A Poetic Interface

Alain Fleischer


Over the past few years, young artist Kingsley Ng has developed an art practice that could be said to be about transfer, metamorphosis and interface. Weaving together archaic artefacts and sophisticated technologies, he has created evocative works with a rare poetic quality.

This decisive direction of his work took shape during his studies at Le Fresnoy – National Studio of Contemporary Arts, an institution specialising in audiovisual productions in Northern France. Sensitive to the history of this region, marked by the rise and decline of the textile industry, he had acquired a nineteenth-century antique loom, an iconic embodiment of the beginning of automation, and transformed it into a musical instrument. Unlike the works of some artists whose technological manipulations overshadow the exploration of relevance, Musical Loom demonstrates a remarkable balance and precision.


First, the object itself, in its original operation, evokes a harp with strings and makes an analogy that is not gratuitous. When the audience plays the instrument, triggering musical sounds via sensors that detect their positions, gestures, amplitude, rhythm, etc. (the interface was designed and built by the artist himself), their hand movements are similar to those of textile workers in the past. On top of this, the metamorphosis of a now obsolete machine into a musical instrument through the use digital technologies can be interpreted as a metaphor for the efforts to revitalize a declining industrial region through new activities associated with contemporary techniques. The accurate dialogue the work has with the social reality of an era and a region is itself exciting, even when seen independently from the original inspiration. Music Loom enjoys the singular status of being at the same time an exceptional work of art and an interesting musical instrument, well received by institutions of contemporary music, such as IRCAM (founded by Pierre Boulez) in Paris, and performing artists including the great choreographer Carolyn Carlson.


Since he made this work that has now earned a well-deserved reputation, Ng, presently based in Hong Kong, has produced new installations that explore and investigate, always with the same speculative and poetic quality, the passing from one physical reality to another – from old machines to technological apparatus familiar to our present days, from local phenomena to events of a different scale, urban or even cosmic. In Musical Loom, sensors transform light into sound. In his later works, such as Record: Light from + 22 16 14-114 ° 08 48 and Listening Time, the physical materiality of phenomena is transformed into the perception of time and listening, narratives are told in music, and music is played in light. Kingsley Ng is now one of the few artists whose interest and imagination have brought about dialogues between traditional techniques and the most advanced technologies. Creating in a new artistic language, he is at the forefront of this natural movement of art that seeks and finds new forms to reinvent the expression of sensitivity.


(Translated from original in French)


Alain Fleischer is a director, writer, artist and photographer. On mission of the Ministry of Culture of France, he founded and currently directs Le Fresnoy – National Studio of Contemporary Arts.