Time Out Singapore: 5 fun facts about the OH! Open House artworks

Photo: Gwen Pew

Photo: Gwen Pew

21 Mar 2015: Back after a one-year hiatus, Singapore’s only art walkabout, OH! Open House, has taken over the colourful neighbourhood of Joo Chiat this year. We don’t want to give too much away if you haven’t been on the tour yet, so we’ve decided to leave out the precise context of the works and what they’re about – but we did ask five of the artists to tell us some quirky things related to them. So here we go, let your interest be piqued!

Photo: Gwen Pew

Photo: Gwen Pew

‘SS Nimby’ by Randy Chan, Fiona Tan & Zenas Deng

‘This project involved us knocking on the doors of residents in Joo Chiat asking them to lend us their most valuable possession – something that means a lot to them, or something that they’d bring with them if they were going to a desert island. One of the items we got was an earring from one of the migrant workers. When he left Bangladesh, he and his best friend each kept one of the earrings, so it took us quite a while to persuade him to take it off and let us borrow it. We’re very grateful,’ says Chan.

Photo: Gwen Pew

Photo: Gwen Pew

‘Crease’ by Mike HJ Chang and Mark Thia

‘Mark was sleeping in the hotel room the week prior to the opening day – he was pretty much living with the art works – and he had to uninstall the light box so he can sleep safely at night. He was very worried that the light box would fall and kill him,’ says Thia.

‘The lightbox was just above my pillow and head. It was heavy. I’m not sure I was worried about being killed, but I was worried about it falling onto my lovely head!’ added Chang.

Photo: Gwen Pew

Photo: Gwen Pew

‘Ordinary Things’ by Guo Yixiu

‘While I was arranging the flowers, Mrs Tan started to help me “beautify” them by adding wire leaves on them. She later shared that when she got married, she had actually made her own artificial flowers for her bouquet. That was so interesting seeing that we opt for the fresh ones now. I think there was a sincere enjoyment of craft work in the past,’ says Guo.

Photo: Gwen Pew

Photo: Gwen Pew

‘My Name is Joo Chiat’ by Hafiz Osman

‘I came up with the idea of making a tall bike because my girlfriend is taller than me. I told her the reason I’m making a tall bike is so that, for once, I’ll be taller than her. Another fun fact is that Andrzej [one of the owners of the home Hafiz did his residency at, and who helped him build the tall bike] claims that he’s the first person to ride on the first self-made tall bike in Singapore, as I needed a test dummy to try the ride after it was build. He is very brave! But I’m the first Asian man to ride it,’ says Hafiz.

Photo: Gwen Pew

Photo: Gwen Pew

‘Shauna’ by Sean Lee

‘I bought my first wig off a mannequin display for USD30. It had probably been left there for years,’ says Lee.

Check out and find out more about these works on the OH! Open House art tour, which is happening until 29 Mar.

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Time Out Singapore: OH! Open House 2015 – Joo Chiat

Our favourite art walkabout is back! This edition of OH! Open House takes over the beautiful Joo Chiat neighbourhood, with artists presenting works after completing residencies in the homes of people who live there. Gwen Pew goes behind the scenes

OH! Open House 2015

24 Feb 2015:

Hafiz Osman’s tall bicycle sculpture

We drop by Hafiz Osman’s residency in Joo Chiat where he’s building his tall bike

Hafiz Osman (centre) with his hosts Andrzej (right) and Evie (left) Pyrka Photo: Mike Lim

Hafiz Osman (centre) with his hosts Andrzej (right) and Evie (left) Pyrka Photo: Mike Lim

It was a match made in heaven. Artist Hafiz Osman and the hosts of his residency, Andrzej and Evie Pyrka bonded immediately over their love of cycling. Hafiz first got into it around six years ago, when he started to make a little bit of money and decided to buy a bike. Evie is an avid cyclist, and her husband goes one step further – he builds his own sets of wheels in the workshop he created in the carpark of their bright, modern shophouse condo.

‘At one point, when we were still in Belgium, we had… How many bikes did we have?’ Andrzej asks. Seventeen, Evie replies with a wry smile. ‘Seventeen,’ Andrzej nods. ‘We had bikes everywhere in the house, except the bedroom because Evie wouldn’t allow it.’ But even that’s nothing, he says, because there’s a guy who currently lives down the road from them who has around 150 vintage bikes in perfect condition.

And as it turns out, Joo Chiat is a hotspot for cyclists, which serves as the perfect starting point for the piece Hafiz plans on creating. ‘I want to make a tall bicycle,’ he tells us on the first afternoon of his three-day residency at the Pyrkas’ home. What’s that, you ask? It’s essentially a bike that’s literally twice the height of a normal one. ‘Joo Chiat has a very diverse population. You get expats [like the Pyrkas], the locals, and the migrant workers whose dormitories are also here. And I feel like the bike is something that can bring all these groups together. While I’ve been on a tall bike in Paris, there isn’t one in Singapore as far as I know. So I thought it’d be fun to get everyone together and build one.’

His works have always been very community-centred – the last project he did with The Art Incubator, for instance, involved getting his neighbours together when his home in Hillview went en bloc – so he’s looking to continue developing that theme through his current work. ‘For me, this residency is more about getting to know the people rather than the space,’ Hafiz says, adding that he’ll be going to a barbecue with the Pyrkas’ fellow bike enthusiasts later that evening. ‘I want to be able to relate to and work with my hosts.’

He plans on showcasing both the tall bike and a documentation of the process of its creation at OH! Open House.

See Hafiz Osman’s work at Sandalwood Condo, 162 Tembeling Rd.

Loneliness and hotels

We chat with Mike HJ Chang and Mark Thia on their installation at Fragrance Hotel

Mike HJ Chang (left) and Mark Thia (right). Photo: Mike Lim

Mike HJ Chang (left) and Mark Thia (right). Photo: Mike Lim

‘I like hotels because there’s a sense of loneliness about them,’ Mark Thia says matter-of-factly. ‘You often stay in them when you’re travelling, and you’re by yourself with no one to call and only the TV for company.’

His collaborator, Mike HJ Chang – who grew up in the US and used to stay in a lot of motels – agrees. ‘I like hotel rooms because of the decorations,’ he explains as he admires the bare, dirty-pink walls of the tiny Fragrance Hotel room that we’re all crammed into. It’s the third time he’s doing a residency – or staycation, in other words – there. ‘There’s something nice about how generic everything looks, how there’s nothing unique about them. I like the idea of the person in the next room looking at the same scene as I am.’

It’s not the first time that Thia and Chang have collaborated on a project. Despite admitting they work in different ways, they share a very similar vision. ‘I work very quickly, and Mark works very slowly. He’s borderline OCD,’ Chang laughs. ‘But we understand each other’s taste and sense of aesthetic. That’s why when OH! approached me for their project, I asked if I could bring Mark on board. Collaborating makes it more challenging.’

The duo had already been discussing their piece for a few weeks when we met them, although the exact details have yet to be firmed up at this time of writing. They’ll use a room without windows, with artworks on the walls: a lightbox with a photograph of light piercing through fog on one, a sculpture on another, and a video playing on the TV. The lights will also be turned off, making the experience not especially comfortable for guests, they describe. But it’s not meant to be. ‘We want to look at the idea of loneliness by creating a mood that’s eerie, melancholic and even creepy,’ says Thia. ‘Just like how motels feel to lone travellers.’

See Mike HJ Chang and Mark Thia’s work at Fragrance Hotel, 219 Joo Chiat Rd.

Occupy Joo Chiat

Randy Chan

‘My work, “NIMBY the Ark, a Refuge for Collective Memories”, is literally a tongue-in-cheek update of Noah’s Ark – a maritime vessel in a corner of Joo Chiat. The vessel contains personal objects donated from the residents of the neighbourhood that one will want to bring along as if it were their last day on Earth.’

Guo Yixiu

‘In my work, I sought to challenge our conception of space. Audiences enter the back of the house via a “garden” recreated with objects commonly found in all households. And upon departure, a welcome doormat is placed at the entrance of the door, facing not inwards, but outwards towards the public space.’

Alecia Neo

‘Joo Chiat is a melting pot of religions. My work taps on finding faith and how individuals seek out and develop rituals to find new purpose and meaning in life. I draw parallels between my experience in Bali with various Hindu cleansing rituals and encounters with spiritual men, and astrology reading.’

OH! Open House is at various venues in Joo Chiat every weekend from Mar 14-29.

Time Out Singapore: OH! Open House 2013

A strategically placed mirror in Marina Bay. Photo courtesy of Samuel He.
A strategically placed mirror in Marina Bay. Photo courtesy of Samuel He.

4 Jan 2013: After invading the residential neighbourhoods of Niven Road, Marine Parade and Tiong Bahru the past three years, OH! Open House is back once again – with the theme ‘happiness index’. Aptly enough, they will be targeting the very heart of our financial district, Marina Bay.

It’s perhaps not the most conducive area for hosting the experimental art event – the idea behind it is to allow 13 artists to give selected private spaces a creative makeover, and then open their doors to the public – and indeed, it wasn’t easy bringing art into some of the corporate spaces.

‘The most straightforward difficulty, as you might imagine, is persuading corporates to put up art that is more challenging [than paintings on walls],’ says Alan Oei, curator and co-founder of the art walkabout. ‘But really, it is more than that. It’s about how to put art inside these very singular spaces designed for very singular reasons – how does the artwork not fade into the background, how does it work with and against its environments?’

All of which makes the concept of OH! all the more pertinent for Marina Bay. ‘People like the voyeurism of OH! – to be able to enter a perfect stranger’s bedroom to see art. But we thought a different, more thoughtful encounter could also arise. Most of all, we want visitors to see the insides of Marina Bay and have a conversation about it,’ says Oei.

‘Marina Bay is representative of Singapore in many ways. It’s designed top-down and made to manifest our ambitions to be a “global city”. We think there are many different stories and encounters by which you can experience it. The artists hopefully can show you a different understanding [of the area].’  Here’s what some of the artists have in store:

Eeshaun

A self-taught artist influenced by Surrealism, illustrations and his love for improvisation, jazz music, dance and street art, Eeshuan has created artworks for international brands and Zouk. He was included in the ‘20/20 BASE’ exhibition at the Singapore Design Festival in 2007, which featured 20 rising creative local talents, and is currently teaching at the School of Technology for the Arts in Republic Polytechnic. His works have been shown recently at The Orange Thimble café (‘Chasing Dreams: The Remaking of Tiong Bahru’, 2012) and The Substation (‘Synaesthesia’, 2011).

For OH! ‘My piece is a giant, colourful abstract painting (1.2m by 2.4m) that’s up on the wall – the idea is for people to look at it and search for happiness inside and within themselves, since a part of the OH! theme related to the happiness index. As I’ll be working within a space inside the Google office. I think the idea of looking/searching for something is quite appropriate.

Mintio

Trained as a photographer, Mintio tries to incorporate elements of otherworldliness into her works. She was first featured at the 2010 Singapore International Photography Festival, where she was a finalist for the Portfolio Review, and has since exhibited at the Singapore Art Museum, 2902 Gallery,Valentine Willie Fine Art and abroad.

For OH!
‘I’ll be building a light installation in the DBS building that is made up of photographs printed on transparent acrylic sheets and lit from behind and above to create something almost like a stained glass effect. The images will show Singapore River at night, charting the landscape from its start at Kim Seng Road to Marina Barrage. I came up with the idea after spending some time with the other participating artists looking out at the river during on a recon trip for OH!. Several quirky facts and stories surrounding the topic of the Singapore River emerged [and it occurred to me] that the river, with its histories and significance, can be more than an icon – it’s also a repository for new memories.’

Sherman Ong

Award-winning artist, photographer and filmmaker Ong has shown his works at art biennales, film festivals and museums around the world. He is particularly interested in the human condition and relationships, as demonstrated by his acclaimed on-going project ‘Motherland’, which consists of a series of videos showing urban dwellers speaking candidly about their lives and experiences as immigrants – migrating mostly from China – living in Singapore.

For OH! ‘I’ll be presenting a short film from my “Motherland” project at the DBS building entitled Xiao Jing, which is about a mainland Chinese woman who comes to Singapore to find a better life – and maybe love.’

Shubigi Rao

Rao moved to Singapore to obtain her Master’s degree in Fine Art at Lasalle in 2008, where she now lectures about art theory part-time. The award-winning artist’s wide range of interest includes archeology, literature, cultural histories, environmental issues and more; her drawings, etchings and hand-made books have featured in exhibitions at Valentine Willie Fine Art (‘Beyond LKF’, 2010) and the 2008 Singapore Biennale. ‘I find the process and result say a lot about destructive human tendencies and deliberate acts of violence – not just physical, but fiscal too, if you’ll pardon the pun,’ she says.

For OH! ‘My piece consists of books with text and drawings by me, which are then soaked in fountain pen ink so that most of their content dissolves in the very medium it was created with. The books function almost as place settings in the boardroom of Deutsche Bank – suggesting the unpalatable swallowing of uncomfortable facts [as a result of] the callousness and attitude of self-serving delusion that pervades the banking world. Also, I was quite tickled by posters in the pantry of overly-elaborate and rigid emphasis on place setting and meal serving. There was even a rigidly proscribed formal direction for serving muffins!’’

Spell #7

Known for their use of multi-media, online technologies and music, this Singapore-based performance company was founded in 1997 by local lady Kaylene Tan and Paul Rae from the UK. They won the Life! Theatre Award for Best Script for their play Balance in 2003, and their works have since gone on to be performed at the Singapore Arts Festival and the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. They are, however, no strangers to performing in quirkier spaces, having previously showcased their theatrical pieces in nightclubs, a converted convent and even an office.

For OH!
‘We’ll be holding surprise performances in DBS’ Super Social Hubwhere we burst out in song periodically. The piece deals with the loss of the Singapore River with the construction of the Marina Barrage and the Marina Bay offices. We’re also drawing from the invisible workers who work in the mega structures. We’ll be collaborating with a group of spunky seniors. Sing along if you know the words!’