Owen Leong

In Owen Leong's 'Intimate Debris,' integration and disintegration are the dual orders of the day. With both a tenderness and an unremitting firmness of touch, Leong creates a contingent field of order from materials both found and (re)made.

In a sense, many hands have participated in the makings of Leong’s ‘Intimate Debris’ series, on view now at Artereal Gallery, Sydney. Looking into his sculptures, hung from the wall or stood against it on crates, we see the remnants of production processes that span across both space and time. There are, in these works, plastic bottle tops, discarded earphone cases, anatomical bones, and pieces of pink Tupperware, saccharine and joyful among the harsher marble, concrete, and black glitter. These made and found objects, though, often appear in Leong’s work ‘unmade’ by processes of breakage, decay, or wear. This dualistic sense of the made and the unmade – of bringing together and taking apart – rings throughout Leong’s compositions of fragments. Perhaps, indeed, this feeling of something found and lost again in the same instant is what underpins the warmth, and the softness of grip, with which Leong composes his works.

In her catalogue essay for the show, curator Rhianna Melham sees that ‘Leong’s choice of everyday materials reminds us of the impermanence of everything and prompts us to consider how and to what we assign value. Our contemporary throwaway culture,’ she writes, ‘is suddenly turned on its head as waste materials are all at once viewed in a new light and we marvel at their simple beauty.’ Certainly, an irony inheres in Leong’s work, in which the disposable is made into the object of display, and cast within heavier, more ‘permanent’ materials which form the bases of the sculptures. A re-assignment of value is undertaken in this work; this may be what Leong gestures to in his characterisation of these sculptures as democratic. His is a radically non-hierarchical selection and treatment of materials, and these objects are made testament to a year spent reassessing the material priorities, conditions, and necessities of our lives.

The enduring, easy beauty of these assemblage-sculptures is important, too. From a field over which order and disorder, integration and disintegration play evenly, the emergence of something pleasurable, rather than just anxiety-inducing, is a hopeful gesture – maybe even a utopian one. Leong offers us a way of looking back over our material lives, as well as a way of looking forward, to how these lives might be seen, understood, and reimagined anew in and for the future.

Intimate Debris
7-29 May 2021
Artereal Gallery, Sydney


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