Tommy Angel #1-#3, #5-#10, 2005-2006, Black and White Photographs, 122 x 91cm each, courtesy of David Risley Gallery, London, on display at City Hall
The curious and enigmatic photographs by Jonathan Allen can best be described as a maze. The viewer is led into his elaborate, well considered labyrinth display, each well lit in a darken space, one of the many displayed on the 4th floor of City Hall, the former Public Service Commission Office. These black and white photographs each displays the artist’s persona, a gospel magician performing possibly acts of faith, like a magic show.
The method of display here is important. The viewer is led from one image to another, wanting to see more. The artist controls the movement of the viewer which ultimately leads the viewer to the final image of a lion. The lion a metaphor for our lion city, could be a late addition to the commissioned series, suggesting the Biennale coming to Singapore. This could suggest the binding grip the gospel magician persona has on his viewer, dictating a ‘truth’. The artist takes on the persona of a magician. sometimes art making does work like illusions; we all sometimes believe art makes living better. Or doesn’t it? It makes one uneasy to think there is any ill intended reference to the IMF delegates coming to the lion city, and the gospel magician. Some more harmless reference can perhaps be made to the local context of swindlers to old ladies with magic stones. Faith or make-believe can be blinding, and we should be more discerning. The actor character and objects could possibly be digitally manipulated, to give the images their magical effect. The photographs look extremely theatrical and exaggerated, more so than the fashionable portrait photographs of david Copperfield or David Blaine.
The work is very suitable to the exhibition’s underlying theme of ‘belief’, and the role art plays in society. The labyrinth idea is extremely effective to suggest how a believer in the artist-persona could be controlled, in movement. The work uncomfortably evokes to mind the “histories of christianity and magic to promote belief…they also point to the omnipresent influence of evangelical intrusion sinisterly at play in the public realm” (curator’s text).
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