Grace & Charm, nude sculptures in the public space

This lovely book arrived in the mail a few days (ok, weeks) ago and I’d like to share it with you. It is written in German and although I could not read the text, there were many beautiful and well-taken photographs of sculptures that bridged the language barrier and gave me a sense of what the authors were trying to do in the book. For sure, you will enjoy leafing through the pages and immersing yourself in them.

The authors and photographers are Hanno Ehrler and Manuel Berdel who wrote and asked if they could feature my sculpture, First Generation, in their book, Grazie & Anmut, Jünglingsaktskulpturen im öffentlichen Raum (Grace & Charm, Nude Sculptures of Youth in the Public Space). They found the sculpture on the internet where it is well publicized and is commonly known as being part of the People of the River series of sculptures.

“It’s one of the most impressive works in respect to the subject of our book. It was a main reason for us to visit Singapore,” says Hanno. “The subject of the book is nude sculptures in public spaces and its function there. Your work is placed in a public space which changed in the last decades from a living space for all to a place of commerce and tourism, as we see it in big towns all over the world.

“This development changes the function of public space which previously could be used by everyone and now is more and more privatized and a space for selected (sic) people. This development is described in the text of our book, because it has impact on the function of art in those spaces. First Generation is placed in a now commercialized public space but remains to the former times which is for us one very important quality of the work.”

The authors also see First Generation as having its place within and continuing an artistic tradition, as a work that “demonstrates that the tradition of depicting nudes has been maintained with astonishing formal continuity from antiquity to the present day. Many artists choose classical postures … Other works, like that of Chong Fahcheong, capture the figures in natural movements.” (p.49, Grazie & Anmut, Jünglingsaktskulpturen im öffentlichen Raum (Grace & Charm, Nude Sculptures of Youth in the Public)

Thank you, Hanno and Manuel, for featuring First Generation in your book and placing the sculpture in the wider context of nude sculptures in public spaces.

— fahcheong

New workshop — come visit!

These last few weeks have been somewhat gruelling, focused as I have been on getting my sculptures out of the Emily Hill studio and into new digs at Tampines. Perhaps I should have taken up painting! Moving several tons of wood, stone and bronze could not have been done without much help from friends, especially Leslie, B and Eric and the workers, thanks to all. It hasn’t just been a physical challenge. Learning the intricacies of bidding for and renting a JTC unit has been even more challenging! The water is connected, soon the electricity. Shelves and partitions are going up. I invite you all to come to #02-144, Blk 9003, Tampines St. 93, to see the sculptures in their new home. Please call me before you come (9037-8351) to ensure that I am there.

Sculptures in the garden at Emily Hill, waiting to go to their new home.
Deep breath! Even the coolies of Another Day have more room here at Tampines.

Art and mental health

Art as therapy is a well-established fact and has been an important tool for health professionals and anyone invested in the well being of others and themselves. This episode of Art in 90 Seconds by the National Gallery of Singapore features my sculpture, Family and One. In this clip, Ezekiel, an intern with the Singapore Association of Mental Health, talks about how the sculpture, which is on display at the gallery, expressed all that he was feeling with regard to his battle with mental illness and the importance of support from family and friends, and the idea of balance. Thank you, Ezekiel, for taking the time to express what this sculpture has meant to you and sharing how it has helped you to resolve your difficulties in life. I am so pleased that my art has been so meaningful to you. Art is not just “art for art’s sake” but a very important tool in mental health therapy. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aaQSBpfWpDc

Ezekiel with Family and One, reflecting upon ideas of balance in life, importance of support.

Cultural Medallion Showcase

On Friday, Nov. 26, 2021, a new Cultural Medallion Gallery will be launched by the National Arts Council at The Arts House, home of the arts in Old Parliament Lane, Singapore. The gallery will highlight the multi-disciplinary contributions of Singapore’s esteemed arts elite, recipients of the Cultural Medallion. I am honoured, as a CM recipient myself, to be included in this showcase. Looking forward to the launch!

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The Arts House where the Cultural Medallion Showcase is housed. Photo: Wiki Commons.

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.