The Enchanted Wood, Artfully

I absolutely loved Enid Blyton’s books when I was a child – especially the Faraway Tree series. I always wanted to meet the weird characters that lived in the tree- Angry Pixie, Mr Whatsizname, The Saucepan Man, Dame Washalot, Silky the beautiful fairy, and Moonface, the owner of the Slippery Slip. But most of all, I wanted to climb through the purple hole in the thick white cloud at the top of the tree and disappear into the fantastic lands where I could live plenty of exciting adventures with my friends.

Such was my expectation when I stepped foot in Hotel Majestic’s newly opened avant-garde bar on Bukit Pasoh Raod. Zadok Ben-David’s ‘Living Man’ sculpture on the side-wall outside the bar was case in point and set the right mood. Just inside, tree-like columns are rising languorously along the wall, accented by an intricate Donna Ong installation and complemented by Yuki Chong’s overhead abstract green-stained glass. The faux leaves wall-panels and the tree sculpture tables on the second floor reflected the branches and foliage, and Sandra Lee’s blue mural on the top floor captured the magical air of the treetop and beyond.

I like it when you can turn every which way and you’re still amazed. That’s the concept with this bar—every time you turn around, you’re going to see something different. And the more you drink, the more you see …

Culturepush checks in with Installation artist, Donna Ong to see how it all came about.

The theme of the bar is inspired by Enid Blyton’s childhood stories, more specifically The Enchanted Wood and The Magic Faraway Tree. Did you read Blyton as a kid?

Definitely. Her stories were a big part of my life as a child – narratives where one was often transported out of everyday life into a more magical world through magic objects or entering a space, such as a forest or a garden. Through books, I could escape into a more idyllic place.

One bar, three floors, one Art Consultant, four artists … how does that work?

I did the ground floor and second floor artworks. Yuki did the ceiling panels. Sandra Lee painted a mural on the top floor and Ben Zadok did an enormous metal sculpture in front of the whole building. Jason Lim is making a lily chandelier for the staircase. The art consultant suggested the artists, but I was chosen by Peng himself because he had seen my work previously.

Two artists were covering the ground floor. How do you work together?

We came together at meetings (four in total) together with the architects. We felt something was missing that would give the sense of being at the foot of the tree, despite the wood of the walls representing the tree trunk. Thus the architects and I decided to do a piece on the ceiling that was green and gave an impression of leaves. We thought it would be good to make it almost like stain glass – art deco-ish. I’m not very good with colour, so we thought it would be great to bring Yuki in to do this as she’s wonderful with design and colours.

You worked on the ‘trunk’ on the first floor. I saw a lot of oversized mechanical bugs, pendulum clocks with complicated, eccentric radarwork and butterflies. What’s the story?

I wanted something on the walls that was from the house and looked like birdhouses. I found these old antique clockcases that were marvellously suitable for this purpose. When I agreed to this job, I proposed making an installation that would make an environment (inclusive of bugs) for the bottom of the “tree”. It became obvious soon, that in order to keep the work “logically” consistent as well as fit my usual theme of transformation and metamorphosis of objects into another object or environment, the bugs should be made from clock parts. The simple narrative goes something like this – the clock mechanisms have escaped from their cases by becoming bug-like creatures, leaving behind real insects in their place.

Your installation on the second floor is partially ‘hidden’ in the trunk-shaped tables, resembling precious treasure-troves… tell us about them.

I wanted to create the element of surprise. So inside these chunky trunk-like trees, I put together a delicate and glowy environment made from crystal glassware. Almost like being in a crystal cave. I like the way the work moves in and out of kitsch. It breaks in and out of the illusion of being a magical cave, once you realise it is made from ordinary glassware.

2007 has been a hell of a year for you, and it’s not over yet …. What’s up next?

I’m currently in China doing a garden project for Design Singapore. It’s a lot of work and I’m feeling tired but glad at the same time. It’s so much work, but you get a big rush when it’s finished and looking good (fingers crossed)!

Majestic Bar is located on 41 Bukit Pasoh Raod, Singapore 089855.

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