Konstruk: Building Urban Identity with Public Art

Urban design practice labDNA’s ongoing public art programme creates urban identity for Iskandar Puteri with inspiring messages of sustainability and innovation.

Konstruk began in mid-July 2015 as part of a two-year public art programme and placemaking initiative for Iskandar Puteri. Conceptualised and managed by labDNA, an urban design practice specialising in creating engaging public spaces, Konstruk comprises installations by 15 artists and architects from Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Cambodia, Philippines and Thailand.

Central to the Konstruk initiative is the promotion of bamboo as an alternative and sustainable material for construction and craft. In involving talent from all over ASEAN, the program encourages the exchange of knowledge and skills between artists and architects in the region, altogether increasing local capacity in craftsmanship and project management. By showcasing various techniques within ASEAN, the program also aims to revive disappearing local knowledge of traditional construction and craft methodologies.

Led by co-curators Nani Kahar and Lisa Foo, the on-going programme emphasises process and innovation. The installations are site-specific, addressing their immediate environment and/or narratives of the region, while the initiative also encourages artists to explore the boundaries of bamboo by taking inspiration from both natural and geometric forms. For example, one of the artists involved, Eko Prawato, contemplated bringing out the ‘bamboo-ness of bamboo’ in his creative process. Some of the works are expressive while others are more contemplative to heighten the visitor experience.

Artist selection began with research of the artists and architects in the ASEAN region. Thirty candidates were shortlisted on the basis of concept, narrative and innovative techniques, and invited to submit proposals. The proposals were then reviewed and the final 15 artists selected by a panel, which included curators from labDNA, UEM Sunrise and Khazanah Nasional.

The 15 bamboo installations are strategically located along a stretch of 2 km on the promenade of Puteri Harbour to maximise visibility. About 8,000–9,000 bamboo pieces sourced from Pontian and with lengths of up to 40 feet long have been incorporated into the construction of the art pieces. And because the works featured in Konstruk are commissioned for a minimum of two years, the bamboo used has been organically treated to remove materials that attract insects and small animals, using an eco-friendly water soaking process. Treated bamboo is able to last up to 25 years and even longer if kept under shade.

Whilst bamboo is not new as an art form, the project is the first in Malaysia to showcase this material across an entire exhibition, on so large a scale. Konstruk’s two-year commission period is also significantly longer than the display periods of bamboo artwork in other regional festivals. This contributes to the rebranding of Iskandar Puteri and is in line with the objective to make the township a major destination, as well as reinforcing the belief that public art is crucial in building urban identity and enriching the community experience.

Source: Sama-Sama, 2016, pg101-105

Jointly published by Khazanah Nasional Berhad, UEM Sunrise Berhad, Iskandar Investment Berhad

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