STPI: Pushing boundaries for 15 years

Print Pioneer

Historically, printmaking hasn’t been viewed as a major fine art, even though it has been used by artists such as Rembrandt, Goya, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and Katsushika Hokusai, but today this perception has changed. In Singapore, STPI has helped to propel printmaking to new levels since 2002 when it was founded by the then Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts. The workshop-gallery’s aim was to continue the boundary-pushing legacy of master printmaker Kenneth E Tyler. It was he who heralded the revival of print as an artistic medium in 20th-century New York, through collaborations with artists such as Jasper Johns, Roy Lichtenstein and Robert Rauschenberg.

Now 15 years and 90 artist collaborations later (and operating an extremely busy schedule of eight exhibitions annually), STPI’s reputation as the world’s most cutting-edge print and paper-making institution is firmly cemented. Reinventing the traditional mediums of print and paper, its groundbreaking projects with leading international artists through residencies laying bare the limitless possibilities of this art practice.

Director Emi Eu says, “STPI was intended to be a catalyst in the contemporary art scene and it definitely played a big part in getting this whole art ecosystem moving. While we single-handedly created a market for mid-range priced works on paper, we also opened up other possibilities for artists in Southeast Asia who have not had this type of experience.”

Emi Eu, director of STPI since 2009

At the beginning, the main challenge was launching the workshop projects.

Eu notes, “STPI was not known, and also the print and paper medium was seen as inferior and not suitable for our tropical climate.” Therefore, it struggled for three to four years before gaining a following from collectors and an appreciation for its artist collaborations. That’s when it started working with artists from the region before expanding to North Asia and beyond. In 2006, New York’s Museum of Modern Art acquired works made in the STPI workshops by Chinese artist Lin Tianmiao. The turning point came in 2008, when STPI began to garner better responses from invited artists and participated in Art HK, leading to a milestone in its history: its acceptance into the world’s leading art fair, Art Basel, in 2013.

Today, STPI’s specialised facilities are a fully equipped one-stop shop. Unique with its artist apartments, gallery, printmaking tools and paper mill, its expertise covers production all the way to exhibitions and educational programmes for the public. Dialogue with the in-house workshop team of printers and papermakers encourages experimentation and pushes resident artists beyond their limits to explore fresh trajectories in their practice. But this steep learning curve is precisely what helps them to produce outstanding works, with the assurance that they have a team of experts backing them. Eu discloses, “Almost always, the artists leave STPI wanting to come back.”

The vision for STPI to develop Singapore as a leading player in the global contemporary art world, and to strengthen and deepen the artistic achievements of artists worldwide and locally, has not changed since its debut. But now, having reached a certain stage of maturity, it is looking to work more closely with arts organisations and galleries from the region to help make Singapore the focal point for Southeast Asian art. It continues to work closely with regional and international artists who are a reflection of their time, generating a cross-pollination of ideas. This year, after opening with a show by Singaporean Cultural Medallion winner Amanda Heng and an exhibition in London by Korean artist Do Ho Suh, it held a major group show by Carsten Holler, Tobias Rehberger, Anri Sala and Rirkrit Tiravanija. Echoing the surrealist masters, the quartet with four distinct styles collaborated while relinquishing individual control, as one artist started a work and the next artist picked up where the previous one left off. In May, STPI hosted the first solo show in Singapore of Korean artist Kim Beom, and July saw its Annual Special Exhibition featuring English painter David Hockney.

This month, the workshop-gallery will open its premises to the public during the week-long STPI Festival to discover print and paper-making and to learn more about this niche industry, before the autumn exhibition of Philippine husband- and-wife duo Alfredo and Isabel Aquilizan and the STPI Year-End Show.