A Review: Countershadows (tactics in evasion)
Photos by Olivia Kwok
Countershadows (tactics in evasion) is an exhibition curated by Melanie Pocock who brings together the works by seven Singaporean artists, Heman Chong, Tamares Goh, Ho Rui An, Sai Hua Kuan, Jeremy Sharma, Tan Peiling and Robert Zhao Renhui (The Institute of Critical Zoologists), who prefer a less direct approach to engage viewers. They examine ambiguity, effect revelation by means of concealment, delay gratification, defy logic and suspend understanding.
One of the exhibition’s artists, Heman Chong, during a presentation at Asia Art Archive in 2012, remarked that Singapore is a fascist totalitarian country which has no tolerance for institutional critique or negotiation. He further explained that his strategy to at least act on it, rather than be totally helpless to such a socio-political condition, is to do something but not provide names, so he can get away with it. Hence, to make a statement without being too straightforward, evades authority and avoids difficulty.
First entering the gallery, immediately and unavoidably, a viewer will have to tread on Chong’s underfoot piece in order to navigate around the exhibition. His contribution titled Monument to the people we have conveniently forgotten (I hate you) consists of a million business cards offset-printed black on both sides, brashly strewn everywhere, carpeting the entire floor area of the gallery, filling up all corners and tight spaces. Too close for comfort, it also engulfs and intervenes uneasily with the experience of works by other artists in the exhibition. The overbearing presence of Chong’s piece, perhaps brings attention to the social dynamics and hierarchies within a group show or the art world, and in general, the prickly matter of human relations. In keeping the business cards nameless, Chong maintains the potential for ambivalence, allowing positive and negative feelings to coexist together. In Asia, where one’s sense of dignity and prestige meant a great deal, stepping on the business cards, and thus the identities of other people would either induce a sense of guilt or the sweet satisfaction of revenge. In his book Memory and Material Culture, Andrew Johnson states that ‘memory emerges from the mutual engagement between person and the world.’ While the ubiquitous business card may function as a handy external storage, like a thumb-drive, it is maybe too demanding to ask of an object of such simple construct to conveniently substitute our own memory work. How well someone or something is remembered is partly influenced by performativity and its frequency, for example, in many religions, a deceased loved one is fondly remembered by offering a daily prayer. There is an etiquette in handling out business cards and then sustaining the ensuing social relationships, possibly forgotten in the rapidity of contemporary life.
Imagining Tamares Goh’s pigeons were shooed aside to make way for Chong’s epic piece, her photographic prints of the panicky birds have been pushed to the walls and dispersed around the gallery. Their blurry picture resolution, positions and heights seem to suggest the low flying movements of pigeons as they avoid traffic. Titled We Are Pigeons, it is an understated yet profound work, the fleeting moments in the drift of urban life are arrested in the essence of the Impressionists.
The most thought compelling piece of work in the exhibition is by Ho Rui An who focuses on the complications of visuality. Ho’s video installation, A Difficulty (Grey), sets into uncertainty the approach in which colour is usually perceived, it is exceptionally refreshing and may leave a viewer possibly feeling that he or she could be blind to colours until the encounter with his work. Through the voice of an invisible character, Ho has done well in his attempt to articulate the point that it is intensely difficult to grasp the concept of ‘greyness’. Rather than examining grey as a chromatic entity, Ho establishes the colour as a reflection of existing socio-political construct. In his video, a framed picture which consists of nothing but a black colour field is hung above a couch, as the monologue draws to a closure, white lines emerge in the picture, intersecting one another, first appearing like a window of a prison cell, then gradually settling as the Hermann grid illusion. In this optical illusion, spectral grey blobs are perceived at the joints of a white grid contrasted on a black background, the blobs elude our eyes when they are observed directly. It is a fitting visual metaphor to emphasize the complexity of ‘greyness’.
In his recent works, Jeremy Sharma enthusiastically examines the conditions of artistic production under the influence of digital technology and automated means. Alfred Gell explains that ‘the power of an art object stems from the technical processes they objectively embody: the technology of enchantment is founded on the enchantment of technology.’ In his sculptural pieces, Sharma employs technology not solely as a method of production, but he also embraces it as a source of inspiration.
Sai Hua Kuan evokes the nostalgia of the body in relation to an art object, creating a work that can only be fully experienced by being there. His room installation harkens back to the Kantian notion of the sublime that is found in a formless entity, and in this instance, the intense light emitting from an electrical source. A sensation of boundlessness is encountered, meticulously optimised by the feathering and smoothening of hard edges of the room. The work is ironic because spatial infinitude and dematerialisation are derived from an illusionary feat fabricated within the confines of a pop-up space. Sai has created a psycho-dramatic situation reminiscent of fragmented writings in the 1970s by Swedish artist Öyvind Fahlström who envisioned future art centres to be built as ‘Pleasure Houses’ and in one segment he proposed for ‘light effects or hypnosis to achieve psychedelic states’. In addition, Sai’s playful engagement with the viewer could be an anti-intellectualism stance which also brings to mind the Brazilian neo-concrete artist Hélio Oiticica, who was likewise active in the 1970s, and he embraced leisure as a condition to expand an individual’s natural sensory capacities to awaken his or her inner creative core. Naming his installation, Something Nothing, it could allude to Martin Heidegger’s fundamental question of metaphysics, “Why is there something rather than nothing?” According to Heidegger, our main reason to shy away from nothingness is because it echoes death. Yet, he feels freedom is grounded in nothingness and through the experience of nothingness, we also derive our idea of logical negation. Having this privileged viewpoint, in relation to nothingness, hence distinct us from animals.
Overall, Countershadows (tactics in evasion) is inventive and thoughtfully put together by Melanie Pocock as her first major group exhibition in Singapore. There is a strong direction in the curating, such a clear vision is required for innovation, sometimes there is a tendency to over-determine, yet Pocock has successfully steered away from being seen as using the artists’ works as materials to illustrate her point. The exhibition is held at LASALLE Institute of Contemporary Arts Singapore, accompanied by a well-written catalogue, it makes a good example for research to understand the processes of art making and curating.
 Gell, Alfred, The Technology of Enchantment and the Enchantment of Technology, In Anthropology, Art and Aesthetics, Jeremy Coote and Anthony Shelton, eds, Oxford: Clarendon Press (1992), pp. 40–63
 Heidegger, Martin, An Introduction to Metaphysics, Yale University Press, New Haven and London (1959), pp. 7-8
Countershadows (tactics in evasion)
Opening date: Fri 19 Sep, 6.30pm
Exhibition period: Sat 20 Sep – Sun 26 Oct
Opening hours: 10am – 6pm, Tue to Sun (except 1.30pm – 2.30pm) Closed on Mon and public holiday
ICA Gallery 1, 2 and TriSpace, Basement 1
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