Benchmarks: Where Art Meets the City
Walk through an art trail amidst the bustling cityscape as FATIN HUMAIRA experiences the Civic District like never before.
Hype Issue #58
October 25, 2023
The Civic District Alliance (CDA) commissioned trail draws inspiration from historical landmarks within the precinct. Photo courtesy of Arts House Limited.
The Benchmarks art trail is a series of public installations in the Civic District area which features six art benches designed by Singapore-based artists. These benches aim to invite passersby to pause, reflect, and appreciate the district’s historical significance, both past and present, while also contributing to the district’s future narratives. “Just as when someone is giving a speech or writing something, punctuation adds on elements and helps us create a tone of voice or manner of speaking,” expressed Justin Loke, the curator of the art trail.
Located at Jubilee Walk, this bench is crafted from fibreglass, with granite incorporated into its design. Photo by Fatin Humaira.
Our first stop was at Jason Wee’s ‘#iykyk’, a play on meme culture that includes elements of Morse Code. The code directly translates to the acronym iykyk (if you know, you know) as different people have different interpretations of the installation. With a humorous tone, ‘#iykyk’ aims to integrate the code into the city it speaks to.
Next, we stopped at Esplanade Park Playground, with Jeffrey Tan’s ‘Sayang! Satay Sayang!’, an ode to the fondly remembered Satay Club which was demolished in 1995.
The words “Sayang! Satay Sayang!” appear on different parts of the grass based on the position of the sun. Photo courtesy of Arts House Limited.
We continued walking to the next stop, an installation by Yang Jie, titled ‘…all the King’s men’. The bench pays tribute to the infamous Singapore Stone and weaves the element of storytelling into the urban scenery. Located along Queen Elizabeth Walk, the bench is nestled in a cool, sheltered nook, offering a serene vantage point overlooking the Singapore River.
This bench is made from broken fragments of granite that were stitched back together using brass staples. Photo courtesy of Arts House Limited.
“This particular bench is a response to the idea that there was a stone, there was a strike, and how then can we put the pieces back together like in our memories, back where it was supposed to be,” Yang Jie shared.
After more walking, we reached the fourth bench, ‘Re-Store / Neural Artefact Black’. On one side, it bore a ‘charred’ design, facing the river, while the other side remained untouched, facing the Asian Civilisations Museum (ACM). The stark contrast encouraged reflections on duality and how our perspectives may differ based on our individual view of the world.
This bench was made by hand piecing 6000 triangles from old sampan boats which took 3000 hours. Photo courtesy of Arts House Limited.
As we strolled further through the Civic District, we paused at a comma, literally. Titled ‘A Micropolyphonic Stage’, this bench is shaped like an inverted apostrophe and comma, which is one of my favourite installations of the trail. Behind this fairly minimalistic bench is a deep meaning, a love letter from the artist to the city – a reminder to pause and be present.
Surrounded by performing venues, this bench blends seamlessly into the cultural scene. Photo courtesy of Arts House Limited.
Gazing at the bench, I was drawn to the Braille markings etched onto its surface, spelling out the phrase “to understand is to become.” The phrase was also observed in the text on the bench. Crafted by artist Joyce Beetuan Koh, the artwork effortlessly captured the essence of the entire trail. It invited everyone to explore the realms of understanding, both within themselves and in relation to the world.
The Braille is positioned at a natural hand placement. Photo courtesy of Arts House Limited.
One particular installation caught my attention, adding an extra layer of vibrancy to the trail. Situated in front of The Arts House Annex building, Lua Boon Kai’s ‘This is Not a Bench’ reimagines benches as engaging and interactive environments.
As I immersed myself in this unconventional space, I couldn’t help but explore different ways of sitting. The benches became canvases for personal expression — leaning, draping, slumping, even hugging.
‘This is not a bench’ encourages passers-by to be creative through these non-conventional benches. Photo by Fatin Humaira.
Drawing inspiration from René Magritte’s ‘The Treachery of Images’, the artwork challenges norms with its ambiguous shapes and bold colour scheme, inviting us to reimagine the very purpose of a bench.
From artistic renditions of historical events to contemporary designs that celebrated unity, each bench emphasised the power of art to transform even the simplest of objects into meaningful experiences. Just as an improvisational street dance adds fun to the streets and brings people together, these benches transform into spaces that foster connection and community.
Don’t miss the opportunity to sit, engage, and become a part of this extraordinary experience until July 31, 2026.
As Loke said, “Although the benches might be removed, they can live in memory.”