Ancient Future Myths: Works by Chua Chon Hee and Ben Loong
15–31 October 2021
Ancient Future Myths: Works by Chua Chon Hee and Ben Loong features 30 ceramic works and prints that highlight two artists’ distinctive reflections on some of the oldest systems of order that have informed our understanding of the world, and the powerful associations of meanings they carry. Across centuries and civilisations, mythologies and astronomy have long held power over man’s imagination. After all, many of today’s myths were once ancient truths that shaped societies and cultures. As some dissipated with the progress of time, others inherited new roles and values that continue to scaffold the cultures of today and tomorrow.
AC43 Gallery is proud to present this exhibition which brings together two artists of different generations and practices who are both drawn to the sculptural potential and timelessness of ceramic. Beyond catering to artisanal concerns of utility and craftsmanship, which are commonly associated with the appreciation of the medium, the artists have chosen to look towards ceramics as expressive vehicles for powerful ideas. Their works not only demonstrate the allure of clay, but push familiar notions of ceramic into unfamiliar territories.
Chua Chon Hee (b. 1960, Singapore) is a fine arts educator and a multidisciplinary artist whose practice is presently focused on ceramics and prints. Her works are formally inspired by nature and spiritually rooted in the Zen philosophy of “being in the moment”; they strive always to embody the immediacy of everyday human experiences in their rawest forms. For her latest series, Strange Ruminations 奇思, she looks to mythology as an anchor as well as a point of departure. Employing diverse methods and processes, she transforms the fantastical narratives of Chinese classic text Shan Hai Jing 山海经 (The Classic of Mountains and Seas) as well as elements of Greek mythology into bold forms and sculptural vessels.
The Shan Hai Jing is generally approached as a literary text, though its origins and intent has eluded scholars for centuries. It purports a vast geographical account of China before the Qin dynasty, covering more than 500 mountains and 300 seas, and a large number of animals and (supposedly) mythical creatures that inhabited these landscapes. From Shan Hai Jing, Chon Hee interpreted a plethora of creative ideas which she transposed to the fluid, organic lines and ethereal textures of ceramics. Interestingly, the written texts rather than the visual schemas of the illustrations originally featured in Shan Hai Jing were what shaped her imagination and influenced the enigmatic forms of her ceramic treatment. Her playful portrayals of ancient mythological sky and sea creatures are infused with soft, voluminous contours and ragged edges.
Elsewhere, a series of prints titled To Probe 窥探 playfully leads the eye to meander in and out of sinewy angles and shadowy entryways, where hidden worlds and alternate realities surface for the curious. This concept again resonates in the unusual ceramic form of Who’s Who 谁是谁, which was partially modelled after a fantastic fish creature in Shan Hai Jing.
Ben Loong (b. 1988, Singapore) graduated with a BA (Hons) in Fine Arts from the University of the Arts London (Chelsea College of the Arts), London, UK in 2014, and a Diploma in Fine Arts from LASALLE College of the Arts, Singapore in 2012. Ben explores themes central to the human condition and actively documents it through the medium of painting and sculpture.
His latest series Asterism draws on man’s enduring fascination with celestial bodies, specifically our human tendency to create ongoing narratives surrounding them. From Antiquity and up till the end of Renaissance in the 17th century, astrology and astronomy constituted a singular discipline; the “study of heavens” was pertinent to divining fortunes and disasters for empires and individuals alike.
Citing astronomy as one of man’s earliest attempts to understand the universe, Ben observes that the study of celestial objects is essentially to “create meaning in the sky so as to guide our life on the ground”. Indeed, in our eternal search for truth, countless narratives have been spun and played out across the sky in the hope that we may better comprehend religion, navigation, passing seasons, and the passage of time: the meaning of our existence on earth.
Having previously employed industrial plaster in his work for several years, Ben points to the fact that plaster and ceramic share a strong material relationship - from plaster bats used to wedge clay to moulds used for liquid slip-casting. More importantly, both materials carry the connotations of industrial labour. Ben elaborates that, “If working with plaster is representative of undervalued labour, working with ceramic carries the weight of endless labour; it embodies the Sisyphean nature of the human condition.”
Bone China was first invented in 18th-century England as a more affordable and available alternative to Chinese ceramics and the widespread demand eventually led to the invention of slip-casting as a method to mass produce ceramics. Ben alludes to this industrial process by adopting the slip-cast technique to produce the bone china in his ceramic work. In Starstorm, he pieced together ragged fragments of ceramic tile, bone china and glazed stoneware to form a mosaic composition that reminds of a celestial constellation. Other works like Moonshard and Star Valley reflect his signature minimalist aesthetic, one that relies on the nuanced treatment of neutral tones and textured surfaces to create light and shade to guide the eye. Delicate fragments of bone china and incisive shards of bronze-glazed stoneware float pensively along the surface, introducing a subtle, poetic tension to a seemingly arbitrary order.
How should one read this “constellation” of different industrial materials that relate to each other in history and function? The artist’s adoption of common industrial materials to construct works of art that hang with grace on gallery walls complicates familiar notions of value and labour, leaving the viewer to ponder his position in the creation and consumption of meanings.