CURATORIAL > Rules of Engagement

21-24 NOV 2019
Created by Amelia Abdullahsani and Merryn Trevethan

2019’s Rules of Engagement was an exhibition-event that engaged the implicit rules of the art world as related to public spaces. Taking place over the SG Biennale opening weekend exhibition at The Substation’s SADBar as part of their year-long A Public Square programming. 20 artists were allocated a small square footprint between 10 cm and 40cm and asked to create an artwork that responded to the theme of A Public Square. Both artists and the audience were asked to comply with the Rules of Engagement during 4 vernissage/finnasage events. Amelia and Merryn received an Open Call grant from The Substation to help facilitate the exhibition which included 20 local and international artists.

ARTISTS: Nabilah NORDIN, Jason WEE, Jimmy ONG, Yen PHANG, Alecia NEO, Max CHROMA, Helene Le CHATELIER, Hafiiz KARIM & Rachel ZAVIOR, Grace TAN, Nandita MUKAND, Eunice LACASTE, Sue BEYER, Megan EVANS, Andy YANG, Kanchana GUPTA, Delia PRVACKI, Jonathan NICHOLS, Louise BLYTON, Madhvi SUBRAHMANIAN, Merryn TREVETHAN


The exhibition takes place over four days at The Substation SAD Bar. Every night is both a Vernissage and a Finissage, because we all know everyone only turns up for an opening or a closing! All artists are eligible for a nightly Public Choice Prize, voted and paid for by the audience. Artists and the audience are governed by their own sets of rules to which they must comply. The rules are ambiguous, contain loopholes, and are open to interpretation. Fines are issued by undercover officers for violations of any rules, which are subject to change without notice. The exhibition is opened and closed each night by a different Guest of Honour, who will also present the prize to the winning artist. The audience is given a short survey on the way out.

Like the oft unspoken rules for engaging with public spaces, the art world – itself a public space – has its own set of rules. Opaque and often unknown to participants, these rules are constantly changing and ever contested. Just as the public are compelled to know the rules that guide their interactions and behaviour in public spaces, so too are artists as they navigate the artworld. Artists must stay abreast of the latest rules and to interact with the artworld, audience, and public spaces using the information and resources available to them. Rules of Engagement recognises the financial implications of participation, with artists often self- funding work enjoyed by the public for free. By requiring the audience to purchase DRINK/VOTE tickets and passing this money on to the participating artists, Rules of Engagement acknowledges that a large portion of the art world audience are neither collectors nor financial stakeholders; while these art lovers and their support is greatly appreciated at openings, many rarely find themselves contributing financially to supporting the work of artists.

Like many industries and work places the art world has its own Rules of Engagement. In the corporate sector workplace regulations are transparent with HR policies and Codes of Conduct. The art world operates largely under an umbrella of opacity with few written Codes or policies to speak of, with little or no sexual harassment awareness training or workplace diversity training. Further complicating matters is the many different segments of the art world: from large government-funded institutions, commercial galleries, biennales, and art fairs (affordable and not so affordable), to artist-run initiatives, non-profits, and non-government spaces. Each has its own set of rules. Access to any of them is difficult, the path to inclusion unknown.

Rules of Engagement aims to generate an open discussion and raise awareness around these issues. In this way Rules of Engagement hopes to redress this implicit imbalance, shining a light on the complicated negotiations – financial, social, emotion – in which artists engage when they create work for the public.