Community art space breathes revival to what used to be one of Kuching city’s landmarks
ONE of Kuching’s most iconic buildings, which used to house the retro-popular Ting & Ting Supermarket, has been given a new lease of life.
Sited at Jalan Tabuan in the city centre, the supermarket had been a household name for food and groceries since 1957, long before the inception of other homegrown chains like Everrise and H&L.
However, it closed down for good in June 2019.
It was around that time when rumours surfaced about the building being likely to be demolished to make way for other developments, which saddened and dismayed many Kuchingites. They recalled the good times of their childhood and youthful days shopping for their favourite food items with families and friends.
To their relief and delight, the building was retained. It served, for a while, as an event space known as Location X, offering a much-needed room for creative minds to gather during the What About Kuching (WAK) event in late 2019.
Today, it stands as an establishment called ‘Think & Tink’, functioning simultaneously as a community art space and a mind factory to encourage more thinkers and makers. It is the brainchild of Borneo Laboratory, a local creative platform for Borneo aesthetics.
‘Mind factory of Kuching’
Borneo Laboratory and Think & Tink curator Wendy Teo said her team had approached the owner of Ting & Ting Supermarket with a proposal, but after it was accepted, the Movement Control Order (MCO) was enforced in March 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“We went through a lot of contemplation during the lockdown as it was then became a potential risk for us.
“After the lockdown, we decided to commit the lease by end of 2020.
“The place was born out of the pandemic. We changed most of the things that we had outlined earlier in the proposal as we thought its presence should serve as ‘a mind factory of Kuching’,” she told thesundaypost in a recent interview.
A professionally-trained architect, Teo did her first degree in Taiwan, and then moved to the UK for her Masters in University College of London, before obtaining her Architecture Professional Licence (Part III) from Cambridge University while working for a corporate firm.
However, she did not see moving into art-curating as being a complete departure from her roots in architecture.
On the contrary, she felt that over the last few years, the curatorship had actually drawn her closer to the core of architecture.
“To ‘connect widely, think deeply and act daringly’ – this is the kind of gesture that we would like to pose and attract in the downtown area of Kuching.
“There is a saying: ‘A caterpillar thinks that it is the end of the world when the butterfly knows that it is just the beginning’. We have a rooftop garden that we called ‘Butterfly Garden’. Its presence is to remind the city to think like a butterfly,” she pointed out.
The Butterfly Garden is part of the Urban Green Pockets Project run by Borneo Laboratory towards the goal of setting up an edible garden in the city.
It is a reminder of the kind of relationship that people can have with their natural environment, especially on what can they do as an individual or a collective to organise the idea of self-sustainability into reality.
On the gallery space located at the ground floor of the building, Teo said it had a flow with 50m of continuous lighting strips hanging from the ceiling.
“This conveys the message of ‘don’t go with the flow, be the flow’, also the message Shams of Tabriz told Rumi in the ‘Forty Rules of Loves’ by Elif Shafak, one of my favourite writers.
“I think the embedded message of the lighting says a lot about what kind of art or artists that we are seeking to connect – authenticity, originality and courageousness are the core qualities would attract us,” she said.
‘Incorporating diversity, possibilities’
Being currently exhibited on the ground floor of the gallery are the Wong Hung Chang Sculptures, Stanley Ngu Belian Furniture, and Teo’s own ‘Organs of the Earth’ virtual-reality (VR) feature.
Also going on until this Feb 8 is the ‘Narratives of Soil’ exhibition on the first floor. Supported by the British Council of Malaysia, the project is a collaboration between Teo and Eliza Collin.
Teo said the gallery space was officially opened earlier this month, hosting exhibitions set to be open to the public.
“The public reception has been quite well and we are grateful for that. The artworks are for sale, too. We hope to open up more grounds for collaborations towards exploring the potential of the space,” she said.
In the midst of the Covid-19 situation, Teo said it was an accomplishment to launch the ‘Butterfly Garden’ and the ‘Think Weekend’ event after securing the permit from Sarawak Disaster Management Committee (SDMC).
She also noted that the Kuching art scene had been growing on a momentum and thus, there was a need to allow diversity and possibilities to move along with such growth.
“Running a place like this means that we would need to work with even more people, from programme managing to social media and event management. It also means that we would need to build a team so as to avoid overstretching ourselves.
“We are enjoying the conversation so far, but at times, it does feel like this is really outside our comfort zone in the design sector,” she said.
Kuchingites would have something to look forward to when the ‘Think Theatre’ is up and running.
Teo remarked: “Think Theatre is a co-production among ourselves with Wordsmiths of Kuching and Spektrum Theatre in creation of an authentic theatre with an original script written by our local writers.
“The pilot show would be taking place from March 11 to 13, set to unravel what we have been doing during the lockdown.”
Adding on, Teo said Borneo Laboratory would also launch an installation known as ‘Rainbow Ribbon’.
“It has a six-part programme all over Kenyalang Park in March, so stay tuned,” she enthused.
To learn more, follow Think & Tink’ on Facebook, or go to http://borneoartcollective.org/.