ART.Surfing–[Donna Ong]

September 24, 2008 at 5:41 pm | Posted in Art Reviews, Art.Surf, Writings | 1 Comment

Note to reader: This is not meant to be a critical review. If you’re looking for something professionally written, sorry bub, maybe go look here. I feel that the art critics out there like to write in flamboyant language and use all those bombastic words to illustrate some super abstract point (which maybe under all those façade, is actually very unsophisticated) and it just makes me more confused than the artwork itself. So… enter XY’s very entertaining and casual art response style, 100% guaranteed no dictionaries or art teachers required. It isn’t going to be graded anyway, so it’s purely my personal humble opinion, no offense. (:

I promised irreverently that I would write about some other artists I mentioned from Singapore Biennale ’06, but I never got it done, so now I’m making up for it! Today’s ART.Surfing spotlight will be on Donna Ong!! I’ve only got one photo of her works.. now I’m seriously regretting not taking more during Biennale!! 😦

For Singapore Biennale 2006, Donna Ong did 4 installations in four different rooms of City Hall. Each installation represented a different person, each with their own secrets. (ooooh…) These secrets are translated into installations by turning the room into a space where these inner thoughts and desires acquire form. Actually, there were notebooks with drawings by the imaginary person to vaguely explain his secret thoughts… but I didn’t see any! X(

secret, interiors : chrysalis (19) image credit:

This one was–to put very bluntly–very creepy. Like I explained in [The.Artist], I have a love-hate affair with these kind of Parental Guidance artworks. First look at the artwork and you get a

Eeeee.. crazy person”

response. Dolls seemingly drowning in coffin-ish boxes with tubes leading to a network of other random stuff suspended in solution-filled jars and bottles. One of the ‘stuff’ I remembered was ginseng. I didn’t notice the drawing of foetuses though. I confess, at that time, it was a look-and-go installation for me. I still couldn’t stomach these attractive yet haunting works for too long. After some thought, you would probably realise that this secret laboratory probably belonged to a certain Dr. Frankenstein who wanted to create human life. Motifs from Donna Ong’s Sing O Barren Woman (2002) are very evident here. Could Dr. Frankenstein actually be a childless woman trying conceive through artificial means of bringing plastic dolls to live? Easily the more “shocking” installation of the four.

secret, interiors : chrysalis (20)

Haha that’s Leny, trying to show you the beautiful hidden crystalware within the table. Too bad her hand is in the way. (Tsk.) The lights went on and off periodically, and it really looked beautiful when the lights came on full brightness. Leny fell in love with it.

My guess is this imaginary person is fascinated with pristine beauty and “the fleeting effects of light”!! Apparently he has created what looks like a crystal cave with glass stalactites and staglamites. Perhaps he is like a magpie—-mesmerized by glowing and shiny objects, collecting them and building his own little glass fortress.

I remembered almost trying to touch the glassy pillars of the cave (but now I can’t remember if there was a barrier or I quickly withdrew my hand in case I knocked something over)– the attractive power is so apparent! Another quality I would like to add is it’s fragility. Donna Ong mentioned in an interview that glass is like “shutting yourself out from the world (eg. snow queen)” but “at the same time strangely attractive despite its coolness”. I don’t know if the glass is a symbol/representation of the imaginary person, but if it were, this person would be: Introverted, Quiet, Doesn’t show emotions, Cautious, Rigid and a little…Compulsive?

secret, interiors : chrysalis (21) image credit: Universes in Universe

A table top-turned flying machine! Looks almost like the one from the Icarus Installation! Anyway, Icarus was a character from Greek Myth who tried to escape from exile using wax wings. But he enjoyed flying so much he got too near the Sun and his wings melted so he fell into the sea and drowned.

One look at this plane and you know it can’t take flight. But this is where imagination does its magic. It’s nothing like the real flying, but it reminds me of how I used to clip my pens to a ruler and pretend that it was some sort of treasure finding gadget. It led me to some..things.. I hid around the house. I actually kinda believed that it was a gadget, and hey, you really do get the feeling like you’re realling hunting treasure!

In private, (Or if you’re a kid who doesn’t care about what people think of you) this kind of magic does happen when you’re alone and no one’s watching. But hardly anyone shows them explicitly because they’re worried of what others might think of them. So what if you can’t really fly? You just need to be alone or be a kid. Now you’re flying!

Using that protractor thingy as the cockpit shield is really clever. What? I could sit on the machine seat? No one told me that! Aww… :/

secret, interiors : chrysalis (22) image credit:

This one’s pretty easy–a musical instrument! Those are stainless steel spoons and teppanyaki flipper/crepe spreading thingies! You can really make some (rather awful) music on this. This is probably the more interactive installation, since it allows you to play kitchen music. Does it remind you of how you liked to use spoons to hit the plates and cups then your mother told you not to play with kitchen utensils? Woah.. it’s like deja vu.

Deep down inside us, we all have secret beliefs and desires. Maybe we can’t clearly make out what they are at the moment, or haven’t felt so strongly about them yet. But Donna Ong’s installations makes us relook into our own desires and rethink that of others. What others’ desires may seem crazy to you may actually also be hidden in your own desires. But we don’t show it unless we’re alone, and we suppress them inside our minds, simply because we’re afraid others might find it crazy. (And they may actually do)

Donna Ong is a Singaporean artist known for her sculpture installations. Website:


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