Visitors to Singapore, or even Singaporeans themselves might not have heard of Eminent Plaza – this old building built in the 1980s sits prominently at the junction of Lavender Street and Jalan Besar and all I’ve known is for is that I used to pass it quite often when I took a bus through that area, and that it sits next to the more famous Lavender Food Centre where people queue for hours for the wanton mee.
The news that both Eminent Plaza and Lavender Food Centre were going to be torn down to make way for more office buildings wasn’t particularly earth shattering for me – The building apparently housed lots of dubious spas, karaoke joints and was generally a rather seedy place on the whole, while the food centre though iconic, wasn’t somewhere I visited very often. However, subsequently hearing about The Eminent Takeover, a project to let Singaporean artists takeover the building before its demolition in October 2014, was definitely something quite unusual and I decided I had to check out this place one last time before it disappeared completely.
I had no idea what to expect when I was there – little information is available on the web (see their official Facebook Event post here), an intentional act by the organizers apparently, so things just kinda happen quite organically and fluidly without any real guidelines. What I did know was that various types of art were going to be installed throughout the building, and that there were some music acts organized as well.
Here’s a bit of my experience, but if you can, I highly encourage you to pop by the building this week before they close it properly! My advice is to bring a sense of adventure and openness and you’ll be surprised what an abandoned old building can be transformed into, with the effort of people and art.
EXPLORING THE SPACE
Climb up the front entrance stairs and go up a ‘Stairway to Heaven’ to the 2nd level.
Right in front of you is an abandoned-looking office space of the KTV pub next door has now been transformed into the HQ of the Eminent Takeover organizers who were sitting around on the old, rather dingy looking furniture.
Elisa is one of these behind-the-scenes folk, and she kindly took us around the building and gave us lots of insights and showed us all the cool nooks and crannies we might not have had found without her help, so a huge kudos to her. Make sure you pop your head into the HQ to see if anyone might be around to take you about the space – they’re really friendly people. There are also several art works around the room, and even a merchandise store opened only on Friday nights.
If you end up walking around on your own, not to worry. On the second level opposite the offices, there’s another room which they were preparing for an exhibition. Lots of these rooms looked covered up or locked, but just try the door handle and see if you can enter – you might be surprised at what you find inside!
More importantly, head over to the entrance of the apparently once famous Lavenda Spa, also on the second level. It might not look like anything much, but beyond the front entrance there is a veritable warren of rooms and surprises waiting for you inside, so don’t miss it!
You’ll find that many of the spa’s rooms have been emblazoned with these rather hilarious Hokkien/English/Chinese signboards on the door. Do peek inside the rooms, you might come across some pretty interesting artworks – I like that those I saw were responses to the unusual space and/or its history – that’s what makes art more meaningful than just hanging up in a gallery for me.
A number of artists were working on their artworks while we wandered around, though many other rooms were still empty, with Elisa telling us about who they offered the space to and what they planned to do there, from street artists to more conceptual works.
Most spaces were free for all, but they did preserve one or two of the more unique ones. The steam room in particular was left untouched, and on its walls and doorways you could see etchings and markings of old gang signs and sayings.
Back down the escalator, and we could hear a pretty loud soundcheck in progress – one of the KTV pubs was re-appropriated into a gig space where the KTV Takeover sessions were held, and inside were several other art installations, as well as a jamming studio.
Outside, the street art crews were hard at work, it must be nice for them to have proper walls with to spray on with such abandon! Most of the works were concentrated on the front entrance, though there were some at the back, and Elisa said some of the indoor spaces would be used as well. (Spotted on instagram – some of the art has even made it to the roof!)
And from outside on the Lavender Street side of the building, you can enter yet another room with several art installations as well (take a close look around!), but notable is SpeakCryptic’s rather iconic drawings further inside – he’s apparently the resident in this little ‘studio space’.
This is just a smattering of some of the artworks that I saw – there’s not much time left, but do pop on by to see what you might discover! Whether or not you feel anything about the building, it’s a really great way to interact with art and see how it can transform and takeover an urban space. I really like the idea of it and hope I have the time to pop by one last time!
Eminent Plaza – 195 Lavender Street
Closest MRT Station is the North-East Line (Boon Keng)
The building has since been torn down and rebuilt into a new condo complex