TWO worlds collide as physics meets art in the Iron Forest – and it’s making (sound!) waves in Penang’s art scene.

The soundscape installation, created by American musician Chris Golinski and local architect Kang Ween Fung in collaboration with the Penang-based Light Up Media and the Arts (LUMA), is a feast for the senses that engages on multiple levels – auditory, visual and tactile.

“When we created the Iron Forest, we didn’t want it to just be a sculpture,” said Kang. “We wanted people to be able to interact with it.”

Visitors to The Whiteaways Arcade on Beach Street, Penang are allowed – and in fact encouraged – to touch, tap and shake the steel rods that make up the installation.
Vibrations produced from these interactions are picked up by several amplifiers stealthily attached to the structure. These amplifiers, wired to a computer, then turn the vibrations into sounds.

With the purpose of highlighting the large amount of waste generated by society, the Iron Forest hopes to call attention to the need for a solution to this problem, as well as promote creative reuses of various materials.

Discarded steel rods from construction sites, old timber planks and used sound equipment (all upcycled materials) were used in the construction of the sculpture.


Golinski, 31, was actually inspired by a dream to create the Iron Forest.

“The sculpture in my dream was played by many people, and I even heard the sound of it,” said Golinski, who is currently pursuing a PhD in Music at the University of California, San Diego. “It was suspended from the ceiling.”

“We had to come back down to earth, though,” jested Kang, who studied architecture at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, Australia.

Due to the limitations of the exhibition space (The Whiteaways Arcade is a heritage site, after all), the suspended sculpture concept was not feasible.

The Iron Forest represents a first for both Kang and Golinski. Kang has never done a sound installation like this before, even though he has dabbled in creating installations in college. On the other hand, while Golinski has always been interested in experimenting with sounds and working with computers in interactive settings, his previous works leaned towards creating music together with live musicians.

“I’ve never created an interactive sound sculpture before,” said Golinski. “Also, I didn’t think that we would end up creating such a large-scale installation!”

Kang, 27, noted that the process of creating the Iron Forest was a journey of discovery.

“Initially, we collected everything; including claypots, timber frames, tin cans, cylindrical pipes and plastic bottles. We also had to figure out what works in the space that we had.”
According to LUMA Project Manager Sunn Chang, the structure was built in a span of two weeks.

“In fact, we were still testing out and tweaking the system a few nights before the launch to produce the best experience possible.”

Chang, 25, added that he took on the role of project manager for the Iron Forest because it was sound-related. “I am a drummer, so my love and passion for music definitely pushed me towards owning the project.”


Also, the collaboration between Kang and Golinski was an organic one.

“We have known each other for several years, and share many common views, especially regarding the adverse environmental impacts of the modern consumer lifestyle,” said Golinski.

“When I brought up the project, he was on-board right away as it presented the opportunity to combine his training in architecture with his passion for educating the public about environmental issues.”

However, it was a chance encounter that led to the actualisation of this project under LUMA. Goh Choon Ean, director and creator of LUMA, met Golinski at a postcard exhibition organised by LUMA, and after finding out about his vision, showed him the various gallery spaces available in Penang.

Having always loved creative installations that allow people to think and interact, Goh is a big fan of the Iron Forest. Her most memorable experience in regards to this installation, however, came through a phone call.

“A bunch of elderly folks called us up to inquire about the Iron Forest,” she said. “We opened our doors specifically for them. It was great, watching these elderly people interact with the sculpture!”

Goh also added that LUMA has plans in the pipeline to make the Iron Forest a more immerssive experience.

“In the future, we want to include a creative resource centre, filled with gutted computers, cables and all sorts of recyclable materials,” said the 41-year-old. “This will be a workshop space allowing people to create their own art pieces!”

While this may be Golinski’s first piece showcased in Malaysia, he certainly hopes to do more.

“We would love to make more pieces that build upon the concepts we explored with the Iron Forest,” said Golinski. “We are also keen on moving out of a gallery setting and working in public spaces to reach more people.”

Although it was scheduled to close on Oct 27, the Iron Forest will be extending its run every Sunday until Dec 29 in conjunction with Project Occupy Beach Street (POBS). Opening hours are from 7.00am to 1.00pm. Admission is free.

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