Architect-artist Jun Ong gained high profile coverage all around the world with his first large-scale light installation called The Star that was embedded in an abandoned building in Butterworth, Penang. His resume for his light installations, largely made of pristine LED tubes, includes the Tesseract for Heineken Malaysia, Warp for George Town Festival ’15, and an interactive piece called Bolt for Asia’s foremost sustainable light festival iLight. While he may be highly sought after as for his minimal yet impactful light sculptures, Jun Ong’s multidisciplinary agency POW Ideas, which he started with his university classmate Kyle E, is behind the beautifully conceived spaces for businesses such as the cafe Merchant’s Lane, the showroom of curated fashion retailer Cuevolution, and more. JUICE speaks to Jun Ong over email about The Star, his passion for light, and POW Ideas.
Why did you choose to build a star for the installation? What significance does it have with highlighting Penang’s lesser-known industrial contribution?
My first instinct upon seeing the unfinished building was to create something that completely contrasted its formal appearance yet become symbiotic with it, in this case, borrowing its structure. I am interested in geometries and polygons, and the star was essentially a dodecahedron – a 12 sided-polygon.
Did you anticipate the amount of international coverage that The Star would receive?
Never, because it was my first ever large-scale public artwork and also the fact it was in a very isolated location in Penang. Also, I wasn’t sure how the locals and general public would perceive a light sculpture of this magnitude!
A large majority of your light installations take influence from nature. Is it a means to incorporate the natural and the artificial together?
Yes. I am fascinated by natural phenomenon, from lightning to outer space – all these elements expand one’s imagination.
You’ve spoken about the intangibility and tangibility of light, specifically fluorescent light. What was the instance that made you so compelled to build installations around this medium?
I’m very drawn to maximising the potentials of generic items, and light fittings are one of them.
Do you think if you hadn’t interned for Tom Dixon, would you have gone on this route of experimenting with lights?
For sure. I think my stint at the studio definitely opened new avenues in lighting and spatial design. And, also about searching for your own artistic identity.
Is there a creative difference when you create art for art festivals versus brand events with artistic orientation?
I’d like to think that there are no boundaries. For me, every piece is an exploration of something new, a new idea, a new technology, or new technique.
Do you see your art installations to move away from light?
Potentially, I have just set up POW Ideas, a design studio where we also do installations that are not necessarily just lights. The studio is a collaborative studio where we take inspiration from various mediums and techniques.
Since you just finished school in ‘14, did you always have an idea to establish a multidisciplinary business with POW Ideas?
For sure. Ideally, I’d love to work for someone here in KL that does similar stuff, but there aren’t many here, so that really got us to take a risk and chart our own path.
Could you explain how the theatrical performance of Gerai Tai Tai relates to the objectives of POW Ideas?
It was thanks to a grant we received from Krishen Jit Astro Fund. I think this was a very exciting project for us as we were always very fascinated by the pasar malam culture and the architecture of stalls. It was also a way that we can attempt to bring art into public spaces and neighbourhoods, and getting the general public to be part of it.
Jun Ong’s most recent installation was recently seen at the Kuala Lumpur edition of Heineken Shape Your City @ Plaza Batai.