Sarawak-based collective turns old supermarket building into arts hub in Kuching


An artist’s impression of the vertical edible garden on Think & Tink's rooftop. Photo: Wendy Teo Atelier

A city-wide #plantlifefromplastic campaign is underway in Kuching, Sarawak, to collect 1,500 units of 1.5L plastic bottles for the Urban Green Pockets Project organised by Borneo Laboratory.

These bottles will be converted into planters for a community garden and food bank in the heart of the city, at the old Ting & Ting supermarket premises.

The space has recently been converted into Think & Tink, a mind factory, community arts space and creative incubator rolled into one.

The idea for the Urban Green Pockets Project happened during the lockdown last year.

“We thought if there is anything we can contribute to the community, we should start from something simple and subtle. Starting from food, we can then review how we can create more outdoor spaces that are naturally ventilated, ” says Wendy Teo, founder of Borneo Laboratory and in-house curator of Think & Tink.

Talk of this project was first sparked during Borneo Laboratory’s annual reading club where discussions abound about how many local issues were also global ones.

The second prompt came in the form of an article in Spanish-language newspaper El Pais which was widely circulated, on how enclosed spaces can increase the likelihood of (Covid-19) infection due to the lack of ventilation.

And finally, LA-based "guerilla gardener" Ron Finley’s "gangsta garden" idea and chef and author Alice Water’s edible garden practice was no doubt an inspiration too.

The Urban Green Pockets Project is the manifestation of citizen-organised healthy food growth, that contributes to the community food bank in Kuching.

The garden will be located on the rooftop and the side of the building, with plans to have this as public spaces open to the community.

It aims to convey two main messages: to explore the possibilities of upcycling and to demonstrate how great things can be achieved through community efforts.

The Urban Green Pockets Project is supported by Cendana.

From supermarket to arts space

It was a sad and nostalgic feeling for Kuchingites when Ting & Ting supermarket, known for its imported grocery products, closed in 2019 after more than six decades in operation.

“When we heard about the closure of the supermarket, we thought it would be great to turn this place into a destination of art and culture. Hence, we prepared a proposal for the property owner to go through before they kickstarted their new venture, a hotel building, ” says Teo.

The Think & Tink name is a reference to "thinking and tinkering".

With the building located in downtown Kuching, the team saw this as an opportunity to extend an invitation to the public to act on the collective statement of "Think Deeply, Act Daringly".

“We hope to forge more meaningful and productive connections with the community and the public through this setup of Think & Tink. In the era of Anthropocene, we felt that the city as a collective needs to act thoughtfully and daringly on the community vision we want to achieve together. So in October last year, we took up the space together with other partners of different disciplines - from architecture, filmmaking to the F&B industry, ” she says.

The team has been working behind the scenes since then, with tentative plans to open the building to the public next month (April), depending on the Covid-19 situation.

Think & Tink will have multiple components to cater to the arts and creative industry, including an exhibition/performance space, art residencies, workshops and seminars, and public education.

“Some of the things we are looking at are opinion writing workshops, creative writing classes and theatrical writing classes to explore more original ideas. We are open to hosting these events too, and we also welcome proposals that can bring conversation and discourse to downtown Kuching. So don’t be shy in reaching out to us, ” says Teo.

Interested artists or curators can send their proposals to borneoartcollective@gmail.com. More info here.

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