“Athlete” by Jeremy Sharma and Toh Hun Ping

Hypnotic poetry of visuals

Athlete

The recent collaboration by Jeremy Sharma and Toh Hun Ping is a stunning and moving splice of Francis Bacon-esque aesthetics – of bodies in motion – accompanied with a hypnotic drone of sound-mix. The simple installation, consisted of a looped video projection in the depth of the Sculpture Square Chapel, flanked by 2 speakers on stands. The 3 video works will be mentioned here, to different degrees and affect. Athletics, often termed the mother of all sports, seem to bear the energy of artistic expression here.

Athlete – 12 min + video splice, images by both artist, and sound by Jeremy Sharma.

This piece was the anchor piece in the installation, mixing repetition in visuals and sound, linking them to one’s imagination of the artists mechanically at work, splicing and scratching the bits together. Parts of a figure in some action appear and go. The image of a hammer throwing athlete is perhaps the most obvious figure, masked by swirls and squiggles, in a proud display of energy.

That energy seemed to be what the artists were interested in, reproducing the movement and immortalising the moments with equally expressive lines. With repetition key to the work, we are reminded that athletes train with repetition, either doing laps, or repetitive throws, etching those plural complicated movements into every ounce of their muscle. They live for their sport, and their sport bears the determination of individuals and nations. Perhaps this is why people watch sports, rather than do sports. Their dreams are lived through these remarkable better individuals we call ‘athletes’. Some say artists are similar to athletes in that respect, especially if one believes art forms a basis for defining Civilisation and Culture; Art is a result of a collective lived experiences and output of creative individuals that felt the need to mark their lives with artistic creation, repeatedly.

I am inclined to quote Bacon at length, to explain why the work sticks:

Francis Bacon: Explanation doesn’t seem necessary to me, either of painting or other artistic fields, such as poetry. I don’t believe thatit’s possible to give explanation of a poem or a painting. Picasso, for example, spoke very well about painting. He said all sort of intelligent things about it. But he never succeeded in explaining his own genius. It seems to me that explanations inevitably fall short. At any rate, I have no need of them myself, not even in the case of something that I don’t understand at all. Take music, for example. That’s somethingwe’ve often talked about together. Well, I don’t understand music, even though it affects me very much, and yet I have no need of explanations. I know that people often look for explanations; if they need the then it’s always possible to find other people who can provide them, but that seems odd to me… The most important thing is to look at the painting, to read the poetry or to listen to the music. Not in order to understand or to know it, but to feel something.

(Francis Bacon, In conversation with Michel Archimbaud, London: Phaidon, 1993, pp.75-77)

Athlete

Another interesting repeated scene in the video looks like a stream of sand, like those in an hour glass. Perhaps a hint at mortality? The similarities to a moving image of Bacon’s paintings stop here. It is unlikely the artists shared Bacon’s dark visions, twisted, distorted and screaming heads. The scratch-like filmic qualities of Athlete pulls itself to be an experimental effect in the traditions of Stan Brakhage, an experimental film maker.

Persistence, 2 min + video, by Jeremy Sharma

Athlete

A visually static point of view of a lonesome tree. The projection was compromised, as the bright projection revealed the sore canvas that covered the back door to the chapel gallery. The illusion of a window to another world was disrupted by the very same canvas. The canvas was persistently annoying. As a result, the deliberate out-of-focus failed to deliver any grounds for contemplation. One suspects this clip was inserted to separate the other two video works.

Scarscape, 2 min +, images by Toh Hun Ping.

A continuous film strip glides effortlessly and hypnotically, revealing images that are formed with intricate expressive white lines, against the dark kodak 35mm photographic negative. One moment a landscape of flowing grass, the next a storm brews. In the meticulous effect, seen previously in Paul Bush‘s short film “The Albatross” (1998), these images are time-consumingly scratched on gelatin film and digitally scanned. Unaccompanied by sound, the images stood on their own. The results are dazzling. This acts as a wonderful balance to the ‘Athlete’ piece, tossing imagination in the wind, and letting the viewer take inner flight.

7 of 10 stars

Sculpture Square, til Jan 28

A DVD compilation of the works available at S$10.

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