Anyone who has ever been to nightclub Zouk’s former site in Jiak Kim Street will remember the iconic mosaic washbasin and bench outside the toilets.
Perhaps you might have seen the mosaics and murals along the walls of Dhoby Ghaut MRT Station; or the 84 glazed porcelain elements above the café on the first floor of Marine Parade Library; or the sculptures behind the reception desk at the Westin Hotel.
All these iconic public artworks you might have walked past every day were created by one woman – Delia Prvacki, a 67-year-old Singaporean artist.
Prvacki, who emigrated to Singapore from the former Yugoslavia with her family in 1992, has been making these site-specific sculptures and murals since 1995, filling ordinary spaces we inhabit with her works.
Speaking with Yahoo Lifestyle Singapore, Prvacki said, “My approach to public projects is to understand the content of the building, what is the building meant for, is it for education, entertainment, recreation or something purely aesthetic. To me it’s very important that every work has a connection with the space.”
Thanks to the ever-changing physical landscape in Singapore, creating public artworks is challenging due to the high likelihood of the work being destroyed, kept away or even returned to the artist when the place is redeveloped.
“I disapprove of this attitude of destroying things. Where we are as humans, in the 21st century where everyone is so aware of sustainability, art should not be an exception. I think you invest in art but art is not something you take and throw away,” said the longtime artist.
“If somebody doesn’t need the artwork anymore, they should give it to a collection or relocate it but not destroy it. So my main position is not (to) destroy it,” she added.
Unfortunately, such was the fate for one of Prvacki’s oldest works, created in 2001, for the lift lobby area and water feature surrounding the 25-year old Singapore Power Building.
“Overnight it was dismantled in 2007. It was removed and thrown away because they actually changed the whole concept of the building, they did a major renovation. Their explanation was ‘we own it, we paid for it, we can do whatever’,” said the veteran artist.
Prvacki created six sculptured pieces as a continuation of the wall going into the water, representing the flow of energy because, as she says, the Power Building is about electricity and water and gas.
The artist found out it was gone by accident. “They never informed me. Earlier one year they gave me some hint they may have some renovation, and I told them they should look to relocate maybe to SMU because it’s next door.”
However, according to Prvacki, there was no follow-up. At that time, she received a lot of flak, even from people in the arts scene, for being “fussy” about her work being disposed. She got the sense that as an artist, “you’re not allowed to say don’t destroy my work”.
Another challenging situation was over four murals she created for Suntec Singapore, which have not seen the light of day since 2012.
She was informed at that time the murals would be taken down and kept in storage as the space was undergoing a revamp, but there has been no talk about them being exhibited since.
“Even before then, in 2007 the work was entirely covered with curtains or false walls because it (the space) was transformed into a wine bar. My sense of disappointment was very deep. You try to make a piece of art which is supposed to be alive and pass a message,” said Prvacki.
In spite of these initial “painful” experiences, the artist remains optimistic because she feels there has been a shift in recent years.
Individuals and organisations she worked with over the last few years have become more open and understanding about seeing public artwork as more than just a “decoration or commodity”. There is more “communication and negotiation” now.
The most recent example is the iconic work created with her husband Milenko Prvacki, Senior Fellow at LASALLE College of the Arts, for Zouk at the old premises. They were invited to create a work for Zouk after the mural for Dhoby Ghaut MRT Station was completed and the station opened in 2002.
Zouk founder Lincoln Cheng wanted to create a place of entertainment for people in Singapore but he also wanted it to include art.
Explaining the mosaic design of the washbasin, the bench and the murals on the bar, Prvacki said when Cheng invited them to pitch their proposal, he had just come back from Barcelona and was really fascinated with Spanish architect Antonio Gaudi.
The idea of the bench next to the washbasin was inspired by Roman bathhouses where people would go to shower and steam but also gather to talk and socialise. The couple saw this space as a similar point of socialising in the club.
Since Zouk moved to its new premises last year, the infamous washbasin and bench have been donated to Ascendas Reit, Singapore’s largest listed business space and industrial real estate investment trust.
Tentatively to be relocated at the company’s Science Parks end of April, the work will be reintegrated into a new outdoor space.
The washbasin and bench have been surprisingly well preserved, said Prvacki, in spite of the thousands of people that used it over the years at Zouk. She wanted it to be relocated somewhere it could be used by the public instead of remaining in a private collection, and is pleased with the outcome.
She is glad the stakeholders worked closely with her this time and sees this as “a sign of maturation”. Prvacki is convinced attitudes are changing with regard to public art in Singapore. “It’s not hundred per cent but it’s getting there,” she said.
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