Interview with Chun Kai Qun

1. How did you derive the work? How does it relate to being lost in a city?

(1) Idea for the Work

The inspiration came from a trip to Japan and I saw, for the first time, real highways, and really huge ones, very high up in the air kind. They looked so well engineered, there were all sort of curves and bends, almost like a drawing in the horizon.

I am always known to be rather DIY and technically skilled, so when it comes to a complex space such as the Esplanade Concourse, my instinct was to challenge my limit to design and engineer my works. I really just wanted to see how well I can build, as much as possible, on a DIY level and see if I can recreate those bends and curves of the highways in Japan. Sometimes, not apparent as a concept behind my works, but I always make it a point to build my own works, or at least know very well how things are made. I find DIY and hobbies such as diorama-making enjoyable, I feel that how well people engage in their hobbies, is in fact a measurement of the quality of life. Perhaps maybe Singaporeans are too busy, you can hardly find people able to take their hobbies to extreme levels.

The concept of the work was partly borrowed from an earlier work titled, Race for the Prize that was exhibited in Mr. and Mrs. Children at Post-Museum. The work was a miniature drainage system and people could race paper boats in there, and along the way trying to overcome obstacles. Well, so it was like a water track, that went round and round. Though I had my own explanation for the work, I had a viewer who interpreted it as some sort of a journey of life, rebirth and going through the same obstacles again. I kind of like it, searching for the meaning of life, and getting back to the same old square one. And so I wanted to develop this motif of constantly rounding about.

So then, there is this idea of building a highway, which is almost like a drawing, forming the word UTOPIA, and there is a small town, you see people driving out on this highway looking for Utopia, and then just basically get them back to the same small town. Then I just thought about what is able to make people go on this journey that gets you back to square one, over and over again? Then I thought about the artist Carsten Holler who makes giant slides, supposedly able to give you an extreme high adrenaline rush. And of course, things like roller coasters, which are able to brain-wash or reset your mind for a moment. So I thought maybe highways can have the same hypnotic effect, as claimed in the Psycho-geographical Studies by the Situationist International, that our everyday environment may have an effect on our emotions and behaviours. So in the video, hopefully, you will see that I am trying to suggest this hypnotic effect. The video manipulates the angles and perspectives of the shots, creating a certain narrative I want the viewer to experience. Or maybe, Utopia exist somewhere in our head, as some kind of ’emotional’ high.

The work made for the exhibition Lost in the City was in collaboration with fellow artist Joo Choon Lin. Both works (that and this are) placed outside of a gallery, in a public space. It is a space that is not as neutral as I would want it to be, the politics and poetics of these spaces will always be considered as part of the work. I think one of the most successful early works I made was Long Kang at the tickleart space, located at an underground mall. I think I have to state that I am more a diorama maker than a miniature maker, so I do work on different scales. Long Kang was 1:1 scale, built exactly like a drain that you will see by the roadside, so when this dioramic installation was placed underground it was successful because you realised it was not supposed to be there, and bringing about the idea of being disorientated in our urban landscape. The work in Lost in the City appeared to be like a construction site, suggesting that urban development is prevalent.  You may be forgiven to mistake the artwork as a real construction site and giving it a miss, however you have to approach it closer and there you would discover an animation by Choon Lin.

Ideally, I would want to build the highway as large as possible, the same scale as the real ones, but of course, it is impossible. I wanted to build it the same scale because (and I may want to build it crashing through the ceilings) the fictional is thrown into the real physical space that is the Concourse. This idea of the real and unreal having being confused together is something that I am interested in. For example, the disasters that we see in Blockbusters and in the news, we see them all too often that sometimes we are desensitized, and not able to feel them apart.

Okay, so I did not build the highway to actual scale of the real ones, instead I built them to the size when I was looking at them from afar, and it becomes sort of miniaturised. Which gave another understanding of the work, because of some size fetish and the viewers tend to be overly engrossed with wanting to see the beautiful little details of the work, but miniaturising to me is at times, about the re-proportioning of the scale of severe issues, such as disasters and violence, to the point that they become trivialised, or as you described, comical. And that is how people see things these days. In this work, I try to prophetically suggest the end of the world, a capitalistic Utopia, a bleak future, a dark layer of meanings behind the appearance of the work, but the sad truth is that the work is merely a backdrop for tourists taking photos.

2. Were there any challenges faced in bringing the idea to fruition? Did you wish you had more resources?

(2) The Process

The process is rather mundane to explain. In short, I made digital drawings of the modular parts. Then got a shop to stereo lithograph the parts, which is a process of printing layers and layers of nylon threads until it becomes 3D. Just think of an inkjet printing millions of layers of ink over the same spot, overtime, you will get a really thick 3D relief. Then I used these parts to make rubber molds and casted the parts in resin. Then the parts were assembled to form larger parts, taken to the venue, and further assembled, with help of the crew, to what you have seen.

The difficulties of making work in Singapore are always the same, always about finding space to create and then thinking about storage after de-installation. You may have great concepts or abilities like Cai Guo Qiang, but our environment may not allow you to make works in his scale. So basically you just adapt to the environment, and sooner or later you will find a viable way to work with it.

The Concourse work is my largest work, I think it is rather successful work, but I doubt I will want to work in such a scale in future, I think I now know a comfortable scale that I can work with. But of course if budget allows and I can get much professional help, then by all means, I will work on more ambitious works.

3. What is the relationship of the video to the installation?

The video gives an idea of what the Utopia Highway really is (stringing a narrative to what the viewer sees).

4. What’s your next work about?

(4) What next

The next work, I will work on the relationship between Utopia and Dystopia. I am quite interested in the utopian vision of Joseph Beuys who claimed everyone is an artist. Then I come across the writer Boris Groys who suggested that this is a really bad idea, because everyone will be killing one another over the opportunities to exhibit. It is like an ideal gone wrong. This may become a series of miniature dioramas.

I will also be working at Pulau Ubin, so I may just salvage whatever junk I can find there to make some work. Again working on the idea of Utopia, one that is not brought about by enlightenment among mankind, rather one that is given birth by Dystopia, recycling ruins from a destroyed world to build new hope.

Read the review here.

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