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Interview: Thomas C. Chung's Light & Optimism

Interview: Thomas C. Chung's Light & Optimism

Tell us about yourself, how did you become an artist?

I've always wanted to be a professional artist ever since I was little but coming from the background that I did, it wasn't an accepted occupation in my culture. It took a lot of convincing that I was capable. It wasn't until the end of high school that a teacher named Mrs. Rudzis gave me the confidence to finally pursue it.

After my time at the College of Fine Arts (now known as UNSW Art & Design), I worked my way through various jobs & industries to see where I could see myself, as financially being an artist didn't seem possible. I tried my hand at being an au pair overseas, returning to Australia as a dishwasher, professional taste-tester then eventually as a chef, only to then as specialize as a market & social research interviewer for several years. I didn't consider myself to be an artist until 2008 when I left what I knew to pursue new opportunities in Scandinavia, a place that has continually inspired me.

What is your background? and how did it inform the focus of your creative exploration or the medium you're currently working with?

I come from a Chinese background & was born in Hong Kong. I'd say my heritage is most important to me, but unlike a lot of immigrants & artists from diverse backgrounds, where I came from didn't matter as much.

Thomas C. Chung

The perspective in my art has always been from that of a child, seeing the world for the very first time. The journey of how we seek happiness - which comes naturally to us as children - is eventually lost when we forget to let ourselves dream. This interesting transition begins as we 'crossover' from childhood into adolescence into adulthood. As is common with life, the road to rediscovering anything is often paved with precarious pathways. And this is the lifelong story I have to tell. The mediums I'll use to complete this conceptual narrative reflect this by evolving, separated into distinct decade-long chapters as if it were a children's book, flowing on from one to the next.

What ideas interested you in the beginning of your practice, which ideas have you continued to explore, and where have they led you?

It started over a decade ago with drawing, painting, knitting & crocheting in the form of sculptures & installations, then continued to the present day with my use of metals, mirrors, curtains, photography & video art. I'm interested in the light & optimism we have in children & how that slowly fades as we grow older, how this loss is essential to becoming 'grownups', yet it's also the harbinger to people losing their zest for life. I've always seen curiosity, our ability to love others & the urge to explore - in whatever shape or form it is that we choose - as being the closest we'll have in retaining our inner child. And this has led me into studying to becoming a psychotherapist, where I can share the value of the importance of our physical, visual & mental health.

Who were and are the biggest sources of your inspiration?

I'd say my first memories of falling in love, the pursuit of something other than myself, as well as my readings (& subsequent re-readings) of The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, as being pivotal points of inspiration in my life. If I could list my greatest drive & source for continuing - inspiration as we'd call it - it'd be my hope that I live long enough to have a family of my own someday. I've always thought I'd make a great father & husband - it's always been about finding love for me.

Where do you find inspiration?

I find inspiration pretty much the same way a child discovers new things - basically, it's everywhere for me, hahah. I think the world is a fascinating & horrendous place, filled with so much light & ignore any of it would be a disservice to being alive I feel. I love children's books, illustrations, beautiful designs & architecture, gorgeous fashion, the magic of movies & cinema, understanding our struggles & histories, the joys of food, the excitement in travelling & being observant of people's daily emotions.

Is there are a single work, project, or series that is pivotal in your current trajectory?

The project I had in mind after a decade of knitting & crocheting involved that melancholic feeling we've all had when we realise the world isn't all soft & welcoming, that things do go awry & that it can end without warning - what happens to us when we fall through this rainbow? This new decade of my creating will explore the loss & brokenness we feel as we mature, something that is both heartbreaking & necessary for us to cope with the world in which we live in.

How did it begin? and how did it evolve?

I've never been shy in speaking about my internal struggles, in the hope that others would understand that there's no shame in revealing who we are by understanding what we've felt. A few years ago I was researching various branches of psychology when I discovered I was an empath. This was something I had suspected but never knew existed. I'd always thought that I was childlike, that I was a little different from those that grew up around me. It was a catalyst into understanding how we were susceptible to traumas & depression if we didn't nourish ourselves with our deepest dreams.

What were important lessons in the process that you’ve carried forward with you?

I learned that my resilience for continuing art, while not always financially or metaphorically rewarding, is at the core of my being in this world - it gave me a reason to continue each day. Learning from a very young age I had overcome a lot of obstacles & I understood I had a lot to prove to those that doubted me. As I've grown older, that 'fire' has now evolved into patience. I'm still learning to be better at it each day if I'm being honest. I've understood not everything has to be controlled or cared for, that sometimes I can do what I can while I can & the rest will take care of itself.

What are you working on now?

Right now, I'm continuing my research into my conceptual artistic practice by becoming a qualified psychotherapist. I figured that if I was to take this seriously, as an artist who was exploring the childlike psyche, I'd have to understand what it was I was dealing with. Reading a few books wasn't going to achieve this, so I'm delving in deep to come back out & hopefully make a difference to others.

If you could go back in time to the very beginning of your art practice and give your younger self a single piece of advice what would it be?

There will be unexpected hardships along the way, but that doesn't mean you'll give up. You'll fall hard & get back up again. You'll love & it'll hurt. But it'll only inspire you to look for something more. Just keep trying & never stop seeking...there's still so much to see out there!

About the Artist

Based in Melbourne, VIC, Australia

Thomas C. Chung is a Chinese-Australian artist, based in Melbourne. In 2004, Chung completed his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree at the College of Fine Arts at the University of New South Wales. He is currently pursuing a future in psychotherapy for further artistic research.

In the last several years he has represented Australia at the 2nd Land Art Biennial in Mongolia, 4th Ghetto Biennale in Haiti, 9th Shiryaevo Biennale in Russia, 1st Karachi Biennale in Pakistan and The APS Mdina Cathedral Contemporary Art Biennale in Malta. This year he was accepted for his second consecutive biennial in Mdina, Malta.

His career has included numerous international residencies, representing Australia at more than six international biennials. He was also commissioned as the only Australian artist to create a 25th anniversary sculpture for Swatch.