On the occassion of Malaysian artist and architect, Jun Ong's, commission for this year's edition of Hong Kong art fair, Art Central 2018, we speak to him about the inspiration behind the LED light art piece "Shanzhai Chandelier", a reinterpretation of the classical form of an European chandelier that uses LED light compenets in lieu of precious stones. LED pixels now create artificial illumination, a metaphor of the blurring boundaries between luxury and the mass produced. Ong takes some time out of his busy schedule preparing for the fair to tell us more about his artistic process, some of his past projects including "Star", a five-storey installation in Butterworth, Penang, and his dream location for his light art pieces...
This year you will be participating in Art Central as part of the PROJECTS section, with your work “Shanzhai Chandelier” that is a modern twist on the classic chandelier. Tell us a bit more about the inspiration behind this particular work and how you were approached for this project?
I was asked by Richard Koh of Richard Koh Fine Art to submit a proposal to be considered by the curators and I was pleasantly surprised that I was selected amongst the other number of amazing installation proposals. I used to live in China and have always been intrigued by the notion of "shan zhai" - the copycat culture in the mass production industries in China. This idea of copying, perfecting and learning over the decades have suddenly sprung these industries into the forefront of innovation, design and authenticity. I wanted to encapsulate and materialize this observation in a recognizable and simplistic form, in this case an archetype of a chandelier.
“Shanzhai Chandelier” uses quite industrial materials like LED light components to recreate the luxurious effect of a chandelier associated with opulence and grandeur. Although all your works consistently employ the use of LED, they explore quite different themes. Can you explain your artistic process? Why are you so interested in light art?
I would say they are more household objects, in this case in forms of LED fittings. I sourced LED light fittings from two locations: Huaqiangbei in Shenzhen and also Jalan Pasar, Pudu in KL. Huaqianbei is the heart of electronic and electrical production of the world, where most electronic devices/components and smartphones are sold and manufactured. Jalan Pasar is the equivalent to it in Malaysia and it is also where I grew up. I usually start off the creative process by looking at the site context and how that can inspire my art piece. I also explore various ideas and technology over time and constantly look for the right projects to execute them. Light art has the ability to be both tangible and intangible , it is something we see and use everyday but pay so little attention about. I also love the idea of overlaying technology and interactivity using artificial light as a medium.
Showing your work in a fair like Art Central has its own connotation and is definitely different to showing it in a gallery or as a public work. What do you think it means for you as an artist and your work to have a commissioned piece at Art Central?
My past works have always been commission pieces and also very site specific. So it's interesting that the space at Art Central comes across as a blank canvas. I really wanted to also focus more on the materiality and finishing of the work and to emphasize that materials and structure are equally as important in a light sculpture. I hope viewers will engage with the piece on its own regardless of its context.
Your background originated in architecture and you still practice as an architect alongside your artistic inclinations. How did you come to be an artist? How do you combine the two disciplines of art and architecture?
I have always been interested in the arts before I did architecture. I think having this other dimension releases me from certain pragmatics found within the practice of architecture. I do find many parallels between art and architecture and I always find ways to bridge them.
When you finished your studies in London, you worked with British designer Tom Dixon, who is known for his lighting designs. How do you think this has influenced your own work, if it has? How do you think your work would differ from perhaps what Tom Dixon does?
I worked shortly at the Design Research Studio (DRS), the architecture and interior wing of Tom Dixon and the experience definitely heightened by interests in lighting and also product design. Most of my pieces are large scale and are more conceptual so they might come across as more of sculptures versus lighting products.
One of your biggest projects was the five-storey "Star" installation that you created in 2015 at an unfinished building in Butterworth, Penang, Malaysia, and was curated by Hin Bus Depot for Urban Xchange. If you could choose any location in the world, where would you place one of your light sculptures and what would you create for the site? Why?
I would love (and was close) to pitching a light sculpture idea on an open desert in the middle east. I would also love to do a piece in a dense jungle or a cave. Most of my works exists in very urban and man-made locations, so it'll be interesting to see my large scale light sculptures in a natural setting.
As your art is powered by energy, do you think there is some responsibility to perhaps to address the issues of climate change through the art? Or do you think that as an artist sometimes not politicising the art is necessary to create an open dialogue between the work and the viewer and the environment?
Sustainability is not necessarily the main agenda in my works but I aspire to do my part in educating viewers the many possibilities of power conservation and smart lighting systems by using LED lights in most of my work and also programming them to turn on only when they are viewers around it.
You must be really busy finishing up preparations for “Shanzhai Chandelier”, but could you share with us any upcoming project you are working on? Is there anything new you would like to develop within your own artistic explorations?
I'm currently in the midst of fabricating a new outdoor public light sculpture in KL and also conceptualizing two commissions out of Malaysia. I am also busy setting up a new studio, so I would love to explore with more small scale but hi-tech light pieces that is more domestic in scale.
You can see Jun Ong's latest commission 'Shanzhai Chandelier' at Art Central Hong Kong 2018's PROJECTS sector from 23 - 26 March 2018. For more information on the fair head here.
For more Hong Kong Art Week 2018 coverage, head here.
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