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Apr 20 2020

Tragic Death at Singapore Art Space Explained

by Pamela Wong

Exterior view of The Substation, Singapore. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

On April 16, Singapore’s coroner’s court released investigation details and findings concerning the death of the 34-year-old Australian tourist, Nicholas Charles Mcgrath, whose body was discovered at the city-state’s non-profit art center The Substation last September.

According to Today Online, state coroner Kamala Ponnampalam ruled Mcgrath’s death as “an unfortunate misadventure,” as the deceased succumbed following a series of accidents after entering the building drunk and getting lost inside. Established by the playwright and art activist Kuo Pao Kun in 1990, The Substation is considered to be the first independent contemporary arts center in Singapore, and the earliest project constructed under the National Art Council’s “Arts Housing Scheme.” The three-story building includes a theater, a dance studio, classrooms, and a 113 square-meters gallery in its space. 

Speaking to AAP, The Substation’s general manager Aikes Goh expressed his “deepest sympathy to the family and loved ones of the late Mr Nicholas Charles McGarth.” He added that “with the full co-operation of the staff and management” at the center, all details about McGrath’s death were revealed and recorded in the coroner’s findings. According to Goh, there were no exhibitions or events happening at The Substation during that period. 

Mcgrath, a construction manager at PM Electric in Australia, was on vacation with his colleagues to watch the Formula 1 Singapore Grand Prix 2019 race. At midnight on September 21, he was separated from his companions and was drinking alone at the music bar Timbre, located at the back of The Substation and connected to the art venue’s courtyard. When he opened a door leading into the art center, Timbre’s outlet manager Enrico Quijana Sto Doming and his colleague Christopher Cruz Daquil called out to him, but was met with “it’s okay” from Mcgrath. According to Daquil, they were then convinced that Mcgrath might be a staff member of The Substation, and they subsequently latched the bar’s door leading out to the courtyard at 3 am when they saw no one emerge. Mcgrath’s phone showed two failed calls for help from him to a person named Matt Banks around this time, with voice messages revealing his distressed state. Mcgrath then called Australia’s emergency number, following which he had a five-minute conversation with Police Operations Command Centre operator Radiah Jamil, but he was unable to give his current address coherently to the operator.

On the morning of September 21, Mcgrath’s body was discovered by a cleaner, and he was announced dead at 8:30 am. According to the forensic pathologist’s report, the cause of Mcgrath’s death was a deep cut on his right wrist caused by the “jagged edge of the broken window” that he smashed. He was also found with high levels of ethanol.

The state coroner concluded that there is no basis to suspect foul play nor were there evidences of the deceased harboring any suicidal behavior, saying, “It’s likely that in his inebriated state, he had wandered up to level three. Once there, he must have found the building to be dark and deserted and became disoriented and incapable of finding his way out of the unfamiliar building.”

Pamela Wong is ArtAsiaPacific’s assistant editor. 

To read more of ArtAsiaPacific’s articles, visit our Digital Library.

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