This May, Artereal Gallery is excited to present Intimate Debris, a new solo exhibition of wall-based sculptures, installation and assemblages by award-winning Sydney-based artist Owen Leong.
(To view and purchase artworks from this series scroll to the end of this webpage or visit the gallery before 29th May 2021).
‘Intimate Debris’ presents my latest series of wall-based sculptures, installation and assemblages. Playing with chance and intention, I have created concrete and gypsum stone tablets embedded with found objects and studio detritus. Personal, intimate and found objects are combined with materials shed from the act of creation within the artist’s studio. The surface of each stone tablet is encrusted with black glitter, crystals and pearls.
This body of work is a system of ordering to make sense of the unknown, to create order out of chaos. After a year where many of us were forced to spend more time alone, this work is about solitude, creativity and self-renewal.
Like the layering of strata, the amalgamation and accretion of materials creates a type of geological abstraction. Through a collapsed hierarchy of forms, the rectilinear stone tablets take on a painterly quality of colour and texture, while irregular shaped slabs appear like artefacts from a future archaeology.
Grounded by the hand of the artist, remnants of my physical presence can be found in golden fingers mounted to wooden frames. These fingers hold space and gesture inwards, turning from a turbulent outside world to the infinite possibilities of an inner world of imagination and creativity.
My artworks employ forces of creation and destruction to investigate the cyclical nature of order and chaos, and to reflect more universal aspects of human nature. Approaching this body of work as a democracy of materials, what we consider precious is collapsed into the non-precious, creating a powerful sense of renewal. In a time of uncertainties beyond our control, our personal space – the body, the home, the studio – takes on much greater significance. The personal becomes a safe space where the process of creation becomes a meditative act of healing.
Artist Statement – May 2021
Reminiscent of ancient stone tablets dug up from an archaeological site, Owen Leong’s latest body of wall-based ‘geological abstractions’ also function as a series of palimpsests. Layered into the works are hidden narratives and memories, triggered by the associations which many of the familiar and personal objects so carefully placed within the works must inevitably evoke for the artist. This hint at a partially obscured narrative, and a sense of mystery and intrigue, speak to newcomers to Leong’s artworks in an equally powerful way. We recognise the shattered yet carefully placed fragments of vintage pink Tupperware, the pathos of the empty plastic shell that once housed shiny new iPhone airpods and the humdrum plastic bottle tops that we carelessly toss aside without a second thought.
Contrasting with the permanence of materials such as gypsum and concrete, Leong’s choice of everyday materials reminds us of the impermanence of everything and prompts us to consider how and to what we assign value. Our contemporary throwaway culture is suddenly turned on its head as waste materials are all at once viewed in a new light and we marvel at their simple beauty. Placed alongside this detritus are hand cast and carefully moulded sculptural elements: winter mushrooms and plumply wrinkled red dates cast in bronze and representative of traditional Chinese medicine and its healing properties; medallions imprinted with the artist’s own fingerprint; and wrapped around the frame themselves, creeping into the traditional picture plane, the cast golden fingers of the artist – drawing the eye inwards.
Created during the chaotic months of the 2020 pandemic, Leong’s works create order and beauty from the intimate debris of his personal life, studio life and the found objects that clutter our hyper-consumerist contemporary existence. The sense of beauty, organic symmetry and visual poetry that can be found in each piece acts as a kind of balm for the viewer – an effect no doubt felt by the artist as he undertook the meditative process of carefully assembling each work. In carefully composing each of these works, Leong combines a bowerbird-like quality with the kind of purity of vision that we often associate with young children. Each individual element selected and placed within the composition of the work has been seen for what it truly is but also for what it’s creative potential might be. As children continue to see wonder in the objects around them, so Leong’s new works reawaken a sense of wonder in a time of darkness.
For the last five years or more, Leong’s practice has markedly shifted towards sculpture, with many of his previous works birthed through a cyclic process of creation and destruction. This fascination with breaking down in order to build up continues in his Intimate Debris series. But now it is as though time itself has collapsed, leaving us with Leong’s monumental slabs – embedded with artefacts from a history we are watching unfold in front of our eyes. For many of us ‘The Great Pause’ of 2020 has called into question our understanding of what is truly important and prompted us to reassess everything. What is useful and what is useless? What is precious? What do we truly value?
Having found himself unable to continue with a body of work he was midway through making in March 2020, a series of sculptures that offered a much darker take on our own inevitable mortality, Leong instead chose to pivot and respond to the events of last year by choosing to start afresh – creating a new body of works which although still imbued with a lingering sense of the post-apocalyptic sadness of things discarded, focuses and ultimately embraces the calming and meditative qualities of creating order and beauty from chaos. Hope can be found in the way in which materials are transformed and reborn. Safety can be found in the thought of creativity and the studio as a sanctuary. A sense of deep catharsis can be found in the creation of order.
Well known for his early photographic and video works which were so often underpinned by self-portraiture, Leong continues his tradition of alluding to the physical body of the artist in this new series of work – his disembodied presence being represented by the golden fingers which wrap around the frames. In a year in which we were so often left craving the gentle touch of another human and a world in which physical contact was something that was suddenly feared and policed, Leong’s fingers evoke the calming hand of a loved one, the symbolism and spirituality of a mudra position, and the powerful healing qualities of touch.
Although the physical presence of the artist himself may, in this new body of work, have been distilled to just the presence of these fingers, in some ways Leong’s latest series offers a deeper and more probing look into the artist’s mind and emotional landscape than earlier self-portraits. Beckoning us to look both within and without, the works in Intimate Debris both document and offer insights into the universal capacity of the human mind to find and create meaning and beauty from amongst the chaos of the world.
Curator – May 2021
Owen Leong is a contemporary artist working with sculpture, photography, video and performance. He uses personal mythologies to explore systems of power, culture and representation. His artworks employ forces of creation and destruction to investigate the cyclical nature of order and chaos, and to reflect more universal aspects of human nature.
Leong’s work has been exhibited widely in Australia and internationally including the Art Gallery of New South Wales; Art Gallery of South Australia; Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre; Monash Gallery of Art; 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art; Singapore Art Museum; Today Art Museum, Beijing; Zendai Museum of Modern Art, Shanghai; OCT Contemporary Art Terminal, Shenzhen; and the National Museum of Poznan, Poland.
In 2017, Leong was a finalist in the Ramsay Art Prize, Australia’s richest prize for young contemporary artists working in any medium. In 2016 Leong was a recipient of the MAMA National Photography Prize and in 2015, he won the Josephine Ulrick and Win Schubert Photography Award. Leong has received numerous awards and grants from the Australia Council for the Arts, Ian Potter Cultural Trust, and Asialink. He has held artist residencies at Artspace, Sydney; Centre for Contemporary Chinese Art, Manchester; Cité Internationale des Arts, Paris; Tokyo Wonder Site, Japan; Swatch Art Peace Hotel, Shanghai; and Hong Kong Arts Centre, Hong Kong.
His work is held in the public collections of Bathurst Regional Art Gallery, Bendigo Art Gallery, Gold Coast City Gallery, Murray Art Museum Albury, Newcastle Art Gallery, University of Salford Art Collection UK, and private collections in Australia and internationally.
View selected works from a preview of Owen Leong’s ‘Intimate Debris series below.
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