Making light of matter

Ophthalmologist Chng Nai Wee's installation explores play and patterning of light

May 4, 2002. Business Times The Arts.

By Parvathi Nayar

THERE'S a certain colourful logic in the assumption that when a man of science turns to art, one aspect is bound to colour the other. Certainly, this has been a factor in the artistic practices of ophthalmologist Chng Nai Wee - and nowhere more so than his latest piece, an outdoor light installation entitled Moleculux - Luminescent Bodies in Hyperspace. The connections are apparent, because this is a work that attempts to explore the play and patterning of light.

In appearance, the light installation is patterned after molecular forms. Chng initially worked with specific molecules like Thymidine to derive the modular nature of his two works, entitled Autofluromoleculux, and Luminescent Bodies in Hyperspace.

Their appearances change at different times: in the day, the lime green Autofluromoleculux (meaning, self-lighting, fluorescent molecules) and the violet Luminescent Bodies are illumined only by the changing intensities of sunlight. As daylight fades, coloured cable lights running within the installation are switched on, so the translucent acrylic works now glow with an inner light. The lime green colour of Auto, incidentally, seems to allow the experience of a greater degree of light refractions.

The colours lime and violet were deliberately chosen, as shades that are complex and sensuous; Chng feared, perhaps rightly, that a straightforward red or bright blue might render the work simplistic, like some children's playground gone futuristic. But acquiring - and fabricating - these quirky coloured panels proved no easy task.

Initially conceived as one giant piece, Chng explains that space constraints led him to break it up into the existing pair of related pieces. The problem though is the actual placement - the space feels too constricted, not giving the installation sufficient room to breathe nor the viewer enough room to walk easily around the works.

For a while now, actually, Chng has worked in the three-dimensional format, starting with a video installation in 1991. He has been particularly interested in modular structures; a previous large-scale work, for example, was built up with smaller origami-like pieces. After Moleculux - funded by a $10,000 grant - is dismantled, Chng plans to work further with its modular form to create different, sometimes site-specific, works.

What he proposes is not formulaic, more like the installation equivalent, perhaps, of a painter working on a series of paintings. 'Modular structures allow you to be really flexible,' he says. There's a pre-determined design element in Moleculux that can be reproduced in different forms; Chng sees this as a way to exploring myriad possibilities without having to go back to square one every single time.

Moleculux will be on till May 31, Sculpture Square, 155 Middle Road