Singapore’s most beloved icon is more often appreciated at a distance rather than up close, but that’s not to say one can’t get intimate with her. The idea of bathing and sleeping right next to the Merlion may not have crossed many a minds, but it did Japanese artist Tatzu Nishi’s.
If you were back in Singapore right now, you might be shocked to learn the Merlion near the mouth of the Singapore River is nowhere to be seen. Yet it might offer you some comfort to know she’s neither been removed nor relocated.
You see, the Merlion is now enclosed in a world of its own, in a 100 square-metre structure known as The Merlion Hotel. It is specially commissioned for the Singapore Biennale 2011, an arts event now in its third edition that aims to engage the public in the field of contemporary arts and foster collaborations with the international art community. The luxurious hotel room, albeit temporary, is equipped with a queen-sized bed, bathroom, balcony and furniture such as a couch. It is designed by a man who has had a wealth of international experience building domestic spaces around objects in the public domain, such as monuments and artworks. Nishi’s concept is to offer the public a fresh perspective, by enclosing something that is taken for granted or perceived as mundane in a private and intimate environment.
The Merlion Hotel
When Nishi first visited last January on a research trip, he had about seven landmarks and installations in mind that he could work with. Among them were Sir Stamford Raffles’ statue at Clarke Quay and a “big television antenna” at Fort Canning Park. The Merlion was finally selected given it was an iconic landmark of Singapore and one visited by many. The hotel room was constructed to draw a parallel to Singapore’s image as a port city, where people all over the world converge to trade; hotels likewise are meeting points for people of different countries.
Tatzu Nishi holding the Merlion cocktail posing in front of the Merlion
By allowing visitors access into The Merlion Hotel in the day and “hiding” it in the evening for hotel guests to check in and spend the night, the distinction between public and private space is blurred. This is exactly what Nishi wants to achieve—making art accessible to everyone. Moreover, by allowing the public to come in close contact with the Merlion, he hopes to encourage greater interaction between people and the sculpture that is usually out of reach.
The welcome basket
The greatest difficulty Nishi faced was in the aspect of interior design as his past experiences were with bronze and golden statues, never with a white sculpture. Such was the challenge that the artist resorted to changingthe wallpaper of the room three days ago after he first set eyes on it last Friday. The size of the windows was another challenge since he had to make the windows big enough so tourists can still catch a glimpse of the Merlion while maintaining intimacy for hotel guests. With the hotel receiving its first walk-in guests this Sunday, this is Nishi’s assessment of his completed artwork and installation, “I am very happy and satisfied with what I have created.”
The restroom overlooking Marina Bay
So do cherish the fantastic opportunity to come face to face with the Merlion in The Merlion Hotel and see for yourself the uncanny art installation that Nishi has created.
The Merlion Hotel
Walk-in Dates: 13 March to 15 May 2011
Viewing Hours: 10 am- 7pm daily
Location: The Merlion, One Fullerton
For more information, visit: www.singaporebiennale.org
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