“Ng Fong Chao: Untitled at Fifty”
“I am fifty years old this year…art is everything to me.” As Ng Fong Chao is explaining the ideas about his solo exhibition and his artworks, I listen carefully and not without some pondering thoughts. Confucius had once written, “At fifty, I knew the Decrees of Heaven.” If there is indeed a destiny for everything and everyone, what would be the “decrees of Heaven” for Ng Fong Chao?
Within the period of the last two years, Fong Chao has been through two major events in his life: the death of his father and the birth of his son. Life is intrinsically interdependent with Death. Reaching to the age of fifty, Fong Chao has witnessed the dying process of his father on his deathbed. And not long after, his son was also born. The experience of his father’s passing away carried a tremendous resonance in Fong Chao’s life. He laments the fact that he was separated from his father since childhood and was not able to grow up near him. As Macau AFA has invited him to hold a solo exhibition, he has taken the occasion to create a new series of artworks dedicated to his father, revealing in front of us the depth of his reflections upon the subject of Life and Death.
Ng Fong Chao has arrived in Macau from Ningbo during the 80’s at the age of sixteen. As a teenager he has started working. Though he was introduced into the harsh reality of the society at such a young age, he has since the beginning carried with him the dream of art. Through his incessant learning and practice, this dream has become his reality step by step. Currently an exhibition curator at the Macau Art Museum, he has started his studies since 1987 participating in a series of art courses. He was graduated with a bachelor degree at the Visual Art School of the Macau Polytechnic Institute majoring in Visual Art and Painting. In 2010 he was graduated with a master degree at the Art Academy of Fine Arts in Guangzhou majoring in Modern and Contemporary Art Creation and Research.
During this process Ng Fong Chao has developed his art mainly based on practices. His exploration of the artistic media is unusually wide, including printing, painting, sculpture, performance art, conceptual photography, video art and installation. Even though Fong Chao has a low-profile style and is a man of few words, he is however quite readily sarcastic to the affairs of our world. His humour is often acutely present in his artworks. His series of conceptual photography in which he was dressed in wedding gown is one of his trademarks. Set against the touristic and historical sites in Macau, he was dressed as a demoiselle and was photographed. Seeing his manly face in these pictures one cannot decide if he should be considered charming or shy. His performance art is equally provocative. In many of his actions he can be seen half naked doing various ceremonies with the chopped head of a pig. In some others he was seen surrounded by a team of Barbie dolls that are “watching” him washing his feet.
Passionate in performance art, Ng Fong Chao must have been deeply influenced by the founder of Happening Art, Allan Kaprow and has long considered daily life as the raw material of his art. In “Essays on the Blurring of Art and Life” (1993), Kaprow proclaimed, “This everyday world affects the way art is created as much as it conditions its response.” Ng Fong Chao’s artwork in the current exhibition, “Materialisation: My Studio”, is composed with everyday life objects that he uses in the process of creation. He installs these collected objects directly into the gallery. He writes, “There are different objects in my studio. Sometimes I use these objects but sometimes they dominate me. Sometimes I use my body as a tool.” The artist uses this specific art form in order to blur the boundary between art and life. For Ng Fong Chao, it is an instinct. Theory of art for him is like talking about stratagem on paper. Grounded in the reality he carries out his works in an orderly fashion but he is at the same time rebellious to the general values in the society. Art is the space where he can rebel against these values freely. He rebels against the role between men and women, he rebels against the tradition, he rebels against the way people see art. And for this reason, Performance Art has necessarily become his unique way of expression.
But reaching middle age, Ng Fong Chao does not rebel just for the sake of it. In this season of change, he reflects upon decades of art practices in his life and reaches out for a mid-term assessment. He examines the proposition of Life and Death through the artistic means and life itself is his material. In the video installation artwork “Final Note” he has filmed the final words of his dying father in video. The video is installed inside a channel. Death is not the end but a transition. And then in the work “Speech without Words”, both the deathbed testament of his father and the baby babbling sound of his six-month-old son were recorded and translated anew with the voice translation application on a smartphone. These unreadable translated sentences are printed and honourably framed on the wall. Through the artistic way of thinking, the artwork is a solemn response of the artist toward the interminable cycle of Life and Death.
Individual perishment has led to reflection of existence and human conditions. In the installation artwork of “Rebirth: a Fantasy about the End of the World”, the artist has built a confined space where a fish is being kept and fed. What appears to be its comfort zone is at the same time its doom. When the peaceful aquarium is being stirred by unforeseeable forces, the end of the days is approaching. Is this not also the fate of human kind?
In 2009 Ng Fong Chao has created a series of conceptual photography during the performance of “The Prosperity Alarm of the Goldfish Tank in Nam Van Lake” where a group of high school students in uniform can be seen eating raw pork meat or gambling by the lakeside against the casinos background view. Fong Chao has printed out this series of photos again and has painted on top of them with watercolour. The new series is titled “Traversing – Mirage”. The view is still there but the people no longer will be. What we can see on the artwork now appears to be a new landscape painting with watercolour. Why did Ng Fong Chao repaint on top of this old series of photos? Perhaps it is the ultimate response of the artist in front of social injustice. What has to be exposed has now become the reality in front of everyone’s eyes. Can one make any change at all? “Next to nothing.” The artist sighs.
At the now when everything is destined to be faded away, humanity when facing the fear of the unknown, knows nothing but keep on grasping onto its own insatiable desire, sacrificing the Nature as the offering at the altar of our ignorance. In the artwork “God of Sea”, the image of each god has been made abstract. Each of them is in charge of a man-made object as if they are mocking at human kind. Our modern life is turning useless playthings into our god to the detriment of our own fate.
As Ng Fong Chao has written a few years ago in his artist statement, “To reveal the truth of facts coarsely, to point out the core of the problem vaguely, and to state the personal view point surrealistically, is also an attitude toward the society.”
Today, the “Decrees of Heaven” found by Ng Fong Chao in the polluted water of reality has finally been purified by the process of Death.
And he says casually, “Untitled at Fifty.”