Behind the Scenes: Kenny Leck, Co-organiser of Singapore Art Book Fair

The inaugural Singapore Art Book Fair specialising in contemporary art books and zines is slated to launch 29 November at the recently commissioned U Factory at Gillman Barracks – a former military camp that has been converted into Asia’s up-and-coming destination for contemporary art.


Seated on stools in the quaint environment of BooksActually’s thrift and trinkets paraphernalia, Peatix went behind the scenes with Kenny Leck, co-organiser of the fair and owner of BooksActually, to hear about the grind that went into putting it together.


Up Close and Personal

Who’s your favourite local contemporary artist?

Donna Ong – her art installations enables her audience to interact, imagine and immerse in art.

Are people experimenting and dabbling more with art in Singapore these days or is there still a long way to go in our progress as a hub for art?

Very long way! There are more students taking art in school now and that gives exposure but there’s still a long way from changing the mentality of viewing it as a means to an end rather than pursing it out of passion. The way towards progress is to make art easily accessible like the Ai Weiwei show at Gillman Barracks!

We can have the best of both worlds in Singapore – to create art yet contain it such that it doesn’t proliferate out of hand. We have the avenue to create and appreciate art here but we don’t do it. Instead we find people complaining about commissioned graffiti at Sculpture Square. Still a looooong way to go.

What direction is Singapore moving towards in the literary world?

Singapore’s at a stage where there’s a push for the translation of ‘lost’ works written in Chinese or Malay from the 70s through to the 90s. Before 1964, there were many Singaporean Chinese authors whose books were well read both in China and Taiwan! But from the 80s, there was a big decline in such publications as Singapore adopted English as its first language. Right now, we want to rectify that.

SABF logo

Sneak Pea-k! into Singapore Art Book Fair
We understand The Art Book Fair’s one of two recipients of the Singapore Tourism Board’s S$5million kick-start fund that supports new lifestyle events and concepts with tourism potential.

What kickstarted your inspiration to organise an Art Book Fair in Singapore?

We feel there’s a need for more book trade events. There are a couple of major events like the Singapore Toy, Game & Comic Convention (STGCC) and Kinokuniya Manga Festival where comic publishers and graphic novels are featured and that helps develop the book culture albeit to a limited genre but it’s a good start.

We also want to pre-empt our regional neighbours, especially Thailand! The reading culture there is very strong, much stronger than in Singapore. Reading to them is as much a form of leisure as it is for acquiring knowledge. We want to develop that in Singapore too, to cultivate a lifestyle of reading and make good books easily available. Nobody wants to spend money or time on crappy books!

Tell us more about its concept.

Singapore Art Book Fair is co-organised with Underscore at the recently launched U Factory at Gilman Barracks. It will be more than just a book trade. There will be art publications, artist talks, talks on collecting art, film screenings, silk-screen and rubber stamp carving workshops. There will be a pop-up Monocle store, Maison Ikoku, The Travelling Cow and more. With an exciting line-up, we hope to gain a far reach in our audience beyond just the art-loving crowd to come and understand, appreciate and perhaps begin collecting art!

What would you say is the one thing that distinguishes your idea from others in fostering tourism potential?

We have big plans. We want to grow the annual Singapore Art Book Fair into a regional event with book publishers travelling to Singapore to attend in the years to come. And perhaps, start a Poetry Festival too! There are lots of good poets in Singapore, why not build on what we have and establish ourselves in that niche rather than emulate other countries gunning for more novelists?

Once the green light was given, how did your gears kick in to organise the Art Book Fair?

Panic! We only found out (we’ve been commissioned by the Kickstarter fund) in October to take charge of the event’s program. It’s a mammoth task and we’re still at it. But we’ve managed to get a good haul of art books and independent magazine publishers to take booths – Offscreen (for designers), Boneshaker (on bicycles), Hello Mister, launch of After Globe (travel), Cereal and Kinfolk! Many of these are not available in Singapore, yet.

How was it like working with different partners?

We work with publishers, distributors and galleries. So far no problems but we had to be flexible in our terms with partners to engage them to be at the book fair. It’s stressful but at the end of the day, I really think business in Singapore is driven by personal contacts.

What is most challenging aspect of planning for the Art Book Fair?

Time, not enough time! We only had 12 weeks. To do something of this scale is almost impossible and now it all boils down to increasing publicity and garnering attendance.

How did you cope with the lack of time? 1. Get good helpers who are proactive in making good decisions. 2. Work with partners who are willing to trust you and allow you to run the show. 3. Create good content and be innovative – that’s necessary to attract an audience.

Are there any pointers you’d like to offer to organisers of art-focused events in drawing attendees given Singapore’s infancy in the art scene?

Location is key even above that of content! If it’s inaccessible, you find you might only attract the crowd who’s really interested and willing to travel to attend your event. But with accessibility comes a wider demographic of people who might not be as vested but still curious to check things out.


Event details: Note them down!

Who is one emerging artist we can all look forward to meeting with?

Robert Zhao, his works are slightly morbid in nature but he’s a really fun and interesting person to converse with! He’s one emerging artist to look out for and his works have been appreciating in value each year.

What film will you be screening?

Herb and Dorothy 50/50 – it looks into the lives of a librarian and postal clerk who debunked the myth of needing to be rich to collect art. You got to watch to understand.

When Nov 29 – 1 Dec 2013 Where The U-Factory at Gillman Barracks, Assembly Hall, 38 Malan Road Entry Get tickets to fringe events: Rubber stamp carving workshop (Saturday/Sunday), Stitch binding, Silkscreen Printing, Linocut Printmaking

Image Credit: Singapore Art Book Fair, U Factory

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Claire Ding

Claire Ding is the Community Manager at ticketing platform Peatix in Singapore. She runs a community event for organisers, Backstage Pass , where organisers connect with others and learn tips on event management. Quite the thrill-seeker, Claire’s gone skydiving, bungee jumping, and enjoys anything that puts her on edge (quite literally), it’s no wonder she’s in the business of events with never a dull moment!