Soul­ful ar­chi­tec­ture

Traces Of Bi­cam­er­al­ism is a duo ex­hi­bi­tion re­mind­ing us to ap­pre­ci­ate life’s small de­tails.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Culture - By TER­ENCE TOH [email protected]­

THE study of aes­thet­ics and form is the sub­ject of the Traces Of Bi­cam­er­al­ism ex­hi­bi­tion, which is show­ing at Suma Ori­en­talis gallery in Pe­tal­ing Jaya. The gallery’s first ex­hi­bi­tion of the year fea­tures Jacky Cheng and Lisa Foo, both grad­u­ate ar­chi­tects, who have made fine art a ca­reer.

Each of them has her own style. And it clearly shows.

Cheng’s art is framed and wall-mounted, fea­tur­ing painstak­ingly hand-cut pa­per works pay­ing ho­mage to traditional Chi­nese cul­ture. Foo’s works are large free-stand­ing in­stal­la­tions in­cor­po­rat­ing found ob­jects such as pre­served leaves and clay.

At first glance as you walk into the Suma Ori­en­talis space, there seems to be lit­tle con­nect­ing the works of both artists.

Yet they are bound by a com­mon un­der­ly­ing theme – ap­pre­ci­at­ing the small things in life.

As we learn, Cheng and Foo are old friends, who first met at a pri­vate univer­sity in Kuala Lumpur.

Later on, they went to study ar­chi­tec­ture at the Univer­sity of New South Wales in Syd­ney. Once they fin­ished, their paths split.

Foo, 44, re­turned to Malaysia and con­tin­ued prac­tis­ing ar­chi­tec­ture. In 2008, she de­cided try out art as a ca­reer.

It all started when she re­alised her kitchen had too many wa­ter bot­tles and she went on to con­vert them into in­stal­la­tion works.

That’s the in­spir­ing back­story. Since then, Kuala Pi­lah, Ne­gri Sem­bi­lan-born Foo has been in­volved in var­i­ous art projects and ex­hibit­ing through medi­ums like sculp­ture, in­stal­la­tion and pho­tog­ra­phy.

Cheng, 42, on the other hand, went into ed­u­ca­tion. The Pe­tal­ing Jaya-born artist also re­lo­cated to Broome, Western Aus­tralia, where she ended up teach­ing vis­ual arts to abo­rig­i­nal com­mu­ni­ties. She also pur­sued an art ca­reer, which has seen her works ex­hib­ited in Aus­tralia and New York.

With their back­ground in ar­chi­tec­ture, both feel they have a unique per­spec­tive when it came to the process of cre­ation.

“We both love ar­chi­tec­ture. A lot of peo­ple like to sep­a­rate it from art too much ... that is why ar­chi­tec­ture is seen as be­ing sou­less,” says Foo. She adds that an ar­chi­tec­tural mind helps an in­di­vid­ual a lot in un­der­stand­ing scale and form.

Traces Of Bi­cam­er­al­ism fea­tures an or­derly ar­range­ment of works, with the main hall ex­hibit­ing the smaller pieces. The show’s more size­able in­stal­la­tions are placed in sep­a­rate rooms.

“I think there is ar­chi­tec­ture in art and there is art in ar­chi­tec­ture as well. You can’t take them apart,” says Cheng.

The two had lost con­tact for years but even­tu­ally re­con­nected on Face­book in 2013. Upon dis­cov­er­ing they were both into art, the idea for a joint art ex­hi­bi­tion was mooted. The re­sult is the Traces Of

Bi­cam­er­al­ism show.

It is also the first time Cheng’s works are be­ing ex­hib­ited in Malaysia.

“It took up to two months – eight hours a day – to work on a sin­gle piece for this se­ries,” re­veals Cheng.

Her hand-cut pa­per works, pay­ing ho­mage to her Taoist roots, are in­tri­cate in de­tail. This is ev­i­dent in works such as Black Tea, which uses the read­ing of tea leaves as a mo­tif, and Of­fer­ing II, in­spired by in­cense of­fer­ings. Her trip­tych

Scent Of Time car­ries much child­hood nos­tal­gia.

“I grew up with a lot of joss sticks. I know the scent well. One of my old­est mem­o­ries is plac­ing joss sticks in an in­cense burner in a dimly-lit place and be­ing able to see the scent trails,” re­calls Cheng.

“As a child, my job was to fold joss pa­per. We had to fold hun­dreds and hun­dreds of them for my grand­mother (to be used in Taoist cer­e­monies). So that gave me an affin­ity with pa­per, which now comes very close to what I do with art.”

Foo, who ex­hib­ited at the KL Bi­en­nale in 2017, is on fa­mil­iar ground, ex­am­in­ing themes like impermanence, growth, and form.

Her work Meta­mor­pho­sis fea­tures clay heads on a bed of bricks with plants grow­ing from the cracks. Over time, the clay will harden and the plants will grow. That will il­lus­trate grad­ual trans­for­ma­tion. Rhythm Of Na­ture is an in­ter­ac­tive in­stal­la­tion, which sees leaves (in the shape of mu­sic notes) strung from the ceil­ing. The viewer is in­vited to play with them and cre­ate their own tunes.

“I col­lected leaves and let them de­cay to see what will hap­pen. I like giv­ing dead stuff a sec­ond chance. That’s why I en­joy mix­ing my work with or­ganic ma­te­ri­als. I wanted to show the nat­u­ral state of a leaf, which many peo­ple ig­nore or dis­card. It’s about look­ing at things in a dif­fer­ent way,” says Foo.

Traces Of Bi­cam­er­al­ism is show­ing at the Suma Ori­en­talis Gallery at No 11, Lorong 11/4f, Seksyen 11, Pe­tal­ing Jaya, Se­lan­gor till Jan 20. Open daily: 11am to 7pm. Closed on Tues­days and pub­lic hol­i­days. Call: 03-7955 7111 or email en­[email protected] sumaori­en­ More info: sumaori­en­

A side view of Cheng’s work Of­fer­ing II (acid-free archival pa­per, coloured pa­per, wood base with glass dome, 2017). — Pho­tos: Suma Ori­en­talis

Foo’s Nat­u­ral Bal­ance (leaves and brass wires, 2018).

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