Penang artist salvages junk to recreate George Town memories


Ono Kang spins the helm of his artwork 'Above All Else, We Must Learn to Control Our Breath' during a tour of his solo exhibition in Kuala Lumpur. Photo: The Star/Faihan Ghani

If a pirate turned parts of a ship into artworks, they would undoubtedly resemble Ono Kang’s quirky contraptions, crafted mostly from scrap metal, antique furniture, wood and other recycled items.

The Penang-based self-taught artist is thrilled to see his installations travel beyond George Town, marking a memorable return to Kuala Lumpur for his latest exhibition Forged By Time at Fahrenheit88 mall.

The warehouse-style ambiance of the exhibition space perfectly complements the "junkyard" theme of Ono Kang's 16 installations.

Ono Kang's piece 'Chuan Kui (Breathe)' features an old clock without hands atop an electric chair, symbolising the sensation of time halting as one's life flashes before their eyes. Photo: BernamaOno Kang's piece 'Chuan Kui (Breathe)' features an old clock without hands atop an electric chair, symbolising the sensation of time halting as one's life flashes before their eyes. Photo: Bernama

The exhibition, curated in collaboration with ArtisFair, founded by fashion designer Datuk Sri Bernard Chandran, runs until May 25.

He collaborated with Chandran during the 2022 ArtisFair exhibition in KL. Later, he joined the Lumina art residency programme in Langkawi, Kedah, an outreach initiative of ArtisFair, last year. This show provides a glimpse into the Ono Kang story, featuring both early works and recent creations.

Through his installation pieces, often composed of broken fragments, he narrates a tale of art, family, and heritage. Abandoned brass instruments also showcase Ono Kang's musical passion.

Some works, spanning years, appear to be ongoing personal projects for the artist, evolving as he adds and replaces elements during exhibitions.

A view of Ono Kang's installation 'Oui! Che Meh Gu (Oui! I Am A Blind Cow)', which is inspired by his grandmother's old TV set. Photo: The Star/Faihan Ghani A view of Ono Kang's installation 'Oui! Che Meh Gu (Oui! I Am A Blind Cow)', which is inspired by his grandmother's old TV set. Photo: The Star/Faihan Ghani

At Forged By Time, Ono Kang invites visitors to explore George Town through his intriguing installations, some titled in Hokkien.

"My great-grandfather transported charcoal from Thailand and Penang to sell in Singapore. Whenever he returned with a shipment, I would play on the transport ship, which was wooden and still used sails at the time,” said Ono Kang, 46, in a recent interview.

The rugged looking artist never fulfilled his dream of taking over his great-grandfather's shipyard and sailing the open seas, but he soon discovered that the junkyard was filled with treasures waiting to be uncovered.

A visitor captures Ono Kang's artwork 'Golden Moment', which not only rotates but also plays music from the attached record player. Photo: BernamaA visitor captures Ono Kang's artwork 'Golden Moment', which not only rotates but also plays music from the attached record player. Photo: Bernama

As his collection of old items grew, he started creating sculptures and installations about 20 years ago, crafting a diary from his memory treasures. He also knew where to salvage old boat and machine parts from the jetties scattered around George Town.

The ex-tattoo artist and musician, who left school to travel the world, debuted with his first exhibition at the Hin Bus Depot in George Town in 2018.

One of his early artworks, Oui! Che Meh Gu (Oui! I Am A Blind Cow), is crafted from his grandmother's antique television set, a source of childhood tinkering and scoldings. It features a typewriter on top and toys behind the screen for children to play-pretend TV.

The heaviest sculpture in the exhibition (300kg), titled 'Strength,' utilises the bottom rollers of an excavator. Photo: BernamaThe heaviest sculpture in the exhibition (300kg), titled 'Strength,' utilises the bottom rollers of an excavator. Photo: Bernama

“When I was younger, I used to meddle a lot with my brother's gadgets. I remember many times he was furious whenever I took apart his Walkman or cassette player just to see what the inside parts were like," he recalled with a laugh.

At the KL exhibition, his piece titled Above All Else, We Must Learn To Control Our Breath serves as a perfect metaphor for Ono Kang's artistic journey. Visitors are invited to spin the helm and observe where the attached globe ends up.

"This helm can be turned left or right and it changes the pathway of the globe. I wanted to show that while there are many obstacles in life, and things may not go as you plan (much like on the ocean), but we should always keep calm and hold steady (on the helm)," he said.

This show provides a glimpse into the Ono Kang story, featuring both early works and recent creations. Photo: The Star/Faihan Ghani This show provides a glimpse into the Ono Kang story, featuring both early works and recent creations. Photo: The Star/Faihan Ghani

Much like the helm and the globe, many of his other artworks in Forged By Time move or rotate mechanically.

Ono Kang, undiagnosed with dyslexia in his youth, faces challenges in reading and writing. However, his installations demonstrate a remarkable grasp of engineering.

"I believe being dyslexic gives me a unique perspective. Growing up in the junkyard, observing ship assemblies and gear movements, has influenced me more than I realised," he concluded.

Forged By Time: Ono Kang's Visual Diary is showing at Fahrenheit88 in Kuala Lumpur till May 25. The exhibition, free admission, is open daily from 11am till 9pm.


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Ono Kang , Installation , Artist , Penang , exhibition , ArtisFair

   

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