Yes, give in to your curiosity. Walk through the doors, into a room filled with more doors and more rooms.
Open your eyes wide, walk slowly, and tread carefully: these houses are not like the cosy house you grew up in, or the welcoming house of your friendly neighbour who lives at the sunny end of your happy street.
No, these houses are more akin to that of your strange distant relative, the aunt with the one glass eye who lives up in her attic in the wooden building with the creaky stairs, hallways packed with odd trinkets that seem neither quite dead, nor quite alive. Or the house you once stumbled into as a child, when your football bounced over the moss-covered wall behind the playground. It seemed abandoned, but the shadows were moving in unnatural patterns, and you swore the taxidermied platypus winked at you. You ran out, screaming, without your ball.
Tread carefully, but keep an open mind, and – above all – be curious. Be curious as you wander over to Jolene Tew‘s doll house, where colourful geometric shapes fight for space with jute-skinned clowns and pierrots, and decide for yourself what is more unnerving: being stared at by a slouching jester with soulless buttons for eyes, or the piercing gaze of an eyeless face. For a moment, you imagine yourself being trapped for all eternity inside a puppet with no eyes, a notion eerie enough to make you turn your back – did you just hear the subdued laughter of a fool? – and walk on.
The house you come to next seems pleasant enough at first: tasteful wallpaper complementing soft wooden floors and sensible furniture. You look more closely, eager to find out what the house’s inhabitants are up to. But wait – what monstrosities are these, these creatures that Jane Stephanny dreamed up in her mad imagination, and conjured out of an unholy mix of materials? You stagger back, as your eyes meet the gaze of a demonic child with the body of something from the darkest abyss at the bottom of the deepest oceans. And there: conjoint twins with golden faces, one staring into a mirror and one staring deep into your soul. You want to run, but your eyes wander over to a many-tentacled being that is begging to caress you with its human hands.
You feel you are being drawn in, powerless to resist, but then you suddenly hear a beautiful siren song pulling you away. You follow its notes, realising it is composed of not one, but two voices. Gorgeous and soothing at first, the singing turns into shouting, the screams of two women locked into a terrible battle. But these are not ordinary women, no: they too are creatures of the sea. As you watch them claw at each other’s faces with muscular limbs, you can almost taste the gold-tinged salty water spraying your lips.
You leave the fight behind, anxious to get back to more peaceful scenes. And yes, Tey Beng Tze‘s vista seems tranquil enough. You are looking at an unidentified person’s skin. Their skin, indeed, is their house in the most literal sense: they’ve spent every hour of every day living in it. You are not just looking at the skin, but peering in, seeing not their organs but their thoughts: their hopes, their dreams, their aspirations, their failures.
You feel discomfort at being an intruder into someone’s most private emotions, and you turn away. A little further, on a small table, you find Ichie Imran‘s house – not a residential house, but a house of learning. No, no longer: pupils used to quench their thirst for knowledge at this school, before an unknown calamity forced it into desolation. Perhaps it was a natural disaster, perhaps it was war, or perhaps all the students in the world grew old and outgrew the need for learning. Either way, the school books, once used to teach the most diverse of subjects to hungry minds, now lay scattered on dirty floors and under crumbling furniture.
You shudder at the thought of so much knowledge lost to the ages, and try to make your way back to a more civilised world. You walk further down the hall of Curious Houses, and come across a row of seemingly lively buildings, each occupied by a colourful bunch of characters with their own story to tell. These characters, brought to life by Julienne Mei Tan in a two-dimensional world that appears decidedly multi-dimensional, are both odd and at odds. At odds with each other, and with themselves. Their smiles, while convincing at first, fail to fully hide their struggles: they may have roofs over their heads, but do they really belong? Are they really at home? What is home anyway?
As you ponder those questions, you grow weary. You long for your own home. For your own house. You look over your shoulder, and find yourself staring into one of Sherwan Rozan‘s large windows, windows that look out onto nothing but true darkness. It is midnight, and you are tired. There are no stars in the sky. The stars have all gone out.
As the lights go out and the darkness from the starless night seeps in through the window and fills the entire space, you hear the soft chuckling of a cotton clown, and feel the tender caress of many finger-tipped tentacles.
Yes, do come in, and visit our Curious Houses. Walk through the doors, but know that you may not walk back out again.
Text by Pieter De Richter