COBO SOCIAL | The Strange Going-ons at Singapore’s Cavan Road

Louis Ho, Cobo Social , March 7, 2020

“Strange Things” materialized over two weeks in Singapore in January 2020, at 2 Cavan Road. The exhibition’s titular cue was, of course, derived from the hit Netflix series. Not unlike the realm of The Upside Down in Stranger Things, an uncannily dire analogue of the world of 1983 Hawkins, Indiana, “Strange Things” was populated by unidentified objects and alien bodies, oblique structures and unquiet landscapes.


The Singapore Arts Club, founded by gallerist Audrey Yeo, had been given temporary use of the 2 Cavan Road building, and I was invited to put together a preview and a pop-up exhibition at the site. If the general tone of the show was one of dislocation and unfamiliarity, that particular mood derived much of its affective power from the space itself. The massive Art Deco structure was built in the inter-war period—sources on the exact date differ—to house Kwong Soon & Co. Engineering, a steel foundry and ship-repair concern. Its facade is classic Streamline Moderne, a late version of the Art Deco aesthetic that boomed internationally in the 1930s, premised on the streamlined shapes and aerodynamic design of what were then modern forms of transportation and technology. In French, the style was referred to as paquebot, or “passenger ship” architecture, and, indeed, the long, horizontal orientation of the building, its interplay of linear accents and rounded curves, the flat roof broken by a vertical element (a stairwell in the case), the circular side windows and the conspicuous flagpole all serve to suggest the semblance of an ocean liner. The nautical motifs, in this case, of course, also foregrounded Kwong Soon’s primary business. Inside, the space is pure industrial chic. Material remnants of its former use were everywhere, from the concrete floors to the hulking pulley systems overhead, complete with colossal hooks dangling down in mid-air, to caged-in areas and office spaces and “Loading/ Unloading” signs painted on the ground. Eerily bereft of human presence, it seemed like a set straight out of the exhibition’s namesake inspiration.