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 material a second chance. That’s why I enjoy mixing my work with organic materials,” say Foo.
“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.”