Transforming wood into surreal art: An interview with HC Wong

The various Belian wood sculptures at Wong’s studio.

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By Wilfred Pilo

KUCHING, Oct 14: ‘In Crates’ is the first-ever solo art and sculpture work exhibition by self-taught artist and sculptor HC Wong.

His work will be exhibited at the Round Atrium of Boulevard Shopping Mall from Oct 19 to 28.

DayakDaily recently spoke with the artist about his passion, creative processes and thoughts on ‘In Crates’ at his studio recently.

DayakDaily: There are many ways to describe an artist, from ’emerging’, ‘established’, to an ‘ace’ and even ‘hilarious’. Which one are you? Can you introduce yourself, and why do you do what you do?

Wong: I really wouldn’t know how to explain who I am or why I sculpt. I started sculpting without any training, only basic woodworking. I started my first figurative sculpture which was a large (1.3 metres high) full face and head on a very hard belian wood root-ball, without proper tools, and on certain parts, the axe bounced back, and the chainsaw jumped.

I was beat every time I worked on it. I stopped on innumerable occasions either to do other one-off jobs or other sculptures but mostly because I was beat. It took ten years to finish ‘Rock Hair Mountain Woman’ and only last month that I got it into the water.

I guess the answer to your question is “I do it because I don’t how to, but something will tell me how to do it.”

DayakDaily: Sometimes talents are hidden in a person and this could also apply to the art world. What’s your background?

Wong: My background is in architecture and arts.

DayakDaily: Explain what you do and why?

Wong: What I do in sculpture. (I consider) what a section of a belian tree root looks like, how it can be related to another thing, what can be added on for a narrative, what can be structured tectonically, and what can be ‘broken’ to another, an unexpected construct, like sculpture.

DayakDaily: Artists often emerge from a closet, and after a while they disappear again, probably engrossed with their work. How much time do you spend to complete your work and what type of art or sculpture do you most identify with?

Wong: I really lose track of the time on each sculpture, as they overlap. Some are left there for years, several even, like ‘Coat Hanger and Fire Butterflies’, where only several years later did I decided to slip an oversized coat hanger through it and got the upper thighs to go through a section of log or boat hull.

One day a woman commented: “It looks quite nice, but you spoilt it by sticking the coat-hanger through it.”

I told her that that’s exactly what I wanted to do, spoil it.

DayakDaily: Where do you get your inspiration for your work?

Wong: I can’t really say where I get the inspiration, but I often start from a fragment of wood that intrigues me. I kind of treat it like a site to build upon; as an architect, the brief becomes the narrative, the sequence of events, and objects are much like progressions of architectural programmes.

DayakDaily: What memorable responses have you had to your work?

Wong: A stranger made his way to my workplace and was looking at one of my pieces. As he was turning towards my direction, he did a double take and uttered ‘wo..wo..wo’. He had caught a glimpse of ‘Man of Fire, Fire of Man’, just outside.

DayakDaily: We understand that you will be holding a solo exhibition. What challenges do you face here?

Wong: Any shopping atrium space is challenging, very open and unlike gallery spaces. I treated it like a site-specific installation.

‘In Crates’, it is either already unpacked, or it is ready to be packed. In architectural terms, the contents are secondary; dealing with how space is taken up is the main thing. The crates also double as vitrines with their own space and even lighting. Frames are powerful tools and even phenomenal I dare say.

DayakDaily: What is an artistic outlook on life?

Wong: That’s too hard to answer. I would just quote Gilbert Ryle who said “the concept of make-believe is of a higher order than that of belief.”

DayakDaily: Do you have more work to share and how do they compare to the works you are going to exhibit?

Wong: I do have more, but I am still working on them. I don’t think about things in that way, i.e better or not; they’re on different subject matters. My process of working always ends up nothing like how it started.

The upper part of ‘Atomic Cat’ started as a separate piece as with ‘Fish Bowl Soup’ as the bowl, chopsticks and spoon were carved out of a single piece within the outline of a fish, viewed from atop. Somehow it landed on top of another piece, a hybrid of ‘cat’ and ‘bombshell’. I attempted to conjure the fish outline into a metonymic plumage of explosion and at the same time a pun for the fish to be turned into the broth with a ready empty bowl, chopsticks and spoon of course.

DayakDaily: Are you optimistic about what you exhibit here and are you worried about the local response?

Wong: I just want to put it out there and see what happens. Any response is good; apathy is the worse.— DayakDaily