Home Is Where The Art Is: Chatting with Hiroko

Hiroko not only adores Herb and Dorothy (she is the official distributor of Herb & Dorothy films in Southeast Asia), but is herself a living offshoot of the female half of the famous art collecting couple. Filling her rented HDB apartment in Little India with quirky artworks each no more expensive than USD 3000 and no bigger than a hand-carry size, she lives by the motto “Art opens for everyone” – an art piece does not need to be understood to be accessible, if you like it, live with it and imagine it!

Does your collection have a theme or principle?

My earliest collections are artworks that triggered certain memories or imagination. There are the silkscreens of Brazilian artist Oscar Oiwa whose exhibitions in Japan I had helped to promote in the years between 1992 and 2001. He did some etchings of my office desk and his atelier in Tokyo in 1997 and presented these to me as a gift.

Etching by Oscar Oiwa

Etching by Oscar Oiwa

In that same year I attended a small art fair in Tokyo and bought for JPY50,000 a drawing by Kyoko Murase. Her drawings are fresh, and that particular piece portrays an affectionate moment between mother and daughter on a beach somewhere in Europe. On the theme of water, I have a photograph by Midori Mitamura of people on a boat. The natural light of the lake reminds me how summer is very special in Europe. There is something slightly scary about the scene, as if something is going to happen.

Kyoko Murase's drawing

Kyoko Murase’s drawing

Photograph by Midori Mitamura

Photograph by Midori Mitamura

My husband is a seafood supplier and I am particularly drawn to this watercolor by Yumiko Furukawa titled “Happy Flag” – it portrays in a somewhat abstract way how the fishermen in Japan raise a flag on a boat upon returning from a good catch at sea.

Yumiko Furukawa's "Happy Flag"

Yumiko Furukawa’s “Happy Flag”

I like artists who have a sense of humor. Shingo Suzuki is one of the male artists of the art collective that I used to run in Tokyo called command N who did a clever series 1/1. He played around the idea of scale – he created life-sized sculptures of the human figurines in a Monopoly game contrasted with miniature buildings using actual parts of the game set.

Shingo Suzuki's Monopoly Miniature

Shingo Suzuki’s Monopoly Miniature

In a Japanese gallery at Art Basel Hong Kong I was happy to find this beautiful glass sculpture of the everyday ‘plastic’ water bottle. I also like how the artist Ryohei Usui cheekily presents this ‘plastic bottle’ in a traditional Paulownia wooden box that would usually encase a valuable gift item in Japan.

Ryohei Usui's

Ryohei Usui’s “plastic bottle” in traditional Paulownia wooden box

I resonate with artists whose works have an element of social critique or intervention. This telephone card is the work of Tokyo artist collective Chim↑Pom. In Japan there is a problem where older people living alone would be scammed by conmen who would telephone them and pretend to be their children who needed money wired into their bank accounts for various reasons. Chim↑Pom would do the opposite – they telephoned older people and transferred money to them instead.

Chim↑Pom's telephone card design

Chim↑Pom’s telephone card design

You have been living and working in the Singapore art scene since 2010, have you collected any local artists?

In 2012 I bought for the first time the painting of a Singaporean artist Tan Guo-Liang from a gallery in Gillman Barracks. He had been a good friend – I had visited his studio, seen his past works and also the process of his new painting series. I always enjoyed conversation with him. I imagine that the flowers in the painting against the dark background are fireworks, at the same time they also remind me of the cosmos.

Tan Guo Liang's painting

Tan Guo Liang’s painting

I remembered visiting Ian Woo’s retrospective exhibition in 2011 and subsequently saw his works in other group shows. I do not buy art impulsively – I keep looking at art, wait for a piece to fit me then I buy it. Abstract paintings are not easy for me to connect with, however I realised that I had grown to like his works. The gallerist recommended me one of Ian’s paintings and I have enjoyed it ever since. Sometimes the painting looks like a girl with a skirt running at the top of a hill at night, sometimes it looks like a stroller with a baby yearning for a walk at midnight. I can certainly feel the music of his painting!

Ian Woo's painting

Ian Woo’s painting

I approached a local curator as I wanted a commissioned piece of Herb and Dorothy. I named 3 of my favorite artists and the curator recommended Hilmi Johandi – it was a perfect match as I like his touch and how he portrays the humanity of the scenes in the movie. I went on to purchase one of his signature pieces, a stop-motion painting of a street market scene of old Singapore in the 1950s. As part of the purchase I was given a DVD and thumb-drive containing the stop-motion video clip along with the painting in a retro red bag.

Hilmi Johandi's Herb and Dorothy

Hilmi Johandi’s Herb and Dorothy

Stop motion by Hilmi Johandi

Stop motion by Hilmi Johandi

Red briefcase containing a full purchase of Hilmi Johandi's stop motion works

Red briefcase containing a full purchase of Hilmi Johandi’s stop motion works

How has your collection grown?

I am drawn towards site-specific installations in recent years. Tadashi Kawamata’s interaction with local communities culminates in constructions of those shared experiences. The scale of Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s wrapped monuments using fabrics amazes me. The process of negotiating with governments, environmental committees and local communities over many years to realise a project is interesting. Collecting documentary films of such projects allows me to share the artists’ passion throughout the process despite the temporary nature of these installations.

Wooden sculpture of bridge by installation artist

Wooden sculpture of bridge by installation artist

Photography by Attilio Rapisarda

Attilio Rapisarda is a 42-year-old Singapore Permanent Resident, originally from Sicily, Italy. Attilio has been living in Singapore for seven years, working in psychiatric research and, more recently, teaching medical students. He trained in both digital and film photography at the Photographic Society of Singapore and Objectifs Centre for Photography and Filmmaking. His main photographic interests lie in the area of performance art but he has also published in the domains of food and architecture photography, on websites and magazines distributed locally and overseas.

About Gladys Teo

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A freelance art writer currently based in Singapore, I was a regular features contributor to The Pocket Arts Guide covering contemporary trends in Asia. With a background concentration in economic development and social anthropology, my special interest is in the different mediums of sociopolitical art as a tool, genre, expression.

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