The Art Exchange

Independent local art space INSTINC fosters both artistic understanding and cultural exchange through collaborations between local and international artists.


he year was 2008. Singaporean artist Yeo Shih Yun, now 38, had flown to Slovenia for an artist residency where she met Japanese artist Hirofumi Matsuzaki. The two were randomly paired to work together as part of the LindArt International Young Artists’ Fine Arts Colony. Held at the Gallery-Museum of Lendava in Slovenia, LindArt saw 12 international artists come together to create artworks over 10 days.

At the time, Yeo was Director of INSTINC, an independent art institution she founded in Singapore in 2004. Named after one of her paintings titled INSTINCT, it provided a space for artists to show their works and to collaborate with other like-minded artists.

Matsuzaki, who turns 36 this year, had set up Studio Kura, an artist-in-residence space in Fukuoka, Japan. At LindArt, he persuaded Yeo that one does not need a lot of money to start an artist residency. Inspired by Matsuzaki and other international artists who had benefited from the artistic and inter-cultural exchanges at such residencies, she returned to Singapore and started her own artist residency programme under INSTINC in 2009. She called it INSTINCAIR (“AIR” stands for “artist-in-residence”).


Slovenia-based Katja Pal, 35, a LindArt organiser, was invited to be INSTINCAIR’s first artist in 2009. She worked with Yeo on a project where they took to the streets of Singapore and asked people to write down what they wanted them to draw. The two took turns to paint alternate layers on canvas, based on suggestions picked from a box. Together, they created 10 paintings in 10 days.

The following year, the pair teamed up again at an artist colony in Tuscany, Italy.

Selected artworks from INSTINC10 to commemorate the art spaceʼs 10th year anniversary.


Today, Pal is INSTINC’s International Collaboration Advisor, while Matsuzaki is its International Residency Advisor. Clearly, the bonds formed from that first meeting at LindArt seven years ago are still very much alive. They are testament to the value of art and culture in connecting communities, promoting cross-cultural understanding, and forging lasting friendships. Despite coming from different cultural backgrounds, the three artists were able to find common ground through their shared passion for art. Indeed, the deep friendships that inspire artistic partnerships have grown to become a hallmark of INSTINCAIR. This befits one of INSTINC’s key missions – to encourage collaboration, cultural exchange and sharing of ideas in contemporary art for local as well as international artists.


Singapore-born Taiwanese artist Hsiung Lu-Fang at the Goodman Arts Centre for INSTINC10.

Since 2009, INSTINCAIR has welcomed a multitude of international tie-ups – 43 artists from 20 countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia and Japan.

It now offers three different types of residency programmes varying in duration from two weeks to six months, to cater to the different needs of artists, from emerging artists to established ones.

The residencies come with an opportunity to work with a local artist or to partner a cultural institution or embassy of the artist’s nation of origin in Singapore. These exchanges allow artists from different countries to understand each other better, and develop a deeper appreciation of one another’s culture.

Yeo’s work as an artist has allowed her to share Singapore’s unique culture with international artistic circles through her participation in many residencies overseas.

Inviting overseas artists to work in Singapore with her or other local artists has also helped the art scene here gain a global foothold, while promoting the country’s culture.

She firmly believes that art plays an integral role in fostering an inter-cultural creative community in Singapore. She says: “When you collaborate, art becomes a connector as it is a good starting point to begin talking and to really get to know a person.”

It is in this spirit of bringing people together to create cultural collateral that INSTINC continues to run its artist residencies year after year.

A work in progress for INSTINC10. FACING PAGE: The 10 artists for INSTINC10.


For INSTINC’s 10th anniversary in November last year, Yeo brought 10 artists together for a 19-day residency, randomly pairing five locally-based artists with five artists from Spain, Mexico, New Zealand, as well as the US. Known as INSTINC10, this project saw alliances forged over canvas at the Goodman Arts Centre and art jams on two sponsored Volvo cars. Their artistic creations were shown at Studio67 Art Space, then launched at the Affordable Art Fair in Singapore.

During this residency, art served to bridge cultures and catalyse the exchange of ideas. Says Lisa Chandler, 45, a New Zealand artist involved in INSTINC10: “We created a new narrative with an aesthetic that reflected each other’s vocabulary.

“Art is very personal, but we shared life stories, and in Singapore especially, the food that you love! These common threads helped us gain a greater appreciation of another culture’s underlying values.”

Another INSTINC10 artist, Spain-based Alba Escayo, 33, is grateful that the experience allowed her to discover the real Singapore, one that she could never have understood as a mere visitor. She says: “I truly believe that knowing other cultures is fundamental for my inspiration. The city and the insights will be reflected in my future artworks.”

Summing up the INSTINC10 experience, Natalia Ludmila, 33, a Mexican artist based in New Delhi, says: “Art is the perfect vehicle for mutual understanding; a universal language for friendships between nations.”

This December, creating art across cultural boundaries will come full circle for Yeo, who will join forces with Kim Kei, a Korean artist based in Los Angeles. Kim was the first artist Yeo had ever partnered, while she was still a student at the San Francisco Art Institute in 2001.

The idea for a reunion was born after Kim chanced upon a video of an interview Yeo did for INSTINC10, in which she spoke about their old partnership. Touched by the gesture, Kim reached out to Yeo.

Although details have not been finalised, Yeo is excited about the tie-up, saying: “Both times, it is by chance that we meet but by choice that we collaborate. The difference is that 14 years later, we both have changed. I’m certain that when we meet in Singapore in December, sparks will fly. I can’t wait!”

“Art is very personal, but we shared life stories, and in Singapore especially, the food that you love! These common threads helped us gain a greater appreciation of another cultureʼs underlying values.”
New Zealand artist Lisa Chandler



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