Let adults sleep over at museums

In bed, some Singaporeans are poor lovers and worse sleepers.

This observation may not be a stretch, going by the surveys of condom-maker Durex and consumer technology company Jawbone, which produces a digitised wristband that monitors how users move and sleep.

The most recent global sexual well-being survey by Durex, released in 2011, ranked Singaporeans second lowest in the world for satisfaction in sexual pleasure. Of the 506 respondents polled in Singapore, only 58 per cent are satisfied in bed by their partners. In total, 29,000 people in 36 countries were surveyed for the report.

A recent study by Jawbone on the movement and sleep patterns of people in 45 cities in 19 countries, on the other hand, found Singapore to be the third most sleep-deprived city. More than 5,000 users of its wristband in each city were polled and those in Singapore averaged 6 hours and 32 minutes of sleep a night, ahead of only residents of Seoul and Tokyo.

The average amount of sleep a night calculated by the study takes into account the time users take to fall asleep, moments when they awaken during the night and the quality of sleep. Early bedtime and long hours spent in bed offer no immunity against fitful, restless nights.

There are various remedies for these ills, including pills to pop. Or smart technology to purchase, to track one's circadian rhythms and, in turn, offer some comfort, if not control, through knowledge.

But why not try art and heritage? No, I don't mean using it as pillow talk or to bore one to snores, although such an effect is possible on some people, and with some works of art. A sleepover at a museum or an art space may hold the promise of sweet dreams.

This thought came to mind on two recent occasions. The first was the 50-hour performance at 72-13 Mohamed Sultan Road, Give Me Your Blood And I Will Give You Freedom, by Indian artist Nikhil Chopra. Commissioned for the Singapore International Festival of Arts, the work involved the artist taking on different personas while loosely evoking memories and histories from around the World War II period.

It spanned a weekend and visitors were encouraged to return to the performance over the course of its run to witness the transformation of the white cube space. Two couples in the audience chose to sleep over the first night and one pair came prepared with pillows, a blanket and a mattress in tow - staying the night proved too irresistible.

A digital projection surrounded the room in an indigo swath with flickering dots of irregular size strewn across it. The dreamy image seemed to dissolve the studio walls and channel the spirit of painter Vincent Van Gogh's The Starry Night - a silent night when all is calm, and you watch stars wink at you up-close until you drift off to sleep on your lover's arm.

This idea of getting in bed with art is neither novel nor unpopular here.

In 2011, artist Tatzu Nishi's Merlion Hotel was fully booked within an hour of being open for reservations. The month-long art installation, commissioned for the Singapore Biennale, featured a luxury hotel suite that enclosed the iconic half-lion half-fish statue (the fountain spewing from the Merlion's mouth was switched off). The artist's aim: to have people interact with objects that are part of the everyday landscape in an unusual way. Paying $150 to sleep overnight in a room with a mythical creature is surely a dream come true.

Inspiration for curling up with art and heritage also came from news of the American Museum of Natural History in New York hosting its first adults-only sleepover earlier this month. The event is an offshoot of its successful A Night At The Museum programme for children, which shares the same title as the 2006 Ben Stiller movie where the comedian plays a night security guard at a natural history museum where artefacts come to life after sundown.

The aged 21-and-up sleepover, with admission priced at US$375 (S$469), kicks off with a champagne and jazz reception and includes a three-course dinner with wine and beer. Participants are free to decide how they want to spend the evening and they can choose from a slew of activities featuring curator-led presentations, entry to special exhibitions - Spiders Alive! for the arachnophiliacs - and a midnight viewing of the museum's stirring space show, Dark Universe.

Or one could simply roam the near-empty halls of the museum, running into the looming skeleton of a 65 million-year-old Tyrannosaurs rex and dioramas of native American life while pretending to be the protagonist in the Stiller movie. (Such behaviour is perfectly respectable in the company of other likely equally gob-smacked adults.)

Finally, after a night of culture-filled shenanigans, the sustained climax: unfurling one's sleeping bag in the Milstein Hall of Ocean Life, plunging into deep sleep under the museum's majestic 29m-long blue whale and rousing in the morning to this sublime sight.

This nocturnal experience seems hard to top, except London's Natural History Museum has been running an adults' sleepover since 2012, and turning to the animal kingdom for help in getting into the mood for bedtime. The event, which consistently sells out early with entry priced at £175 (S$362), includes among its highlights a science show that the museum bills as the "gruesome forensics and sex lives of insects", and a midnight feast of edible insects.

Museums here such as the Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall, Singapore Philatelic Museum and ArtScience Museum have held sleepovers too. But alas, they admit only children, not adults.

Changing the rules of admission, however, could prove to be a win-win situation. For art and heritage institutions, it might be a lucrative channel of revenue and a means of fostering audience loyalty. And for denizens of the city who have a difficult time in bed, it offers a fun alternative to easing one's frustration when bedtime rolls around.

One can only dream of such a night here.


This article was first published on August 26, 2014.
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