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
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
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
‘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
‘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.’
‘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.’
‘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.