Konstruk, public art at Iskandar Puteri

Chris and I were on a drive to somewhere when he told me about the art installation he was designing, using a variety of bamboo.

Katakan Cinta, art installation by Indonesian artist,
Andi Ramdani
His concept was inspired by the various ethnic groups who came to make a living or trade in Johor and the poems they traditionally inscribed on bamboo to record their hardship and struggles and ultimately, to celebrate their success.

I can tell when Chris was passionate about a project. 

As he spoke about his design – using different species of bamboo to represent the diverse race groups – planted in a bamboo grove and taking root in their lives’ journey here, I began to grasp the captivating and powerful message of his art installation.

Time rushed by in a blur as Chris immersed himself in his projects and I was busy meeting deadlines so that I could leave for India, without any unfinished work on my mind.

Cocoon, a design by Malaysian artist, Alvin Tan
On my return, I was swamped with work again while two of the three Iskarnivals held over three months – Kreatif and Naratif – happened in Iskandar Puteri.  I caught finally a glimpse of the excitement at the third in its series, Sama-Sama.

By then, I had read online about the public art project dubbed Konstruk, an item within Sama-Sama, and was keen to see the creations that have taken shape along the 2km stretch of the Puteri Harbour promenade.

When I read Chris’ name among the list of 15 artists and architects from the ASEAN region featured in Konstruk, I had a strong desire to see what we discussed months ago to find out if what I imagined came anything close to his creation.

Conceptualised and managed by labDNA, an urban design practice specializing in creating engaging public spaces, Konstruk began in mid-July 2015 as part of a two-year public art programme and place-making initiative for Iskandar Puteri.

Axis Mundi by Leeroy New from the Philippines
The promotion of bamboo as an alternative and sustainable material for construction and craft was central to the Konstruk initiative.

For this project, up to 9,000 pieces of bamboo in lengths of up to 40 feet long, were sourced from Pontian and organically treated before being used in the artistic creations.

While bamboo may not be a new art form, I discovered that Konstruk is the first project in Malaysia to showcase this material in an entire exhibition and on such a large scale.

Chris, at one entrance into his bamboo grove
The Iskarnival, Sama-sama weekend was rather wet and because it had rained heavily overnight, the field where the installations were set up, was bogged down and squelchy.

Dark clouds were looming that morning when I got to Puteri Harbour and monsoon rain was threatening to come down again, so I hurried out to see the impressive installations in Konstruk.

Some of the team members who were arranging disused wooden pallets on the ground [to facilitate more comfort in walking or standing on the field], paused in their work to chat with me.  Sensing my interest in the art installations, they pointed to the various bamboo creations and tried to be helpful by telling me which artist did which piece.

A section of the bamboo grove design portrays a
ruined bamboo forest
I understand that artist selection for this project started with research on the artists from the ASEAN region and 30 candidates where shortlisted based on their concept, narrative and innovative techniques, and invited to submit proposals.

A panel which included labDNA curators and representatives from UEM Sunrise and Khazanah Malaysia, reviewed their proposals and selected 15 artists who represented Indonesia, Singapore, Cambodia, Thailand, the Philippines and Malaysia.

I also learnt that the two-year commission period here is also significantly longer than the display periods of bamboo artwork in other regional festivals.

Then I headed to the Green Market section where I knew I should find Chris and when I did, he led the way to show me his bamboo grove.

The path through the bamboo grove is bordered by
different species of bamboo
As we walked to the site along the promenade, he explained that it would take a bit of time for the bamboo plants to grow and flourish before the full impact of the installation could be seen and felt.

I guessed he was preparing me because his creation involved live plants and it would naturally need time and nourishment before the bamboo grove grew lush and green.  And then I saw it.

I might be biased but I’m charmed by how his design not only allows viewers to see the different bamboo species and experience “the journey” through the bamboo grove.  One section also showed the stark contrast in the beauty of live bamboo against the ruins of forests that have been chopped down.

Walking back to enjoy the host of activities in Sama-Sama, I decided that Chris’ installation merits a next visit as it was created mainly of live bamboo.  It would be interesting to see if a more matured grove matches the picture in my mind’s eye.

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