A Personal Reckoning
Over three consequtive evenings in Junly 1999, Cheo Chai Hiang gave illustrated accounts of the developments of his practice, from its inception during the years of his studentship (1971 -80) until the present. In explicating it, he maintained a subtle but determined distance between forwarding the self as an originating agent or ground for artistic productions and casting the self as the plausible giver of meaning to those very productions. In other words, while he was willing to describe processes or strategies entailed in the production of art, he steered clear from prospecting grounds or methods for interpretating those productions. Implicitly, his decision points towards acknowledging the public as an agency for generating meaning and appraising value. This is not to say that artists are precluded from interpretating and giving meaning to their art, they do so as members of the public, however difficult this might be, and then not necessarily as privileged members.
This disclosures underlined the importance of looking at and experiencing the world as the basis for shaping his thoughts and determining methods of production; Chai Hiang looks at the world purposefully and through a number of lenses. For instance, he is fascinated by ways with human beings fix things,s et things right, mend things, rectify faults and damage so that use is recuperated and efficacy prolonged. These interventions undoubtedly alter the design and appearance of original things; materials used are often inappropriate while techniques employed for reparation do not match those in the initial fabrication. An air of provisionality hangs over such mediations.
Chai Hiang is drawn towards and looks at these kinds of making with mulptiple, overlapping interests. In one instance, he sees these interventions in terms of incongruities and as giving rise to pradoxes; such dualities are both generative for and germane to his artistic thinking. In another instance, and impressed by functional imperatives, he is alert to prospecting fresh relationships arising from juxtaposing incompatible materials and employing unmatching methods. And then there is the dimension of time; these kinds of making are intended as make-shift solutions. Yet, they have a propensity to endure, and in doing so shake off their transience, assume a condition of permanence and therefore, of propriety and acceptance. That which began by being temporary and incongruous subsequently attains prevalence and coherence through use and familiarity.
Chai Hiang summarised the implications of these encounters, sustained during sjourns in Spain, Italy,Australia (the place of his residence), China and Singapore (the place of his birth), in a twin-pronged disclosure; he expressed it in the following terms: 'interest in how things work' and 'making do to get by'. The first points to his interest in operational and procedural matters by which materials are brought together and pressed into serving as an immediate, even remedial purpose. The outcome, when it endures, is affected by time and space; in this capacity, it is perceived as an object or thing marked by history.