We have been tinkering with the shell of our new three storey home. The basic structure of the house was there, but fixtures and fittings were, largely, absent. There were no kitchen units for either of our wet or dry kitchens, no light or fan fittings, with wires left where they and the aircon units should be - and in the most awkward of places too. So we had a lot to do.
With the aid of Bangladeshi workers (don’t ask) we have been getting familiar with making things out of concrete and experimenting with lighting, wall hanging and shifting electrical sockets (and plumbing) throughout the house, from where the builders put them to where we wanted them. It has been some great task, and has been going on for some months.
We wanted to input a sense of Walter Gropius’s ‘Modern’ or some sort of contemporary aspect into the house. Hence the concrete. Yes I know that concrete dates back to the Romans (200 BC) , and so is hardly new, but one Joseph Aspdin (1824) invented the regularised ‘Portland’ cement enabling widespread use of cement in home construction in England and France between 1850 and 1880, especially by Frenchman Francois Coignet. But, increasingly, raw concrete is being used in contemporary houses, as is the concept of raw bricks and exposed pipes (or so I am led to believe from such magazines as Interior Design Yearbook 2019, and Living Etc. UK 2019).
It was a sheer delight then, to be ushered into the building (which is home to Sculptureatwork - yes, all one word) and were greeted by company CEO Soon Yee Ling. Soon Yee Ling, if you may remember was (back in 2008) responsible for mini sculptures of Penang businesses, at the time of its Unesco world heritage site listing, as well as ‘Voices From the People’ (George Town Penang - a collection of 52 flat, iron rod made caricatures placed on its historic streets). Sculptureatwork has made myriad public sculptures ever since, including the bright red ladies (The Past and Present) and silver leaping lady (Jump for Joy) at Puchong’s mini-mall Setia Walk.
Inside the studio and office complex at Sculptureatwork, the first items to grab our attention were the concrete walls, concrete floor and the exposed concrete beams/pillars. The seating varied from white painted ‘chicken’ cages (which were either left to resemble themselves, or re-constructed to resemble chairs) to seats made from wooden railway ‘sleepers’. Some of the walls were adorned by some small sculptures (Maquette?), others by some of the miniatures used for the George Town event. Upstairs, cut railway sleepers had been utilised as kitchen ‘breakfast bar’ stools in one wide area focusing upon a very lifelike hippopotamus (2009) statue, mounted by three metal black ‘cartoon’ birds.
There, inside that building, the serious business of contemporaneity in design rubbed shoulders with humour and humorous juxtaposition (such as the horse attempting to climb off the upstairs balcony, or the grossly enlarged star anise [Illicium verum] spice made of bronze casting, and topped with glass to form a coffee book table). Elsewhere, up concrete (yes more concrete) stairs which led to nowhere, a Chinese styled birdcage sat with its door open. Miniature figures were posed as if entering the cage, while others were already inside. Is this a comment on Marilyn Frye’s short essay on ‘Oppression” I wonder.
Outside, along a broad concrete patio, both wooden and concrete benches invited us to rest. To one side, what appeared to be a life-size, yet cartoon, bronze bear (maybe Kipling’s Baloo) seemed to be motionlessly hurrying toward a sculpture of a white stag (deer) with magnificent antlers. Around the corner, as if planted and growing, was a herd of other white deer, some seated while others stood lookout for the static bear, or stray visitors such as ourselves. Further along, artwork which had been designed by legendary Malaysian cartoonist Datuk Mohd Nor Khalid (Lat), and had been placed throughout Kuala Lumpur city centre, lounged as a tribute to the cartoonist and to the company which made the sculptural images.
It was a sheer delight to witness the contemporary overt plumbing in the washrooms, with joints and naked pipes on display in an ‘industrial’ look with bends and joints appearing less humble and more artistic, but not in any Melamid way (reference to the contemporary artist Alexander Melamid, painter of The Art of Plumbing, including ‘Form-N-Fit 1-1/2 Flanged Tailpiece’, ‘Large Drain Cleansing Bladder’, and ‘The No Clog Drain, Permaflow’).
Ultimately we came away full of awe for the company Sculptureatwork, full of praise for Soon Yee Ling and his studio teams and with a multitude of ideas for the new house. Our visit had improved our thinking about contemporary interior design but, sadly, not the finances to put much of it into practice.