TO SEE A WORLD IN A GRAIN OF SAND
An Experiential Installation by Chi-yung WONG
Commissioned by Theatre of Liege, Belgium | 2018
Music Composed by An Tôn Thất
Video by Yuen-Tat Chan
Programmed by Jose Ho
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Chi Yung’s work is fascinating. On one hand it evokes something universal. On the other hand it’s a rich sharing of his own personal and deep experience, like the way a composer would do it through music. As a doctor, I wish such experience were given to some patients who need support and care, especially before something stressful.
Dr Bernard Delvaux, MD, Department Of Anaesthesiology
Hopital Privé Claude Galien, Quincy-Sous-Sénart, France
Experience and research teach us that being totally focussed is best practiced with our eyes closed. So when Mr. Wong Chi-Yung asked me about the confrontation of his art with the science of the electrophysiologist, the neuroscientist and the clinical practitioner treating people with anxiety and mood disorders, I thought that would be a real challenge. Maybe it would not directly bring a new treatment in clinical practice, it certainly was worth trying to find new ways in which art and science can fruitfully cooperate. Art-therapy being more and more neglected in the last decades could use an impulse to find new ways and it would help the scientist certainly a great deal if they started looking beyond the list of symptoms checked in a structured interview by a beginning psychology student.
But how to be inspired by the electrophysiological studies, the clinical practice of mindfulness if your creativity mainly focusses on the visual art, the design and composition of light-art?
Chi-Yung took the challenge. He followed neuroscientists, participated in studies, asked the right questions, struggled with many wrong questions, took dead-end streets but eventually found his inspiration.
He created an installation with lots of visuals! He did so in a way that makes the visitor aware of ‘distractions’ and thus enhances general awareness: of what is going on in the installation as well as what is going on in one’s own, the spectator’s, mind. This detour, this way around the problem, is the kind of ‘out of the box’ thinking and creating that characterizes Chi-Yung ’s work.
Some phases in the cycle of the installation clearly resemble the visual experiences with eyes closed, with just a little pressure on the eye balls.
The other fragments imitate the associations of the mind into the outside world. With the multi-directionality of our wandering minds, the four elements of earth, water, air and fire may be experienced.
The whole experience thus stands for awareness as well as sleep, with different phases as observed on EEG and other electrophysiological techniques.
In a miraculous interaction with the composer Mr. An Ton Tat, a musical dimension was found and added. Although one can easily connect with the meditative aspect of the music, it is far away from the yoga studio or massage salon muzak one might expect. To the contrary: both the visual experience and the music do challenge this kind of expectations and make you readjust to what is really there.
Mindfulness means awareness of what is in the present moment.
The art, inspired by the concept of mindfulness, inspired by the scientific research on mindfulness, is of course ‘just’ the art. But, as always while experiencing art, the awareness of what is, is the experience of the work of art. Not something else. There is no further ‘meaning’ to it, as the artist himself eloquently has put it. Wong Chi-Yung just says: “Hey, here! Look! Listen! I created this for you! Experience it! I hope you enjoy!”
Mindfulness is not a panacea. Yet art may very well be.
Jeroen van der Linden, MD
Entering into the physical space of the multi-media artwork, “To See a World in a Grain of Sand” will transcend the sole beholder to a magical moment of peace and equilibrium. Chi Yung is experienced in orchestrating moving images, lighting and sound; however, this time he made one step further as his work ignites the beholder’s imagination through senses, from vision and sound, to touch and smell. It is also a performative work when a larger group of visitors gather around the piece. The pun between Liège and cork plays another level of reading in this piece as beholders walk on the segmented cork which symbolizes sand that provides a poetic metaphor which engages Liège the city for the artistically dream-like encounter.
Executive Director of the Hong Kong Arts Centre
Wong Chi Yung is an art leader and self starter artist full of entrepreneurial spirit, energy, passion and vision. He is passionate about integrating his own artistic creation with scientific research and through his arts making created aesthetic places in the community. The forum that we co-organised in Hong Kong last year opened up many new possibilities, dialogue, issues and difficulties on how arts and science could collaborate. It is not only scientists doing amazing work in the fields of particle physics, space science, synthetic biology, information technology, agriculture, public health or neuroscience, Artists are also responding to the increasing dominance of science and technology in daily life, and to the growing sense of urgency in the face of climate change and mass species loss. The interdisciplinary approach of collaboration opens up fields of enquiry to new demographics.
Anna C.Y. Chan, Dean of the School of Dance of The Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts
Former Head, Artistic Development (Dance) at West Kowloon Cultural District Authority, Hong Kong
To See a World in a Grain of Sand is literally about contemporary existence. In this performative installation, art offered a new light into the scientific realm of mindfulness. The music and light choreography work like symphony to bring the audience to the NOW. Chi-yung has presented us a converging point where Art and Science could bounce off to countless possibilities.
Programme Manager of the Hong Kong Art Centre
Chi Yung has the rare ability to span and work across the most different of disciplines, and this work is a testimony to this outstanding ability. Fusing the work and bridging the languages and paradigms of scientists from the neuroimaging field and mindfulness practice into a dazzling work involving arts, lights and music. This installation is an extraordinary achievement, which helps to elevate all of its constituent parts to a new synergistic level. Without any doubt, such impressive co-operation is the result of exceptionally hard work and testimony to a tremendous journey. Managing to make his work accessible and accomplishing full sensory immersive experience for visitors to the installation, where he combines masterfully different constituents of light, music, touch and vision to a single whole, and that conveys his journey and inputs of the original paradigms into something that transports the visitor to the here and now, is something to be proud of.
Prof. Dr. Stephan Dahl, FRSA
Santander Chair of Social Sciences, Lisbon New University
J’ai eu la chance de découvrir « To See a World in a Grain of Sand » en avant-première et de profiter de l’expérience dans le silence le plus total. On est captivé dès les premières secondes par l’atmosphère étonnante résultant des effets de lumière et du son. On peut parler « d’effets de lumière » dans les tous premiers instants car, évidemment, on ne peut s’empêcher de chercher à comprendre comments les images apparaissent sous nos yeux, glissent le long des murs, se déforment, puis disparaissent dans des dégradés infinis de couleurs. Comme tout enfant ou adulte curieux, j’avais envie de comprendre la technique - l’aspect scientifique - de la chose. Mais, très vite, on se laisse totalement captiver par la lumière elle-même, et on ne cherche plus à comprendre mais seulement à apprécier, à deviner telle ou telle forme, animal fugace, association de couleur, le tout enveloppé dans un univers sonore rendant l’ensemble hypnotique. Tout est en suggestion - mais rien de flou - plutôt en ombres presque. Chacun y trouvera certainement sa propre interprétation de chaque tableau en fonction de sa propre imagination et de son état d’esprit du moment. J’ai pour ma part passé un moment magique et je suis persuadé qu’il n’y a pas « une » représentation, mais autant de représentations possibles que de spectateurs se laissant glisser dans le très bel univers de Chi-yung Wong.
Frederic Denis, Organiste de Notre Dame de La Croix, Paris - Directeur de collection Éditions Delatour France - Vice President de l’Institut Louis Vienne - Formateur FWA
The experience is beyond art and aesthetic, it is an adventure in the depth of human emotions. At the borders of sculpture, painting, multimedia arts and performing arts, it is a unique example of how art, science and technology can collaborate to unleash an unrevealed emotional and innovative potential. To See a World in a Grain of Sand is, personally, the most fruitful experience of my professional life. An 18 month journey into cross-sectorial and transnational collaborations; a work in close collaboration with an amazing artist; a work of evangelization within the Theater and an unforgettable human adventure. Working with Chi-Yung was a challenge and an unbelievable chance.
His rigor, his intelligence, his vision and his attentive and caring listening are undoubtedly the essential keys of this masterpiece that the Théâtre de Liège is honored to have hosted during the IMPACT festival. The result exceeds all my expectations and plunges me, every time that enters this space out of time, in an incredible state of appeasement. This is the most wonderful argument that justifies our everyday engagement in the art world.
Coordination du projet IMPACT
Théâtre de Liège
In the story of the two arrows, the Buddha described that while the first arrow of physical pain is inevitable, the second of mental suffering is not. A challenge for both the clinician and patient is how to alleviate this suffering. Meditation has long been seen as a method to achieve this but for some this might appear either too difficult or inaccessible, either because of ideas that meditation is a New Age practice or it may run counter to their own religious beliefs. Chi-Yung’s installation aims to achieve the same type of effect underscored by methods informed by the principles of psychiatry, psychology and neuroscience, which may also appeal more to a secular audience.
The installation clearly had a relaxing effect on the majority of attendees. The minority that found it unsettling seemed to be displaying some resistance to the notion of allowing their minds to be focused on the present moment, which is also a feature of a meditation practice. The use of stimuli for multiple senses allowed for attendees to have various focuses of attention to foster a feeling of relaxation and a meditative experience. With our modern stress-inducing lifestyles, people often find it difficult to slow down and focus enough to meditate.
While a single visit to this type of experiential installation will never completely remove one’s mental suffering, an immersive experience such as that provided by this installation could act as a trigger for the person to pursue further methods of stress reduction. No single method can be regarded as a cure-all for the distress and mental anguish which is a part of the human experience. There are however methods that appeal more to certain people; Chi-Yung’s installation certainly appealed to me.
From Al-Biruni to Da Vinci, the early scientists shared a knowledge of both the arts and sciences. The divide between the two disciplines is both artificial and novel. Projects like Chi-Yung’s remind of this fact, and invite contemporary artists and scientists to work more closely.
Dr Sukhmeet Singh
Academic Clinical Fellow, University of Cambridge. Psychiatry trainee
When an artist whose work I admire and can connect to ask me to contribute music to a new project, it is like an ‘invitation au voyage’. I know that whatever the journey, it is bound to be interesting, perhaps challenging, but certainly fulfilling. Chi-Yung and I had previously collaborated on two other art installations, so I felt touched and flattered that he considered our work together as an ongoing journey. Such kinship between artists is actually rare. Chi-Yung warned me, the installation was not to be ‘pure art’, it was connected to a thesis he was doing with scientists, and it had a theme: mindfulness. In Buddhism, in Asian culture, the concept of mindfulness is familiar and has relevance, even though modern times make it harder for people living in an urban environment to integrate it in their everyday life. My father would often talk about it, and through the years I developed my own approach to it.
So mindfulness it was. How to translate that particular concept into music? For weeks, I let ideas grow in my head and drafted some musical sketches. Chi-Yung would share notes with me on a regular basis. As often when I create music, I first let it flow out and take its own structure. I had several sessions with the musicians – string players, a soprano, a percussionist me at the piano. I had them play and repeat musical phrases and motives, long notes and patterns over and over until they would reach that state when time ceases to exist. The second step was to blend all the elements together and let the piece take the shape it wants to take. I sent the first version to Chi-Yung. What I really appreciate in the collaborative relationship I have with him is the fact that he observes, tries to understand and respects the way his partners function and create, instead of imposing his vision and compelling them to just follow his instructions.
As the weeks went by, with each new version, musical elements were taken away one by one as they carried too much emotional weight, until the music would feel like silence and silence find its colour. Chi-Yung honed his vision about how light design and music would work together on top of having to handle the construction of the installation.
The end result wasn’t about making something perfect but to reach that place where being in the moment is all that matters. And for that, Chi-Yung allowed me to let the music to follow its course, try its different shapes (variations) without any judgment until it eventually settled. That’s when the journey begins for the audience. Another ‘invitation au voyage’.
The Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office in Brussels is honoured to be one of the organisations supporting the exhibition of an art installation by Mr Wong Chi-yung, a home-grown artist from Hong Kong, at the 2018 IMPACT Festival in Liège, Belgium. This is the first time that the IMPACT Festival has featured a Hong Kong artist.
Mr Wong’s 20 metres by 10 metres art installation “To See a World in a Grain of Sand” showcases innovative cross-disciplinary collaborations between artists, researchers, scientists, and technicians. Mr Wong’s installation offers a range of new and unique experiences to visitors, taking them to a meditative journey composed of a combination of light, sound and tactile experiences. This resembles very much the rich culture and dynamic nature of Hong Kong. We are pleased to see that Mr Wong’s exhibition has successfully promoted Hong Kong’s contemporary arts and culture to Belgium, to Europe and to the world.
Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office, Brussels | Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region
In the beginning there was sound... And the God said LET THERE BE LIGHT! And there was light.
Then the art started, playing with these two and gifting us trips into ourselves, into our core, the depths of the universe that we all are. Elements that make us, flashing in circles in front of our eyes, dancing by the music skillfully chosen to seduce, describe, explain us to ourselves through the light visions in the darkness of our inner being. A trip around the world in 40 minutes, a trip through the creation, life and death, through the darkness and the light. Art in its pure form, sound and vision.