‘I like hotels because there’s a sense of loneliness about them,’ Mark Thia says matter-of-factly. ‘You often stay in them when you’re travelling, and you’re by yourself with no one to call and only the TV for company.’
His collaborator, Mike HJ Chang – who grew up in the US and used to stay in a lot of motels – agrees. ‘I like hotel rooms because of the decorations,’ he explains as he admires the bare, dirty-pink walls of the tiny Fragrance Hotel room that we’re all crammed into. It’s the third time he’s doing a residency – or staycation, in other words – there. ‘There’s something nice about how generic everything looks, how there’s nothing unique about them. I like the idea of the person in the next room looking at the same scene as I am.’
It’s not the first time that Thia and Chang have collaborated on a project. Despite admitting they work in different ways, they share a very similar vision. ‘I work very quickly, and Mark works very slowly. He’s borderline OCD,’ Chang laughs. ‘But we understand each other’s taste and sense of aesthetic. That’s why when OH! approached me for their project, I asked if I could bring Mark on board. Collaborating makes it more challenging.’
The duo had already been discussing their piece for a few weeks when we met them, although the exact details have yet to be firmed up at this time of writing. They’ll use a room without windows, with artworks on the walls: a lightbox with a photograph of light piercing through fog on one, a sculpture on another, and a video playing on the TV. The lights will also be turned off, making the experience not especially comfortable for guests, they describe. But it’s not meant to be. ‘We want to look at the idea of loneliness by creating a mood that’s eerie, melancholic and even creepy,’ says Thia. ‘Just like how motels feel to lone travellers.’
See Mike HJ Chang and Mark Thia’s work at Fragrance Hotel, 219 Joo Chiat Rd.