10 things about: Ong Jun Hao, the artist architect

Picture by K.E.Ooi
Picture by K.E.Ooi

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GEORGE TOWN, Nov 1 — He is a young architect who just graduated last year but he is also an artist who is slowly creating a name for himself with his unique light installations.

Ong Jun Hao, who calls himself Jun Ong, has always been interested in art but now that he’s an architect, he has combined his architecture training with his creativity to come up with installations that are three-dimensional sculptures made from light tubes.

The 27-year-old may be new to the art scene but he is now creating a name for himself with his largest art installation so far called The Star for this year’s Urban Xchange festival.

The Star is a gigantic 12-sided star embedded within the incomplete concrete frame of a five-storey building along Jalan Raja Uda in Butterworth.

Here, Ong, talks about his penchant for art and light.

In his own words:

I’ve always been into art... and I did architecture because I’ve always had an interest in buildings too so this was the perfect combination of both. It’s in a building, an unused, incomplete building and it’s an artwork in the building. I don’t see the difference between art and architecture. It’s very similar. I mean, art is not just painting, there’s sculpture, there’s installations, things can be 3D, not everything has to be flat or a painting. For me, I use my skill in architecture to translate a lot of my artistic ideas in a three-dimensional form, hence something like The Star.

For my past works, I used a lot of artificial light because I am very drawn to light, especially artificial light because it is the only light that you can touch. It’s physical and non-physical at the same time, unlike sunlight; you can’t touch sunlight but you can touch a fluorescent tube or an LED tube. There’s something physical about it. From there, I developed different kinds of ideas in a way. I wouldn’t call myself a light artist but for now it is a medium that I have been exploring in the past year. I use very ordinary materials from hardware shops, very common materials. I try to use different techniques to create different results. I am very keen on how light can be represented. There’s some physical quality to the light, can create a structure out of it. So, architecture is involved in that part too.

I finished school last year and I’m running a studio now with my classmate. We are both architects. So a lot of my small-scale ideas I explored in the art world, I bring it to the architecture world so that it’s not just functional but something conceptual. At the end, it’s something functional and spatial.

Since it’s a five-storey building, I thought why not do something that’s five-storey high? But from far, it looks like one object. I was thinking scale could be an interesting element here. I take an object that you think would be small but we scale it up to five-storey, to create a creative impact.

For me, The Star is also a symbol. Could it be a new beginning for Butterworth so that Penang is not just a UNESCO world heritage place? It is more than that. And using light as a medium to showcase the industrial part of Penang. Penang produces components for LED strips and that is kind of the components that I’m using for The Star too. I wanted to think of a form that people can relate to, it’s abstract but not so abstract that people can’t identify with it. Even though it’s not a star, it’s a dodecagon, a 12-sided star, but people call it the star.

This will be my fifth lighting installation. My first installation was in KLpac last April and it was the first  time I got Philips lighting as my partner. They sponsored and they taught me a lot about artificial lights and how to work with lights. After that I did for George Town Festival and then I did another one for Heineken and another smaller one. This would be my fifth and biggest installation so far.

I am 27 years old. Born in KL, raised in KL. I have always been into art for some reason. I’m always drawing. Even though I did okay in school, I like to paint. I have an art mentor, Lee Weng Fatt. He is a water colourist and he paints buildings, only buildings. He love shophouses, like the ones in Penang and from there, I think I developed an interest in buildings and that sort of escalated my interest in art.

When I finished my studies in London, I actually worked for a lighting designer called Tom Dixon... he’s known for lighting designs. He’s a designer so from there, my interest in the commercial and artistic aspect of lights really came to life. It’s like oh wow, lights can mean so much. It can change the way the space looks or behaves. I’ve always been drawn to fluorescent tubes. My house is just fluorescent tubes, nothing else. Because fluorescent tubes is a fixture that is so common in our daily lives, we use it all the time.

I have a lighting installation in Singapore for the iLight Festival in March 2016. We got chosen to do it. It is Asia’s first sustainable light festival so there will be 15 artists from all over the world and I’m the only one representing Malaysia. That’s what I’m working on now. On the side, I have my architectural projects. In a way, these are all part of my design process.

For art, you have a concept... you can construct it like that, you don’t have to come up with a building and comply with requirements. I usually take three days to come up with a concept. I’m an artist architect, I know it’s a very lame word... I don’t know, maybe a designer? But one thing is for sure, I am first and foremost an architect and then I’m an artist. This is because what I’m doing now is my experience with architecture.

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