Tatzu Nishi’s ‘Merlion Hotel’ over-hyped? Art Radar collects opinions and images

BIENNALE SINGAPORE JAPANESE ARTIST

For the duration of the Singapore Biennale 2011, The Merlion, Singapore’s national icon, will no longer tower overhead. For 32 days, members of the public will only be able to view this 8.6 metre-high mythical creature within the four walls of a temporary hotel.

Click here to read about The Merlion Hotel on the Singapore Biennale website.

Japanese photographer and public intervention artist Tatzu Nishi’s The Merlion Hotel is one of the key commissioned pieces in the third edition of the Singapore Biennale (SB2011). Themed “Open House”, SB2011 began on 13 March and will close on 15 May, 2011. The luxuriously furnished Merlion Hotel will accommodate daytime visitors and overnight guests who booked in advance through a hotline.



The project was intended to “express Singapore, the port city, as a hotel,” relates Nishi in a video interview by SB2011. Contemporary art, he says, has the ability to suggest “other possibilities to our ordinary lives” and he has “been working towards providing different possibilities since [he] was young and … will continue to work towards this goal.”

Below we publish photos taken by Art Radar on a visit to The Merlion Hotel in Singapore, accompanied by quotes from public and critics collected from press.

Tatzu Nishi, 'The Merlion Hotel', exterior view from Esplanade bridge, Singapore Biennale 2011. Image by Art Radar Asia.

Tatzu Nishi, 'The Merlion Hotel', exterior view from Esplanade bridge, Singapore Biennale 2011. Image by Art Radar Asia.

Tatzu Nishi, the artist of ‘Merlion Hotel’, has through international projects sought to entice the public to take a closer look at familiar landmarks. And he has chosen, fittingly, to work with The Merlion…. ‘The Merlion Hotel’ is not a bare-bones hotel. … It provides luxury surroundings, … but it is equally the aim of the artist to make [it] as accessible and affordable to as many as possible.


Ms Jane Ittogi, Chair of Singapore Art Museum

Tatzu Nishi, 'The Merlion Hotel', entrance, Singapore Biennale 2011. Image by Art Radar Asia.

Tatzu Nishi, 'The Merlion Hotel', entrance, Singapore Biennale 2011. Image by Art Radar Asia.

Mr. Nishi, who started this practice to bring his art closer to the public,… said he liked to ‘make the public private’ by creating an ‘inside’ around a space that is perceived as ‘outside.’


-Sonia Kolesnikov-Jessop, ‘The New York Times’

Tatzu Nishi, 'The Merlion Hotel', interior furnishing, Singapore Biennale 2011. Image by Art Radar Asia.

Tatzu Nishi, 'The Merlion Hotel', interior furnishing, Singapore Biennale 2011. Image by Art Radar Asia.

During the day, The Merlion Hotel is open to the public so anyone can take photos of this strange sight of half the beast emerging from the floor in the middle of a hotel room. It’s fun and novel. … But spending a whole night with the Merlion is a different thing altogether. It’s like the proverbial elephant in the room….


-Mayo Martin, ‘Today Online’

Tatzu Nishi, 'The Merlion Hotel', wallpaper, Singapore Biennale 2011. Image by Art Radar Asia.

Tatzu Nishi, 'The Merlion Hotel', wallpaper, Singapore Biennale 2011. Image by Art Radar Asia.

This may seem like a reinvention of Singapore’s iconic landmark but take a closer look – it’s inspiring art created by Tatzu Nishi, who’s known for his amazing series of hotels built around public monuments. For this new piece, the Japanese artist also designed the red wallpaper to go along with the red carpet and furniture.


‘The Bangkok Post’

Tatzu Nishi, 'The Merlion Hotel', bedroom, Singapore Biennale 2011. Image by Art Radar Asia.

Tatzu Nishi, 'The Merlion Hotel', bedroom, Singapore Biennale 2011. Image by Art Radar Asia.

The artwork shifts our proximity to the sculpture from one that is public to one that is completely private, in a bedroom. Sleeping right under the sculpture, the lucky visitors who get the chance to stay at the hotel share an intimate space with an iconic landmark, completely collapsing the boundaries between private and public space.


– Alison Lasek, ‘NOT-QUITE-CRITICS’

Tatzu Nishi, 'The Merlion Hotel', bedroom, Singapore Biennale 2011. Image by Art Radar Asia.

Tatzu Nishi, 'The Merlion Hotel', bedroom, Singapore Biennale 2011. Image by Art Radar Asia.

There are no more vacancies at ‘The Merlion Hotel’…. The reservation hotline switched on at 10am on Monday and an hour later, by 11.12 am, all nights were fully booked by guests eager to snuggle up to the half-lion, half-fish statue.


-Akshita Nanda, ‘The Straits Times’

Tatzu Nishi, 'The Merlion Hotel', bathroom interior, Singapore Biennale 2011. Image by Art Radar Asia.

Tatzu Nishi, 'The Merlion Hotel', bathroom interior, Singapore Biennale 2011. Image by Art Radar Asia.

One wonders how many more times the concept of a public garden developed in dialogue with local communities can be trotted out (Martha Rosler), and whether or not the act of replicating, adapting or incorporating one’s existing practice to include recognisable tokenistic elements of Singapore – Charles LaBelle’s “Corpus” (2010) from Buildings Entered, 1997-ongoing, or even Tatzu Nishi’s over-hyped ‘The Merlion Hotel’ (2011) – can be seen to constitute substantial forms of engagement.


-Pauline J. Yao, ‘Art Agenda’

Tatzu Nishi, 'The Merlion Hotel', view from bathroom, Singapore Biennale 2011. Image by Art Radar Asia.

Tatzu Nishi, 'The Merlion Hotel', view from bathroom, Singapore Biennale 2011. Image by Art Radar Asia.

From the outside, ‘The Merlion Hotel’ is a dark maroon structure with minimal architectural details or for that matter, windows. Nishi explained that in his past works windows were kept as small as possible to effectively integrate the public structure in the enclosed space. But because the Merlion is such a huge tourist attraction, he made the windows a little bigger than usual so tourists can still get a glimpse of our beloved beast from the outside.


-Xu Ci En, ‘AUGUSTMAN.Com’

Tatzu Nishi, 'The Merlion Hotel', visitors, Singapore Biennale 2011. Image by Art Radar Asia.

Tatzu Nishi, 'The Merlion Hotel', visitors, Singapore Biennale 2011. Image by Art Radar Asia.

Merging art with the city, Japanese artist Tatzu Nishi turns his talent for creating out-of-scale installations to Singapore’s humble Merlion,… giving visitors a different framework to view and value the national icon.


-Elaine Ee-Meyers, ‘CNNGo.com’

Tatzu Nishi, 'The Merlion Hotel', exterior, Singapore Biennale 2011. Image by Art Radar Asia.

Tatzu Nishi, 'The Merlion Hotel', exterior, Singapore Biennale 2011. Image by Art Radar Asia.

I’m kind of ‘internalising the exterior’ (an externalisation of the interior). In the middle of consumer culture, my act of packaging not only integrates exterior elements into interior settings, but addresses the privatisation of public spaces. Historical monuments or public constructions are turned into decorative items of the private space – I see it as ‘implementing exclusiveness’ – superficially advocating openness. It reflects the present situation of power issues in the realm of public space.


-Tatzu Nishi in ‘Designboom’ interview

Tatzu Nishi, 'The Merlion Hotel', installation, Singapore Biennale 2011. Image by Art Radar Asia.

Tatzu Nishi, 'The Merlion Hotel', installation, Singapore Biennale 2011. Image by Art Radar Asia.

For the first time in nearly forty years, the Merlion will spend about two months in a five-star hotel room. … It is part of an installation by Japanese artist Tatzu Nishi. One of his more well-known projects is building a room around a public monument, which creates a scene that is both fascinating and bizarre.


-Sharon See/Evelyn Lam, ‘Channel News Asia’

Do you think The Merlion Hotel is over-hyped or can it be considered a genuine critique of public versus private space? Leave your thoughts and comments below.

About Tatzu Nishi

Click here to read about Tatzu Nishi on the artist’s website.

Nishi was born in 1960 in Nagoya, Japan and he currently lives and works between Berlin and Tokyo. He uses scale and distance in his installations in an attempt to create surprising experiences for the viewer. His best-known projects have involved building rooms around public monuments. The artist works under a variety of names as part of each project; past names include Tatsuro Nishino, Tatzu Oozu and Tatsurou Bashi.

JK/KN/CMS

Related Topics: Japanese artists, biennale, installation

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