allowing it to thrive on campus through its student-curated exhibition series, VOICE. The current U+ARTS Seasons now give our students their very own platform to showcase more of their own work – on top of taking part in overseas competitions and exchanges.
The U+ARTS Show
In 2012, the opening of academic Semester Two’s U+ARTS Season was yet another landmark event with the inaugural The U+ARTS Show, coinciding with Patron’s Day 2012, and which saw SMUBE’s talented emcees host a six-hour talk-show covering showcases by our student arts groups, and interviews and performances by invited guests Kumar, Sebastian Tan, a cappella group Vocaluptuous, as well as charismatic Adrian Pang, teen singing sensations Julia Abueva and Nathan Hartono, from the coming-of-age, hormone-fuelled musical Spring Awakening.
SMU Arts: 2013 and Beyond
Ten years on, the present U+ARTS year-long arts-centric structure now marks a timely shift of emphasis back to our students’ artistic talents following several successful years of extensive collaborations with external artists during past arts festivals. We’ve come a long way since SMU arts first begun nearly a decade back. Now, with close to 30 arts groups in the fraternity, it is apt that 2013’s U+ARTS Season is entitled Retrospect, as a tribute to those fruitfully artistic years since the arts was first introduced to the SMU calendar, and to our flourishing arts groups whose presence have sustained an ever-exciting arts vibrancy on campus.