Experiencing Art with OH! Open House

Liana Yang and Robin Chua for 10th anniversary
By Tanya Singh

Invitation to ‘Everything Counts in Large Amounts’. Image courtesy of Liana Yang and Robin Chua.

Invitation to ‘Everything Counts in Large Amounts’. Image courtesy of Liana Yang and Robin Chua.

Spinning a unique narrative around the theme of labour, ‘Everything Counts in Large Amounts’, the OH! Open House SG Calendar’s Labour Day chapter was open “for viewing” over the weekends all through the month of May. The “experience” curated by artists Liana Yang and Robin Chua, and facilitated by the OH! and SG Calendar curators, Yen Phang and Kirti Upadhyaya, was a four-month programme scattered with art, quests and conversations. The show explored themes and concepts such as the fetishisation of labour and the fast diminishing difference between work and leisure. A mix-bag of experiential elements and contextual references, the exhibition serves as a great base for discussing OH! Open House’s curatorial approach since its inception in 2009.

From the neighbourhood art walkabouts to the artist-audience collaborations in their latest production, Passport, the OH! team has continually striven to introduce new ways of experiencing art and bridge the gap between the artist and the community over a decade. “The main aim is to tell original, alternative stories through art that can connect people to our ever-changing city,” explains OH!  Assistant Director Lim Su Pei.

Liana Yang and Robin Chua, ‘Humdrum’ (detail), 2019, sound, audio speakers, stools, lamp, LED fluorescent light tubes, dimensions variable. Image courtesy of OH! Open House.

Liana Yang and Robin Chua, ‘Humdrum’ (detail), 2019, sound, audio speakers, stools, lamp, LED fluorescent light tubes, dimensions variable. Image courtesy of OH! Open House.

Liana and Robin’s works of art – soundscapes, projections and curiosities of all kinds – were housed in an old shop unit along Havelock Road that used to be a Chinese seafood restaurant. ‘Islands’, an installation made up of a random assortment of items from the artists’ and OH!’s storage took centrestage. The sound from ‘Undertow’, a 3-channel video projection acted like an invisible guide through the space, instructing the audience where to go and how to feel. Placed isolated from the rest of the show, the installation titled ‘Humdrum’ invited visitors to be alone with their thoughts.

The experiential quality present in the show is a recurring element in all of OH!’s productions, be it an art walkabout unlocking stories from within a neighbourhood or an artist and homeowner working together to create a meaningful encounter for visitors. “The audience’s journey is an important part of every OH! programme,” says Assistant Curator Kirti Upadhyaya. The audience becomes an integral part of the ideation and curation processes, closing the distance between the creator and his or her community.

In the past, OH! has organised a number of programmes or “art walks” in neighbourhoods such as Joo Chiat, Marine Parade, Tiong Bahru and Holland Village that catered to those interested in discovering a different side to their local neighbourhoods. The programmes included visits to people’s homes and unnoticed public locations that were all individually investigated and responded to by the participating artists. With each location, elements that would interest the local audiences were brought into the narrative by artists and curators to create a journey into the cultural history of that particular area.

An image of a page in one of the Zines created by Liana Yang and Robin Chua for SG Calendar: Labour Day. Image courtesy of Liana Yang and Robin Chua.

An image of a page in one of the Zines created by Liana Yang and Robin Chua for SG Calendar: Labour Day. Image courtesy of Liana Yang and Robin Chua.

Prior to the show, Liana and Robin had organised a set of quests for the participants over a span of three months. The completion of each quest led the visitor to a unique spot of labour: Books Actually, White Label Records and Ruby Photo. At each of the locations, the participants were given a zine created by the artists. The zine, a pastiche of digital artworks, collages, writings, activities and puzzles, was a result of the artists’ shared love for physical media and a way for them to begin a conversation with their audiences.

Facilitating a sense of intimacy with the works of art is another key characteristic in programmes by OH!. “The time spent in conversation about the artwork becomes its life,” says SG Calendar curator Yen Phang. Each programme is also strategically planned following the initial ideation stages; the audience becomes the centrepiece of the puzzle and everything else is gradually built up from there. The artists are chosen based on their practices and the requirements of what the OH! team has planned. “It is a two-way relationship. We need to be interested in what they do and they have to believe in what OH! does,” says Su Pei. The decision on the locations for the shows is also a central one, more so for the neighbourhood art walkabouts where a large part of the experience is extracted from the neighbourhood itself. “Site-specificity is explored in different ways through the various projects OH! does”, explains Kirti. “We let the ideas behind the project and stories we want to explore guide us in terms of choosing spaces to work with”. With the addition of each new piece of the puzzle, the idea becomes bigger, stronger and more layered.

The four zines when put together form a single collage work. Image courtesy of Liana Yang and Robin Chua.

The four zines when put together form a single collage work. Image courtesy of Liana Yang and Robin Chua.

“As a collaborative effort, we often had to conceptualise collectively, with plenty of discussions and sparring,” says Liana Yang and Robin Chua about their experience working on the project. “This led to many creative crazy ideas, which was pretty invigorating.” From the formulation of the programme to the show itself, the focus on the collaborative process over the end product remains a constant for the OH! team as well as the artists involved. The agenda is to bring to light the entire creative process with all its ups and downs and in doing so make it available to the community at large. Each work of art is an investment, from the artist to the audience, from the curator to the artist and also from the audience to the artist and curator, to create an art experience that is a sensorial, mental and physical adventure.  


Liana and Robin will be selling the zines created for OH! Open House during the Singapore Art Book Fair at NTU CCA, Gillman Barracks from 28-30 June 2019.