It was everything she ever wanted in a house – at least, that was what they told her at the sales gallery. A fountain to greet you at the entrance, after a long hard day at work. A herb garden to soothe your tired soul. An infinity pool with its design based on a Balinese theme. This is elegant, stylish living within your reach, so book now, last unit – or regret forever.
We all know how persuasive sales people can be.
She was won over, convinced that it was going to be good. So she placed a booking fee, then went home and cried – but they were not tears of happiness.
“I realised after doing some calculations that I just couldn't afford it. After deducting the monthly installment and other essentials, I was left with a grand total of RM40 for the month's living expenses. So instead of being happy about being a step closer to owning my own place, I was worried sick. It was so easy to agree to buying it, but then I wondered just exactly what did I get myself into?” says artist MeiKei Ho about her experience as an almost first-time home buyer last year.
Long story short, she cancelled her booking. She is still keeping her eyes peeled for a suitable place to buy, but is determined that it will be on her own terms and will spend within her means.
“It got me thinking about this obsession we have with owning our dream home. We get inundated with dreams of the luxury living they try to sell you: high-end security features, automated parking solutions, relaxing ambience, infinity pools. But does it mean anything if you can't enjoy it because you have to work long hours away from home, just to keep up with appearances and not to fall behind on the monthly payments?” she queries.
The Whose Dream House? exhibit at The Back Room in Kuala Lumpur is a project by Ho, 26, and fellow artist Ong Cai Bin, 30. Both are graduates of Dasein Academy of Art in Kuala Lumpur.
The focus of this exhibition seems to be very much on the “whose”: What shapes your idea of a dream house? Is it your dream or is it someone else's? Can you be happy with less than the perfect dream?
Does a dream stop being a dream once it is attainable?
Ong reflects on how the market packages dreams and desires in neat packages for you to buy.
“They tell you how to live your life, right down to the exact spot in that beautiful compound where your Grab driver will drop you. But the chase for bigger, better things will never end. You will always want more. I think it would do us good to remind ourselves that life is more than a dream house,” she says.
While developers and real estate people paint pretty pictures of what your dream house is supposed to be, Ho and Ong’s joint exhibition reflect on how this "illusion" compares to reality.
In a series of artist impressions done collage-style, Ho takes images of buildings from property brochures and places them around her colourful take on a dream house in the city. She also offers a few installation works, inspired by the countless gorgeously-furnished show units she has seen.
Ong, on the other hand, presents a more visually sombre and stoic collection in her Touch Of Memories concrete and found objects series. Bits and pieces of items one could potentially find at home - curtains, quilts, mosquito netting, corrugated zinc sheet, baskets - are embedded in concrete and left partially exposed.
“This visual element suggests the uncovering of treasure, of these memories we hold dear, of simpler times, even if we don’t revisit them as often as we should,” she says.
A total of 22 works, including a video of a real estate agent persuading you to buy now or regret forever, are on display at the Whose Dream House? show. It is an exhibition that presents different facets of what goes into marketing a dream house, of being a property owner, of having a roof over one’s head.
“There might be advantages to buying now instead of later. Maybe some are really good deals. But if you can’t afford it, then it shouldn’t even be on your radar. As visual artists, we don’t really have a stable income so we can’t afford to be impulsive that way. If there is one lesson to be had from my experiences at sales galleries, it would be to stand firm with your decisions and not try to keep up with the Joneses,” says Ho.
One thing is clear to both Ho and Ong: they agree that a dream house is so much more than the tangible and marketable.
Ong offers, “What makes a dream house is so much more than what you can see. It goes beyond its form and structure. What makes a house a home is the relationships you have with the people you live with, and how you feel when you are within its walls. Even a simple, basic place can be comfortable. I think that is what is most important to me.”
Whose Dream House? is on at The Back Room, Zhongshan building, 80A Jalan Rotan, off Jalan Kampung Attap, Kuala Lumpur till Oct 20. Opening hours: noon-7pm (Tuesday-Friday), 11am-7pm (Saturday), 11am-6pm (Sunday). Closed on Monday. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Facebook: The Back Room KL.