Of gateways and life’s journeys

An essay written for an exhibition in Venice, a journey not taken

Memories of early student days, hiking up tropical rainforest hills where a trail begins through a concrete gateway in the form of a traditional Chinese circular portal. The teenager and his friends would pass through this gateway to start their climb and return through this same point at the end of each hike. They called this place Moongate and the memory of it made a subtle yet indelible impression on him. This is the importance of landscapes, shapes and forms, experiences that can affect one’s life in ways unknown. For sculptor Chong Fahcheong, the Moongate of his youth has shaped his art and thoughts and is a theme that he continually explores through his sculptures.

Fahcheong re-visits the Moongate gateway, in Penang, Malaysia

“The passage through any doorway marks the transition of place and time: am I leaving and saying goodbye or have I just come home and am I saying hello? The experience of entering or leaving has been the pivotal point of my many adventures and experiences,” says Chong.

This experience forms the basic concept of Chong’s other shaped gateways and constructed volumes. The gateway was first realized with the sculpture, Threshold (1982). It was a time when terrorist incidents and hijackings caused airports to be concerned about security issues and the need for vigilance. Travellers were screened through security gantries before being allowed into sensitive transit spaces. Chong expressed his experience as a frequent traveller through his Threshold. This teak gateway is carved on the inside while left plain on all its other surfaces. “I choose to work the inner surface of the form to emphasize the moment when a significant change occurs as one approaches, goes through, crosses and moves beyond.”

Threshold, 1982. Teak. 105 x 30 x 201 cm.

Chong intimately sees the idea of gateways, of journeys taken throughout life, as opportunities to find and choose the various paths that we encounter. As the sculptor says: “The demarcation of space is physically determined by every doorway within which we are invited to be inside and included, while outside we stand excluded and estranged.”

Moongate has taken many forms and been constructed from wood, stone and bronze, all traditional sculptural materials with which Chong prefers to work. They range from intimate indoor sculptures to imposing outdoor structures and invite visitors to walk up to them, through them, touch and explore them, in short, to experience them. A large bronze Moongate (2016) stands tall at the Gardens by the Bay, a public park in Singapore. Another bronze Moongate II (2013) greets visitors and residents at the entrance of a condominium in a prestigious residential part of Singapore.

But not all Moongates are circular. A Moongate can be cube-like, as in Cube Gate (2012) or it can be an eight-sided Pa Kua (2012). Made to Measure (2012) can be experienced from within. Inspired by Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man, Chong constructed this playful structure, taking his own measure so that he could stand within its volume.

“Everyone has a unique experience of being: a definite time and place in which one realizes oneself. I could not have predicted that the simple origins of my first gateway encounter could have shaped so much of my sculptural existence. Directed by our unique perspective, we continue to realize and experience our life’s journey through the varied gateways of our time and place.”