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For the House; Against the House: _____ is Dead

History of Tanglin Shopping Centre


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What do desires and the museum have to do with Tanglin Shopping Centre?

Today, the mall has mellowed out with many tenants who have moved out, some still visit for the craft of the tailors at Justmen’s (#01-36/39), or to seek out treasures in the many arts and antiquities shops. TSC is known to be a heritage and culturally-rich hub for antiquities and artworks; to others, it’s also where their kids come for tuition and taekwondo classes.

The warm hues of the half-century-old mall belie its ambitions and history. Built in 1971, Tanglin Shopping Centre (TSC) was the first modern shopping mall to be established in the area. As the second modern shopping mall in Singapore, TSC was built as a luxury mall and has gone through several shifts in its demographics and profile as the area continued to develop. When TSC first opened its doors in early 1972, it housed mostly offices, retail shops, restaurants and Singapore Medical Centre. While most locals were still used to shophouses and markets, TSC was one of the first multi-story, air-conditioned shopping complexes built in Singapore since our independence. The same year, artist Chen Wen Hsi also opened the Old and New Gallery.

The mall was modern not just in its infrastructure but also in the content and ideas that it offered. In its second decade, TSC began to see its first round of upgrading works, with an office tower extension. A key tenant was the German airline, Lufthansa. For those who could not travel, D&O Film & Video (#03-34) was their gateway to what lies beyond the island state. Our curator Adele Tan recalls memories of visiting this place, during the golden age of video shops in Singapore. What unrolled with the reels of VHS were ideas and images very different from what was around in Singapore. The films were curated by Albert Odell and each video had its own description of its cuts.

The lower-level units were also leased out to arts and crafts and antique shops. In fact, the owner of Tzen Gallery (#B1-18), Mr Tan, recalls the days when the atrium in the basement would be used for pop-up art exhibitions and many gathered to view pieces by local artists. Our curator, John Tung is struck by how uncanny that the rotunda-like layout of Basement 1 recalls the units in Pacific Plaza when 5th Passage, an artist-run initiative in 90’s Singapore that turned local malls into contemporary art space (before the establishment of Singapore Art Museum), moved to its second home. Many of the older tenants in the mall share fond stories of the Singapore pioneering artists before they entered the history books. The likes of Cheong Soo Pieng and Chen Wen Hsi were often spotted giving painting classes during the weekends, and would often gift their pieces to the neighbouring shop owners.

Traversing the drop-off point of the car park, the other end of what lies hidden is EUPHORIA (#B1-28). There are a total of three different nightclubs tucked underground or in the corners of the building, almost as if seeping out from the crevices of the sensible shades of marble(?) lining the walls of the wall. While desire refuses to be contained, what is sexual and sensual is often seen as something that needs to be regulated. Head to Empress KTV (#04-08), where an ebbing flow of coloured disco lights leaks through sound-proofed rooms. This juxtaposition of dynamic lights and an absence of sounds feels uncanny and surreal, silencing desires be it behind closed doors or behind blinkers. Love and intimacy find themselves becoming restless bedfellows with the state apparatus and big brother’s watchful eyes.

The lines are similarly blurred in TSC when you speak of the museum. With Steeple’s Deli (#02-25) being the first Deli in Singapore, they are proud owners of the same furniture since over forty years ago, it is a living and breathing wunderkammer. If you take the lift to B1, you will see electrical knobs that well could sit in the National Museum. These quiet emblems of resilience against time and shifting tastes stand as a reminder that “We must forget in order to remain present, forget in order not to die, forget in order to remain faithful.”

Shu-ying Hong, producer, For the House; Against the House 2023




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