Utong Aoieong’s artistic narrative unfolds like a carefully choreographed dance, blending the structural form of architecture with the fluid motion of performance art. Originally from Macau, her journey led her to Taiwan where she pursued a Bachelor’s degree in architecture, and eventually to Brooklyn, where she refined her creative expertise with a Master’s degree in fine arts from Pratt.
Her work has been celebrated in galleries from Taipei to Chicago and New York, garnering her prestigious residencies and scholarships. Yet, it is her inquisitive nature and affiliation with materials in their raw state that distinguish her practice. At a residency in upstate New York, Utong’s interplay with untamed elements reinforced her communion with the sculptural form, allowing her to draw out intimate facets of her personality through her artistic process.
Amid the chaos of Brooklyn’s creative scene, Utong Aoieong weaves a narrative of shapes and silhouettes, with a backdrop that shifts between the industrial resonance of metalwork and the organic whisper of wood grains. Her hands, attuned to the rigors of architecture and the delicacies of sculpture, sculpt not just inanimate forms but vivid narratives wrought from the fabric of her artistic journey.
In our conversation, we delved deep into the ethos that drives her craft, the fusion of structure and story, and the silent dialogues her works evoke from the audience’s conscience.
Hello and welcome, Utong! Can you share with us how you integrate the concept of movement and performance into your sculptural pieces?
I view movement as the process of creating a sculpture, transforming the act of crafting into a performance. Furthermore, movement acts as an additional way to present or elucidate the object.
How did a particular performance art piece influence one of your sculptures?
I’m uncertain about the relationship between performance and sculpture in my work. Most of my performance ideas originate from concepts I have while creating sculptures. Not all ideas I want to express are suitable for a performative approach, but some are. For example, consider the “Random Object” piece. The idea struck me when I saw a leaf falling and getting trapped on a branch. I admired the randomness with which objects in nature come together. Initially, I intended to create a sculpture based on this concept, but it evolved into a performance. I believe the idea of falling and getting trapped with something is a beautiful and brief process better expressed through performance. However, the outcome remains equally important.
What challenges do you face when combining performance art with traditional sculpting?
At times, it can be challenging for individuals to comprehend and appreciate it.
How do you believe performance art enhances the storytelling aspect of your sculptures?
I wouldn’t say it enhances the storytelling aspect of my sculptures, but I do believe that performance communicates differently than sculpture. Observing movement happens in the moment, and there’s a certain truth to that immediacy. Performance creates a specific situation, offering the audience a more objective environment for observation compared to traditional sculpture. The message of performance is nonlinear. Every element unfolds simultaneously, giving the audience the freedom to choose what to observe and how to organize their experience.
Are there specific performances that have significantly influenced your approach to sculpture?
Lately, I’ve been quite impressed by Chris Burden’s “Beam Drop Inhotim, 2008.” What struck me is that I get to witness the entire process of how the sculpture is created. While some preparation is involved, the final object is presented as is, without any modifications to conceal its essence. It made me reflect on traditional sculpture, where a significant amount of time is often devoted to shaping or finishing. For me, it feels like an act of covering up something, although I’ve heard artists describe it as a way to release the form from the material.
How do you prepare differently for a performance art piece as compared to a sculpture?
When I create a sculpture, I don’t necessarily showcase the process; the audience sees a finished, solid piece. I would describe performance as more about bringing everything to the same level—aligning the object, the space, and myself. It’s also about anticipating what will unfold during the presentation of the work and what comes after.
What feedback have you received from audiences about the integration of performance in your art?
I can’t recall a specific one. It really depends on the type of performance I’m tackling. For instance, the ball project somehow emits a magical, circus-like vibe that genuinely excites and surprises people. In contrast, the intimate project, where I’m flipping a concrete wall during the show, doesn’t capture as much attention. It’s a slow burner, extended over different days and times, and only those who know me seem genuinely interested. It might appear as a bit of a personal performance, but I’m hoping to convey some messages. With the random object performance, it’s short and less dramatic, and audiences tend to gravitate more toward the sculptural outcome.
Can you describe a moment where performance art profoundly changed your perspective on a sculptural project?
I don’t think there was a specific moment. I began experimenting with performances involving objects and space at a time when I wasn’t entirely sure of their nature. Studying architecture then, it felt quite natural to use movement as a means of expression for both myself and the things I was creating. I’ve always believed that movement can convey messages more genuinely than words. Later, I decided to study art in NYC to delve deeper into sculpture, aiming to understand objects better and gain a clearer grasp of my involvement. It felt like venturing into a realm beyond architecture. That’s when I encountered the term “performance art,” which seemed to aptly encapsulate my activities, offering others a clearer understanding of my work.
Look no further and immerse yourself in the world of Utong Aoieong, where art is not only seen but felt, not merely observed but shared in a corporeal conversation. Her coming projects, much like her past endeavors, promise to challenge and charm, inviting us to partake in her journey of creative expression.
Encapsulated in Utong’s sculptures is an ongoing dialogue—a conversation between the artist, her materials, and the immersive experience offered to those who witness her unique blend of art and performance. As her body of work continues to evolve, we’re not merely spectators but participants in an evolving story of form, movement, and the human connection to art.