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…how will renowned local calligrapher Chia Koon feature in a concert by a percussion group?
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…how will renowned local calligrapher Chia Koon feature in a concert by a percussion group?

by HANDS PercussionJuly 19, 2016

IF you’ve been following HANDS Percussion, you’ll know that their drummers sometimes wear body paint during performances. Consider also that their Tchaikovsky on Gamelan concert in 2014 featured live calligraphy in a video-backdrop during a piece titled “Waltzes of Flowers from The Nutcracker”.

This brings us to our main point: how will calligraphy artist Ong Chia Koon feature in upcoming multi-disciplinary, site-specific DPAC Arts Festival extravaganza Opium?

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Chia Koon and HANDS Artistic Director Bernard Goh have been friends since their Malaysian Institute of Arts (MIA) days — Chia Koon majored in Fine Art while Bernard opted for Graphic Design. But when they met a couple of years ago at an art exhibition, Bernard broached the subject of both of them working together in an upcoming production.

Chia Koon agreed, and Opium is set to be their first collaboration.

On top of pursuing their passions with equal drive, both friends also share notable similarities. Bernard and Chia Koon practice in old traditional Chinese creative disciplines — the former does shigu while the latter is into Chinese brush painting.

Both have also been experimenting with their craft throughout their careers, if only to flesh out a truly Malaysian approach to their respective art forms. At the same time, they also hope to appeal to the younger generation, so that these heritage art forms can survive.

“Drum is traditional, so is calligraphy,” explains Chia Koon on the upcoming showcase. “We combine the two and create something new.”

dpac_banBSo how is it going to be done?

As hinted in the opening paragraph of this article, Opium will be featuring Chia Koon’s live painting as well as painted performers. The artist is set to paint on two drummers according to the music emanating from the performance.

Chia Koon also found himself involved in the musical aspect of the performance given that his live artistic expression will be largely based on the environment created in Opium.

“During the performance, I will be relying on my feelings as I am using calligraphic lines to express. I cannot use words – I use the abstract to express my feelings, which are also abstract,” he adds further.

Given that Chia Koon used to be a butoh performer trained under Lena Ang, we can’t help but wonder aloud whether there will be butoh influence in his movement as he physically paints on the drummers. He simply smiles at the question.

The presence of the French however hasn’t completely manifested in his performance so far. Set to share the stage with artists such as Mathilde Limal and Florian Antier, Chia Koon hopes to just “go with the flow” and see what happens.

Get a better sense of the man and his work in this short documentary by HANDS.


HANDS Percussion presents Opium at the DPAC Arts Festival from 26 – 31 July 2016. For more information, make sure to check out their official Facebook page and understand more about Chia Koon’s process through his Youtube account! Written by Swee Chin Pan and edited by The Daily Seni.

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HANDS Percussion
Hands Percussion, a renowned Malaysian Chinese percussion ensemble, has been creating ripples in Kuala Lumpur's music scene since 1997 with its ground-breaking and innovative performances.

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