Paint, as geography’s narrative
I was tempted to introduce this exhibition as Painting Gao Gao (sic, Hokkien dialect, meaning thickly).
The physicality of lines in Joon Kiat’s recent works, and it’s relationship to a geographical presence and a geographical history is a curious one. The artist takes on the role of an interpreter, a reader of maps more so than an authoritative voice in local cartography. These map interpretations take playful mis-readings, and lead one through the states of being lost (in abstract art) and found, again (the joy of viewing fresh art). More strongly, it is about perspectives, and ways of seeing and reading a painting. Lines here, thickened acrylic and oil paint take form and mass, like miniature dioramas. The work is possibly a critique of space and spatiality, and ways of seeing and imagining the ‘horizon’, obliteration of the vanishing point in ‘Western’ contemporary painting. ‘Horizon’ here also means, ‘breadth’, scope or challenges of contemporary painting.
A map of Singapore and it’s dependencies, dated 1898 lies central to the exhibition, next to a drawer of paintings on paper, and preparatory works in the form of debris. A long, thin line protects 12 paintings on forward protruding tilting shelves, basking in fluorescent light, like figures sun bathing on beach chairs, or museum exhibits proudly displaying themselves. Between these 12 paintings, hang 3 wriggly paintings, lightly oscillating, shaking their heads. Paint, is not featured as merely a substance of art-making, or mark making, they are instead the substance in itself, and the earthy, harmonious colours related to notions of land in the form of geographical features, mud imprints, or simply fragments of our fragile understanding of histories and land in the same breath. It could possibly be about terra infirma, or ‘solid land’ in latin. In her book Terra Infirma: Geography’s visual culture, Visual cultural critic Irit Rogoff calls “geography … a language in crisis, unable to represent the changes that have taken place in a post-colonial, post-communist, post-migratory world”. Joon Kiat’s work is thus possibly about the shifts of Singapore land since 1898, which anyone in the construction industry that needs sand, nature conservationist, land surveyor can sympathize interests with.
I think there is similarity to Michael Raedecker’s paintings of landscapes, using acrylic paint and thread, and Shirley Shor’s Searching: Terra Infirma (2005). These works hold a certain textural poetry of territoriality, perhaps an obsession for some, disdain for others, on this land scarce island.
The concept of ‘Painting as Processes’ feature strongly here, and I am reminded of the exhibition with the same title at Earl Lu Gallery a couple of years back. Without going into technicalities of how these paintings were made, one can imagine the amount of joy or frustration to make these objects.
Perhaps if one sees the joy of the artistic processes, it is easier to imagine other things, besides paint, as geography’s narrative.
Once the catalogues hits the shelves, 8 of 10 stars.
Mar 8 – May 6, 2007
The Atelier, Level 3, National Museum of Singapore