Andrew: Jasmine and I always have this mock-argument about whether Toa Payoh or Katong is better. (Jasmine: What do you mean "mock argument"? I’m dead serious…) I argue that Toa Payoh is infinitely more convenient than Katong. It is even nearer to Orchard Road – Dearie’s ‘second home’. Yet, Jasmine remains firm that Katong is much better because it has so much character and history – which I, unfortunately, can’t deny. It has so much history and character that it was the choice of this year’s Open House Exhibition 2011, an art exhibition that brings art out of the museum and into people’s homes.
Jasmine and I were rather disappointed with the first installation of OH last year (which we wrote about here), but I must say that the both of us did enjoy this year’s OH. As with most art exhibitions, there were the usual hits and misses, but it was overall an enriching, fascinating experience that made me feel that I was temporarily transported into another world.
Our tickets entitled us to a free scoop of bandung ice-cream with every scoop we bought at Scoop of Art, so we sat down and had some ice-cream since we had time to spare before our tour began.
Sea-salt Caramel with Mars Bars & Bandung Ice-Cream with Atap Chee
We began our tour at 5.15 p.m. and made our way to the first stop…
Blk 32 – Kei’s apartment
We didn’t take any photos in Kei’s apartment, but the exhibit in this place was a series of Zhao Renhui’s photographs of dolphin sightings in East Coast in the past. I’ve never really been able to appreciate Zhao Renhui’s works, but this series did capture my attention as I initially could not believe that the photographs were Singapore. Yet, undeniably, the pictures were so alluring and ‘romantic’ with the warm glow of them that I just started to imagine a more idyllic, scenic Singapore in the past, much like New Zealand. When the intention of the photos were eventually explained to us, I was even more interested to go back and look at the photos again.
Blk 32- Anthea’s apartment
Andrew: I can’t remember who did this, but it was meant to recreate how the view from the window would look like at night with the holes mimicking the ‘patterns’ of windows from the flats at night.
(Jasmine: I felt that this "curtain" –for lack of a better word– should have been installed in the first home to convey the sense of someone from the inside looking out. That would have brought the entire exhibition full circle upon reaching the installation at the last home, which toys with the notion of someone from the outside looking in.)
‘Untitled’ by Willy Lee – We were told that this piece of art was also used to cover up the cracks in the wall of the flat.
(Jasmine: The cracks were caused by seismic shock, and the abstract paintings, with its hurriedly filled-in lines captured the artist’s response to the tremors. )
Jes Brinch’s installation which literally turned the room upside down.
One gripe I have with the overall Open House experience was with the issue of time. There were points at the exhibition which I felt I really wanted to stay and appreciate what the artist was doing, but due to time constraints, we could only spend at most 5 minutes in each place.
I really enjoyed the experience of being in Anthea’s house and appreciating the various art pieces. It was evident from the decor of the place that this was an intensely privately individual who had clearly defined her home as a space for only one person and nobody else. There were some of her own art pieces in the house and they were rather shocking pieces, which I felt ‘pushed’ me away from the home.
However, the art pieces chosen told a different story, revealing a person who still wanted to be attached to the world while being private, like the curtain which replicated the window view without having to actually draw the curtain. The upside down room was just so fascinating that I really wanted to enter, but it was so interesting that the moment I stepped in, the guide immediately told me, “NO, Don’t STEP IN, it will break!” She had a very panicky tone which just reinforced that tension between drawing in and keeping away which I felt throughout this home. I’m not saying that this is what the home-owner is like, but this is my interpretation of it based on the dialogue between her home and the art pieces.
1st Bengawan Solo
Before we went up Blk 58, our tour guide informed us that this was the first ever Bengawan Solo in Singapore!
Blk 58 – Lift Landing
Andrew: The most fun piece of the whole Open House has to be Yen Lin Teng’s installation. She created images of bicycles, lifts and bird cages using black tape and these images could only be viewed if you stood at certain points. We really had a lot of fun with this piece!
Andrew waits for the lift
Can you tell which railing is real and which is made of duct tape?
What I found extremely fascinating was how Yen merged her ‘tape drawings’ with the existing furnishings of the space (like the picture above). She even added black-tape on the existing lamps and lights to ‘include’ them in her art piece. This was a piece that was so distinctly site-specific that you could never imagine it existing in a gallery or museum. This piece challenged my notion of art as being decorative and aesthetic. What her piece did with the space went beyond merely decorating it to creating so much more that people could do and enjoy about the space. I liked it!
(Jasmine: I too found this extremely successful because it was so accessible. It was not what one would call highbrow art, but anyone, from a seasoned museum-goer to a random passer-by , would have fun interacting with this whimsical work . Its out-in-the-open location also took the concept of Open House one step further, by creating public art meant for the masses to enjoy.)
Blk 58- Mel and Marcel’s apartment
A sculpture made of clay by an Indonesian artist, which was meant to contrast hardness and softness. Every other clay "house" was inscribed with the silhouette of a withering tree, which made me wonder if the artist was commenting on the state of the modern family.
More works from the owners’ private collection
Andrew: Mel and Marcel are art collectors themselves and all of the piece shown above belong to them. I admit that I was more fascinated by their book collection in their study than the art pieces above. The art pieces were interesting individually, especially one piece done by a Vietnamese artist which had chairs swept away by a flood with a pop song faintly inscribed in the background.
It was rather obvious from what our guide told us that Mel and Marcel were collectors of Asian contemporary art. I heard a radio programme a week ago on Asian contemporary art and the artist was commenting on how artists in Asia lack the infrastructural support that artists in the West have. Hence, while there may be just as many budding artists in Asia, they do not have as many exhibition spaces where they can really showcase their work prominently. Perhaps they can really consider bringing this Open House concept overseas then as I can immediately imagine how some of these pieces would be greatly enhanced in an Indonesian/Vietnamese residence as opposed to a rather ubiquitous exhibition space which will suppress rather than bring out the meanings of the piece.
Blk 54 – Josephine’s apartment
Andrew: Every house has an art piece like the one above which is meant to be a eulogy written by the owner(s) of the residences.
(Jasmine: A good attempt to provide a connecting thread amongst all five houses through the "Eulogist" pieces. However, while they were useful in providing some background on the owners, the "Eulogist" pieces seemed more like a display of stylish topography rather than actual art. It seemed to be the home decor version of those little white cards in museums that explain art pieces.
If Open House had a souvenir store, they might do good business selling customised Eulogist photo frames and postcards.)
Andrew: There were many art pieces of gymnasts training and a video installation (which was a compilation of these paintings) in one of the smaller rooms.
Andrew: In the middle of the kitchen was this installation titled ‘Tremor’, which would vibrate every few minutes and we would hear the glasses rattling against each other. This was meant to replicate the tremors that residents in Marine Parade experience from time to time.
What photographs cannot capture was the accompanying sound-scape that was being looped in this house, which I thought was more effective than the art works themselves. I can’t say these pieces really worked for me. If the intention was to create a sense of sympathy towards for these gymnasts, then I felt it didn’t quite work as I felt rather distant from them. The ‘tremor’ piece was interesting, but rather oddly placed in this residence and didn’t seem to cohere with the theme that the other paintings were conveying.
(Jasmine: I also took issue with the lack of polish in its presentation. It looked like an amateur cocktail bar or school music project.)
Our only (but failed) attempt to get a shot of ourselves
Blk 5 – Angeline’s apartment
Andrew: As the tour guide pointed out, this installation was rather well-placed as the final piece of this tour as it really brought to the forefront the theme of voyeurism, which was actually what we had been doing throughout the tour.
When we entered the house, there was actually a dropcloth draped to cover up the living room, with only small little peepholes throughout the cloth. There were even peepholes that required us to climb up a small ladder to look in. On the other side of the cloth was the installation composed of items which were Angeline’s. There was also a woman, who was supposed to be ‘playing’ Angeline, living her life as per normal on the other side. She would sit down, walk around, play the piano while we peeked in on her through the peep-holes.
We tried taking photos through the peep-hole and the result was rather eerie:
This was another piece I felt I wanted more time to just admire and experience. We spent way too little time here for me to fully take in what the piece was trying to convey. All I got from the piece was that it was an attempt to make more obvious the voyeurism that we had been engaging in throughout the entire tour.
(Jasmine: This site-specific installation was created using Angeline’s belongings. I thought that this was one of the best pieces because its amplification of our voyeurism (going to strangers’ homes) forced us to confront rather difficult ideas such as intrusion, privacy and personal space. I felt guilty (for eavesdropping on what seemed like an intensely personal moment) but at the same time fascinated to see more. Being made to crouch or climb to see through the peepholes reinforced that sense that we as voyeurs are not just accidental consumers but active seekers too. )
Andrew: Coincidentally, Angeline – the owner of the place – was home when we were there too and she was dressed almost like the woman who was supposed to play her!
So, all in all, OH 2011 was indeed a fulfilling, though admittedly rather rushed experience. Overall, I think visitors would benefit from a more flexible tour arrangement which allows them to choose how long they want to dwell at each pace, though I understand the space and time constraints. Nonetheless, we still enjoyed the experience a lot and are looking forward to OH 2012!
(Jasmine: We encountered a couple of homes where the various pieces of art seemed disjointed, so perhaps the curators could consider commissioning art along a broad theme for next year’s OH?)