It was around midday on the first Sunday of 2013 that I found myself on an exploration of what can be said to be secret spaces around Marina Bay, an exploration which was to lead me and the group I found myself in the company of, to the search for happiness during which I did also find love. It was an exploration of places and spaces in which we might have expected love and happiness to be in short supply including a lawyer’s office and as well as the offices, meeting spaces and even a boardroom and trading floor of one of the world’s largest financial institutions.
The search for happiness did lead us to a seemingly happy space – the offices of Google Asia Pacific. There I did momentarily find that elusive emotional state – I was very happy to have a peek into Google’s much talked about working spaces. The goal however was a happy looking abstract art installation, Eeshaun’s ‘The Search for Happiness’, one of several installations awaiting discovery along a rather unique trail, touted as Singapore’s only art walkabout, OH! (or Open House). OH! Marina Bay, The Happiness Index, is the latest edition – three previous sell-out events had some 5,000 strangers taking a look at art installations in real life homes in Niven Rd (2009), Marine Parade (2011) and Tiong Bahru (2012).
For OH! Marina Bay, there is a shift from the more personal and intimate spaces that the previous OH!s explored. For the latest edition, participants take a look instead into corporate Singapore. This shift is explained by Alan Oei, the co-founder and curator: “I thought Marina Bay was all office, glass, steel and mirrors. But there is a secret and fascinating life beneath all that. In many ways, one can look at it as manifesting a kind of zeitgeist. It’s a really interesting moment in Singapore now, and the arts should be part of that conversation.”
That the arts is part of the conversation, OH! leaves little doubt. OH! Marina Bay features the installations of twelve artists, in very different and exclusive locations. There is a little bonus in that as well as the installations (some of which I could identify with), the walkabout does offer that peek into the ultra modern offices of major financial institutions housed in the glass and steel structures which have risen where the sea once stood – as well as taking participants back some three decades to an office that once housed the practice of renowned architect Tay Kheng Soon, who played a role in shaping the architectural landscape of Singapore back then. The office, now hosts the law practice of Ann Tan and Associates, and does still bear some evidence of Tay’s interventions within its space.
It was at the lawyer’s office that one of what I did think was one of the more interesting installations – sound artist Tan Peiling’s ‘And they gathered them together in heaps’ was to be discovered. Set amongst stacks of documents stored in files are the records that perhaps have not been stored – a visual record as well as one of the sounds of the old harbour – once only an earshot away.
The installations that to me delighted the most however was Joy Abigail Ho’s lighthearted and interactive piece at the first stop, as well as the tea ladies dancing to the strains of Bengawan Solo entertain also at the first stop. And it is for this as well as the little discoveries along the way that makes OH! Marina Bay worth the two hours spent.
There was a little to discover as well of the area’s development history. Land reclamation which started in the 1970s has shaped much of what we do see today, including the Marina Bay Financial Centre (MBFC). It is from there as well as from the offices visited where we are able have a better appreciation of this, as well as have a peek into the future of the area. Just beyond the MBFC we see a multitude of cranes, cranes which help in the spread of the new downtown southwards on what is now bare reclaimed land. It is also a less known fact that even the area we see as the older part of the financial district centred on Shenton Way, was in fact built on land some of which was reclaimed as far back as the 1880s – the shoreline prior to that had been located at Telok Ayer Street!
It is close to where the walkabout began – at Deutsche Bank’s offices which does offer a great view of the past, the present and perhaps the future from its boardroom, where it ends. It is here where the largest collection of works can be found – including many which is in the bank’s own collection. It is also here where we find love, which takes the form of a love bomb – a bomb like installation with the Chinese word for love on it. There are also some accompanying paintings which spread the message of love on the walls. It is also here where another highlight of the walkabout lies in waiting – a look at the trading floor on the 18th. The trading floor’s location was one selected for its auspicious number we are told.
There are four more days during which you can seek love and happiness in and around some of Marina Bay’s secret spaces. Further runs of OH! Marina Bay will be held on 12, 13, 19 and 20 January 2013. Tickets are $20, and can be bought only at the door from 11am, at DBS Asia Central Branch, Marina Bay Financial Centre, Tower 3, Level 3. Last tours leave at 3pm daily. See http://www.ohopenhouse.com/ for more information.