Interview: Singapore graffiti movement Can(e) Singapore

Why did you name the project Can(e)?
There are three ideas behind the name: Can as a verb. Can as the spray can. And cane as the instrument of corporal punishment.
What drove you to start this project?
I had the idea for this project quite a while ago. But the recent debate about street art in Singapore, which was started by SKLO (aka the sticker girl), was the main motivation to start doing it.
How did you decide where to paint?
The places were mainly chosen to match the images I used. For instance, I chose a bicycle lane to display an image of an old rickshaw. For certain images, I had to choose places that are more hidden and quiet.

Do you have a certain affinity with the past that you can’t let go of?
Don’t get me wrong—I don’t wish to return to the past. What I want is to use imagery from the past to remind people of a simpler time when their city was not dominated by high-rise buildings, shopping malls and temperature-controlled environments.

How would you differentiate what is art and what is pure vandalism when it comes to graffiti?
Properly answering this question would require a precise definition of art, which is very difficult. Moreover, the borders between art and vandalism are not fixed; they are always evolving.

It is interesting to see how some graffiti art, even if made illegally, has become a tourist attraction in cities like Melbourne, London or New York. And ironically, the city authorities there have started taking measures to protect street artworks and installations.
One common way to differentiate is to say vandalism is a destructive activity, where the main goal is to damage public spaces. Graffiti art, or any other form of street art, is more constructive: it conveys an idea, puts forward an aesthetic statement and makes people think.
Gentrification in Singapore—what’s your take on it?
In Singapore, like in many other cities, gentrification is inevitable. Condos and malls are popping up everywhere and rents have gone up like crazy in recent years.We need to ensure that, in this transformation, money is not the only criterion used to determine what is built where. It’s possible to reinvent urban spaces in a way that does not benefit only the rich and while maintaining a sense of local community. It’s important that we collectively think about ways to achieve this. It is up to us, as citizens—and here, I think street artists can play a crucial role—to put forward alternative ways to appropriate urban spaces.
What do you think of change and how do you embrace it?
Change is inevitable and necessary. The main idea of Can(e) is not to suggest or embrace any particular model for change, but rather to make people reflect on how Singapore is changing.

What do you hope to invoke in the people who see your art?
I hope that my work makes people think about the use of public spaces. Throughout history, “the street” has always been a forum for people to express their ideas. I want them to ask themselves: Are we using public spaces the right way in Singapore?
I hope that the images I create will also make people think about how fast the city is changing and how these changes are affecting our lifestyle and identity.