Popular art walkabout canned

Artist Alan Oei in a room which is part of the interactive experiential exhibition The End Of History, where audience members are led through a shophouse filled with paintings.

SINGAPORE - OH! Open House, the popular annual art walkabout which turned Housing Board flats and Marina Bay offices into temporary public galleries, has been put on hold.

Started in 2009, OH! Open House, which was last held in January, has received a warm reception for its four editions in Selegie, Marine Parade, Tiong Bahru and the Marina Bay financial area, drawing more than 5,000 visitors in total.

But its creator Alan Oei, 37, says the lack of funds is the main reason for shelving the event "indefinitely".

Each edition cost between $150,000 and $200,000 to stage, but only 30 per cent of this was covered by grants and corporate sponsorship last year. Despite healthy ticket sales, the project still ended up in the red.

"Open House was me trying to create new ways for people to experience art," he explains.

"You don't always just go and consume art, you have a tour and going in a group is a social experience as well."

A painter, curator and the artistic director of art space Sculpture Square, Oei is now finding other ways to create such unique projects, such as his upcoming experiential exhibition.

Called The End Of History, it opens at an undisclosed location on Friday and is a spin-off of his controversial 2009 performance, These Children Are Dead.

The original play featured veteran actress Nora Samosir, who convinced the audience of the existence of a fictional painter Huang Wei who supposedly lived in Singapore in the 1950s.

At the end of the performance, it was revealed that the paintings created by Huang Wei were actually the work of Oei - a twist which questioned the validity and construct of history.

Oei's upcoming exhibition is a lot more interactive.

While there will be about 30 paintings on display, the audience will not be viewing them in a conventional gallery space.

Rather, they will have to navigate a series of passages, doorways and rooms in groups of eight, guided by a trio of actors, as they explore and discover the paintings along the way.

By taking the art out of a formal setting and putting it in his own created space, Oei says he is "stripping away the rules, so that the viewers are no longer in a place where conventions exist".

This project is also his attempt to create "a moment".

"You can go to a museum many, many times, but suddenly a moment of magic can happen for you, when a painting, for no reason, can hold you under its spell completely, and you can just sit there for hours looking at it."

For audience members, the experience begins the moment they sign up for the exhibition, as they will receive a key and a handwritten letter with instructions and the location by post.

On sending the instructions by snail mail, Oei says he was "just trying to break with everyday life today, as we're always connected to our phones, social media, and everything's electronic. It's nice to do something analog".

On the day itself, audience members will enter a gloomy room that looks like a 19th-century salon, with floor-to-ceiling paintings covering the walls and a pervading sense of melancholy.

That sense of moroseness is something which Oei hopes to capture.

"In the past, painters were king-makers. They could represent power and not only could they depict the world, but they could also conjure new universes," he says.

"But the world has changed so that painting no longer holds that power. For me as a painter, there's a great sense of grief, loss and yearning for that era."

lting@sph.com.sg

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