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.”

Workshops in 2019

Closed the year on a great note with two modelling workshops — one was with teachers held at the National Gallery and the other was at the Institute of Mental Health with staff and patients. Both workshops had very enthusiastic participants eager to learn the technique of making small models using a wire infrastructure and clay. This is my method for making small maquettes that I later enlarge into life-size public sculptures.

Conservatory drama

In October 2018, the sculpture, Once A Tree II, was featured in a stage performance at the Yong Siew Toh Music Conservatory, NUS. The performance was a 25-minute opera by Claudio Monteverdi entitled Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda. The dancers and singers moved around the sculpture which is made up of many separate pieces. It worked beautifully for the performance as the pieces could be positioned and assembled on stage in whichever way the choreographer envisioned.

It was the first time that a Chong Fahcheong sculpture became part of a stage production. Commenting on the collaboration, Alan Bennett, Professor of Music at the Conservatory, said: “It really was a wonderful addition and allowed us to interact with the stage space so much better than we had even imagined.”

NAFA Artist-in-residence

fahcheong was NAFA Artist-in-residence in August 2018. During that time, he conducted a stone-carving class for the Nanyang Academy art students at the Bencoolen campus. For many students, it was their first time carving stone, and so the softer travertine was used.

Using his work Terribile Quotidian as an example, fahcheong gave the students some food for thought. How do you come up with an idea for a sculpture?

Students submitted their design ideas and these were critiqued. Then they learned to translate their designs into 3D reality through carving with hammer and chisel and grinding the stone.

And finally there was an exhibition of all their efforts.

Hey, Ah Chek!

It was a long time in the making but finally Chong Fahcheong’s latest sculpture, Hey, Ah Chek! has found its home. You will find Ah Chek, Ah May and Ah Boy on the departure level of Changi Airport’s Terminal 4.

When commissioned to create a local, Peranakan sculpture for Changi’s latest terminal, fahcheong typically dipped into his memories of old Singapore and came up with this vignette of grandmother (or mother, it matters not) and a young boy hailing a trishawman to take them home after a morning’s marketing. (No guesses as to who fahcheong was thinking when he sculpted Ah Boy!) The challenge of this sculpture was to create a trishaw that was true to the 1950s and 60s as the trishaws you see today, mostly tourist attractions, are more modern in design. So fahcheong scoured the streets of Singapore and searched Malacca and Penang (two other centres of Peranakan culture) for a trishaw of that era. He finally found a dilapidated one in Singapore, had it rebuilt, and used it as a basis for his sculpture.

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fahcheong having fun with Ah Chek

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Working on Ah Mah in the studio

If you are travelling through T4, head to the right side of the departure level where the shops are. Climb aboard Ah Chek’s trishaw for a photo shoot, take a closer look at the intricate detailing of Ah Mah’s sarong and peek into the basket to see what she and Ah Boy are taking home to cook for lunch.

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Ah Chek at T4 departure level. He has a young passenger on board.

 

 

Email — Recovered!

Hello, everyone,

This is an alert telling all who are looking at my website that my email address is currently compromised. I am trying to sort out this problem, but in the meantime, you can get in touch with me through my Facebook page, Chong Fah Cheong, Sculptor. You can also email me at my new email address, cfcsculpts@gmail.com.

UPDATE on 30 Oct 2017! I have recovered my email address, and you may now resume contacting me at sculpt@fahcheong.com. However, beware scammers and hackers everywhere, and never open anything that looks suspicious. If in doubt, please contact me to confirm that my email is genuine and comes from me.

Moongates

So pleased to be able to say that there is a new addition to my public works — this is Moongate, installed at Singapore’s Gardens by the Bay. The Moongate has been in my blood ever since my youthful sojourn in Penang when I saw it in the botanical gardens. I have worked and reworked the idea over many years. Why?

It speaks to me of journeys, circles of thought, cycles of life, thresholds to cross … a simple form that belies the complexities conjured.

Well, here are pictures of some versions of mine, including the Moongate at the Gardens by the Bay that was just installed.

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Moongate II at Boulevard Vue

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Moongate in teak, at NUS exhibition

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Moongate at Gardens by the Bay