It all started with a random message accompanied by a smiley face-scrawled poster sent over Whatsapp early last month: “I hope this message finds you well. I’m working on a new project, Happy House, which is an ongoing study into the state of happiness in Singapore and want to understand why we have such a complicated relationship with happiness… We are doing an open call now to buy your happy memories for $1 each. Whether it’s a snapshot from a happier time or a compilation of many memories that have brought you joy, we want them!”
A call for your happy memories.
The sender indicated on screen: Eileen Chan aka DJ Cats On Crack. Pre-pandemic, Chan was the poster girl of underground nightlife here. Besides her infectious house and techno sets, she had co-founded The Council – operator of three cult clubs (Headquarters, Tuff Club and Somewhere) where bonds and beats matter more than the dress code or decor, as well as organiser of even grittier warehouse raves of legendary proportions. Nearly two years on and… she’s sending scam-like texts to people she had not seen since the onset of Covid?
“We are presenting the first chapter of Happy House as part of Singapore Art Week (SAW) in January,” she explains after a convivial exchange of emoji greetings. A click on the link in her message takes one to the Instagram account @happyhouse.sg that’s part meme punctuated bulletin board, part social experiment with contributions from those who have shared photos or videos of fond times past for a buck. (One post reports that according to an index by the website Expensivity, the price of happiness in Singapore is around $5,150 monthly – “moderate” by regional standards.)
Artist Sean Kingstan submitted this snapshot outside a plane for Happy House. He said: “Happiness was finally being able to get back to work after ½ year of being grounded due to Covid.”
From January 14 to 23, Happy House will also take physical form at Tanjong Pagar Distripark as part of SAW 2022 with a multimedia showcase displaying the works of 15 artists. Each had been tasked to respond to the question: What does happiness mean to you, or what makes you happy? The headliner is an experiential installation that pairs the digital artist Reza Hasni and electronic musician Kin Leonn up for the first time, and a preview (also shared over Whatsapp) teases that it will be nothing short of transportive.
“We had to pivot into a snack bar; there were the constant changes to the regulations on social gatherings; and then the rule on no-music came, and I was done,” she explains during a face-to-face catch-up a week after she had texted.
A still of the motion graphic Kaleidoscope by artist Reza Hasni for Happy House.
“The one thing that had been keeping me alive was being able to at least choose the music that we played… My partner and I could not figure out a way to make things work together and nothing was happening creatively within the club space for me. I was very sad about leaving, but there was no reason for me to be there anymore.” The desolation that she had felt in the months after though was what would lead her onto her quest to “unpack happiness”, laying the foundation for Happy House, which is meant to be an ongoing project that “has no fixed shape or form”.
Here are excerpts from our interview.