Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Straits Times : Homes wrapped up in art

Six apartments in Tiong Bahru were turned into spaces for artists to exhibit their artworks

The Straits Times
Life Section
21 February 2012
By deepika shetty
Visitors to find colourful mobiles made by artist Sokkuan Tye. -- ST PHOTOS: LAU FOOK KONG
The gentrifying estate of Tiong Bahru saw 800 visitors over the weekend attending the first weekend of the voyeristic art trail, OH! Open House.

It is an unusual art walk that steers clear of gallery settings and presents art in people's homes.

This year, its third edition, it presents works along a 2.6km route which includes The Monkey God Temple and six private residential apartments.

It will be held again this weekend.

This year, curator and artist Alan Oei and assistant curator Kimberly Shen commissioned 15 artists who presented works spanning photography, video, installation art, mixed media, interactive media and sculptures in six homes.

They picked Tiong Bahru in keeping with the spirit of Open House, which is to take art out of galleries into heartland spaces. In picking this area, Oei wanted to 'capture a snapshot of Tiong Bahru' before it is completely gentrified. The area, known for its pre-war walk-up flats, has become an enclave of hip dining spots, coffee bars and retail stores.

It was not that tough to convince people to open up their homes. Once one of them, banker Jason Ortiz, was on board for the project, he called up his friends in the area.

Drawing on the art-deco aesthetic and nostalgic charm of the conserved pre-war apartments, the artists have tried some rather unusual experiments with the spaces presented to them.

In one home - a walk-up apartment - the balcony has been transformed by local artist Green Zeng, 38, to present Mother Tongue, a tongue-in-cheek look at the use of the Chinese language and its relationship with Chinese dialects. Through a video work and posters of re-arranged slogans from the Speak Mandarin Campaign, the artwork examines the campaign and its connection with the problems facing Singapore's bilingual policy.

While most home owners were not at home as various groups trooped into their apartments on Sunday, the chatty Ortiz, dressed in shorts and a T-shirt, greeted visitors to his walk-up rental apartment with a large ceramic bowl filled with candies.

The 31-year-old, who grew up in the United States, was one of five owners photographed in the buff for the art walk. Singapore-based Taiwanese photographer Lavender Chang took the pictures while they were asleep in the nude. The blurry images portray the subjects in an unconscious state.

Although Mr Ortiz was initially reluctant about being photographed, he said he has 'really embraced the art' now.

Home owner Jason Ortiz had a room in his apartment filled with furniture made with packing material by artist Jying Tan -- ST PHOTOS: LAU FOOK KONG

'When I was approached by the organisers, it sounded cool to me. How often do you get a chance to exhibit art, apart from the painting on the wall? I felt it was a great idea to open my home to artists, show people the art and welcome them to see it,' he said.

In another bedroom, he moved all the furniture into the narrow corridor near his kitchen, allowing 24-year-old artist Jying Tan to create her installation titled Heimlich.

Her ethereal work is inspired by her memory of moving home. She has reconstructed objects from her bedroom including her bed, wardrobe, stool, table and a chest of drawers using fragile packaging material including clingwrap and 'lots of scotch tape'.

The soft-spoken artist, who is a master's student at Lasalle College of the Arts, said: 'I was very lucky as Jason gave me the key to his home. The work has been very labour-intensive and he was totally supportive of what I was doing. I started work in late October, finishing it just in time for the opening. Some people tell me it looks rather ghostly. My attempt is to look at displacement and how we adapt to different environments.'

The idea for Open House came from Mr Oliver Bettin, a trader with Deutsche Bank in Singapore. The Briton had given the garage space in his shophouse home to an artist who used it as her studio. Open House grew out of that concept of living spaces being used for art making, art viewing and art appreciation.

The first Open House took place in a row of pre-war shophouses along Niven Road in December 2009 drawing 700 people over three nights. Last year, more than 1,500 visitors traipsed through five HDB flats in Marine Parade.
Public relations professional Ping Ping Tan, who was in the Tiong Bahru neighbourhood for lunch with friends, joined the art walk by accident.

'I just stumbled upon the event, thanks to my friends. I grew up in this neighbourhood and I think this is a great way of not just seeing the artworks but also look at how people live,' said Ms Tan, 36.

Ms Samantha Chan, 26, a lecturer who has attended all three Open Houses, gave it the thumbs up.

'Every area is different and the organisers put in real thought into what they show. The art works in the environments they have been presented in.'
At the Monkey God Temple, where Singapore-based French artist Gilles Massot showed his installation with projections and wayang kulit (Indonesian shadow puppets), the mysterious stories of the Monkey God came alive.

Briton Philip Morgan, a digital media specialist who has lived in Singapore for 16 years, has volunteered at all three Open Houses. For this edition, he spent several weeks researching about the estate, reading up books, articles and 'everything available on the Internet'.

'The beauty of Open House,' he said, 'lies in finding out what lies behind closed doors.'

book it
Where: Tours start at Tiong Bahru Community Centre, 67A Eu Chin Street
When: Saturday and Sunday, 4 to 9pm. Last tour leaves at 8pm
Admission: $15 tickets sold at the door
Info: www.ohopenhouse.com

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