Questions to Heaven
Art Installation, Website & Publication Design
Questions to Heaven is an installation that takes its name from the poem of the same name, attributed to Qu Yuan who lived during the Warring States Period of ancient China.
The poem, consisting of 172 questions in total, revolves around mysteries and contradictory accounts in legends and mythologies and begins with questions concerning the parts and motions of the celestial Heaven, to questions about the wonders of earth and the life it supports and finally to the realm of mortal men, his destinies and fate.
Documenting Traditional Ancestral Tablet Carving
My father, Leow Bock Kiong, age 58 (in 2013), works as a Taoist priest and supplements income by carving Chinese ancestral tablets. He took up this profession more than twenty-five years ago, or just before I was born. The skills that he learnt as a carver was from his father-in-law (my grandfather) while he practices as a priest from a temple next to his workplace then and received his certification from China, Jiang Xi Province, Mount Long Hu(龙虎山, Long Hu Shan) to practice in Singapore.
The topic resonated with my life as it brings me closer to my father, his trade and the words he carved on the tablet — the life he has carved out for the family and I and the words he said and wishes to say to me. The trade may be fading but the impact it has on me will last me through the lifetime.
Final Year Project Exhibit
Separated into three tiers, Heaven, Earth and men from the highest to the lowest tier, 76 of the original questions were included together with four questions by the artist. These were carved on ancestral tablets by the artist’s father, the artist himself, and a laser cutting machine, to mediate a conversation between the three generations and to highlight the lost of a traditional skill and the wisdom attached to it through the generations.
Exhibition Booklet and Project Report
The project includes an exhibition booklet and a 10,000 words report. The exhibition booklet is an accordion-fold publication with the project information printed on one side, and the questions printed on the reversed side. These questions are unreadable on the reversed side since it was printed as a mirror image; it can be read on the front when one lifts the paper towards the sky (or against a light source), hence, symbolically, asking the questions to heaven as he/she reads the notes. The project report documents my entire research and experimentation, filled with images, typography and illustrations. This document is available upon request for research purpose.
Interface Design and Website Development
In order to provide a clear explanation about the installation, a website was developed to help viewers to navigate the work. The site’s experimental form of navigation allows viewers to refer to the questions carved on the ancestral tablets, hence enhancing their understanding of the work.
Exploration prior to the Actual Exhibit
The project requires a significant amount of research work and experimentation; from learning the skill from my father, to pouring through books and papers in both English and Chinese, to the video and photography documentation, and conceptualisation of the installation; these took up almost 80% of the nine months spent on this extensive piece of work. As mentioned earlier, the entire process is documented in a report, part of the requirement for my Honours Degree.
Nanyang Technological University
School of Art Design & Media
— Project Date
Leow Hou Teng
— Traditional Carver
Leow Bock Kiong
Asst Prof Dr. Nanci Takeyama
— Project Category
Art Installation, Photography, Publication, UI/UX
80 Wooden Tablets on a 1.8m x 1.8m Lightbox, Website
Video Footage 2:20min,
Photo, Publication, Report
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