Kill ’em All / Love ’em All

Francis Ng presents his new body of works, a hybrid between commercialism and eccentrics

The gallery was frightfully silent, and the pictures seemed like they were taken last Halloween. This body of work, comprising of 22 images each 48 x 48 inches, by local sterling installation and photography black-horse artist, Francis Ng, hang with military precision and poise. The information leaflet states that the work ‘(takes)… the shape of a multi-modal experiential reflection and introspection on the meaning of one’s true self and existential state. Together, the exhibited works provide a dialogic platform, provoking questions about who and what we are and how we came to be who we are’.

I think one would agree with me the commercial aspect of the work: they seem to appeal to fashion magazine-spread lovers. And feature the envious list of support from sponsors like Toni & Guy, Pacific Optical and Cathay Photo.

The photographs seemed professionally finished and mounted, except for palm smudges on the back. One would assume the back of the work is meant to be seen, and important because of the way eight photographs are suspended that way; the words ‘Kill’ and ‘Love’ in vinyl are plastered on the back of two of these photographs. With the unusual aluminium mounting, perhaps a clue to the artist’s obsession with a certain kind of precision, because mounting on aluminium is regarded as the most technically challenging method as opposed to sticking it in a picture frame. Of course, the perfectionist art framer would probably advise an acid-free lacquer coating to go on the surface of these dirty-pretty things.

These square prints had an effect on me: they gave the impression of ‘more of the same’, leaving me stranded for something beyond the surface. It’s too slick to look at, almost.

The slickness of each of these photographs contrasts with the sense of rawness seen in his earlier photographs, those with a view of nude bodies with their heads hidden behind suspended concrete blocks, and this is probably the strength of the exhibition. The artist has taken a risk to try something terribly new. There is a strong sense of the influence from contemporary fashion photography here, where selling clothes and cloth doesn’t necessarily mean you need to show the model wearing the clothes. It is possibly about selling an image of the chic and avant-garde. Hence I think what Ng is trying to tell and sell here is really the brand of the artist, the same thing that dragged me from (my own) overtime work to see this.

The eccentric titles make me sick, as they bear little visual or literal reference to the photograph, which I assume to be the work, and not a record of some performance, akin to Erwin Wurm meets Fancy Dress party. I can only imagine them to be vague, lame titles related to Chinese Zodiac animals, and their friends. For example, ‘Dog’, ‘Chicken’, ‘Dragon’, ‘Phoenix’. The titles seemed like after-thoughts to the ‘matter of fact’ poses, which contribute to the filmsy conceptual framework of the exhibition and the whimsical but funny nature of the body of work. Which could be something interesting if it wasn’t hanging in such a serious venue, the Old Parliament House. Unless of course, I lack irony to read anything overtly political over the title of THIS exhibition and its contentious site.

I think the concept of ‘identity’ in this body of work is heavily cloaked, if obvious at all. We should consider the cram shophouse-like interior to be of significance, perhaps making reference to the pre-war living conditions in urban Singapore. I think many would agree with me, the success story of modern Singapore is the breeding ground for generations X and Y, who may have little regards for tradition and heritage and are more concerned with spending, partying or masquerading. One can imagine the clash of ideology between the generation of our grandfathers and this self-proclaimed generations X and Y; each viewing the other as eccentric.

If Ng’s quoting Susan Sontag “to photograph someone is sublimated murder – a soft murder, appropriate to a sad, frightened time” is any mis-reading by me, either the artist has misunderstood the context of the tag, or has decided to go for an over-kill.

I think at the end of the day, the kind of art on display is not to everybody’s fitting and a clear case of Kill ’em All if you are a traditional photographer or regular consumer of fine art from the fine selection of the Singapore Art Museum; or Love ’em All if the next Mardi Gras is in town and you lack fashion samples. Nonetheless, this bold step forward could be the red herring from Ng to launch his next much-awaited exhibition. After all, he is the blue-eyed boy of the avant-garde, young-art scene.

2.0 stars of 5

Kill ’em All/Love ’em All was held in The Arts House from 22 December 2005 – 7 January 2006.

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