Daily Archives: March 2, 2008

Wonderland by Chua Chye Teck

Abundance in wonderland


(Images with the kind permission of the artist and curator)

An unusual gallery space is carved into a niche in the hoarding of Scotts Square, a commercial building project that replaces Scotts shopping centre. Listed as a community project, the property developers have perhaps decided to inject new aesthetics into busy living by creating a temporary art gallery space. Pitched against a heavy flow of pedestrian traffic, it does not relegate itself to window display art, but surprisingly holds it’s own weight in creating a space for contemplation.

As the first work that goes in this new space, aptly questions consumption, in the broader economic sense of the word, “the using up of goods and services by consumer purchasing or in the production of other goods”.The starting point of the artist, no doubt, would be the intrinsic qualities that the objects themselves behold, as symbols of mass-production and cultural kitsch, common place in most homes or presented as trinkets of travel or trophies of existence.

Many of these objects reveal our (Chinese) cultural fascination with abundance, or surplus, and I do not just mean National Budget surpluses – from golden coloured ingots, to gold pigs. Keeping abundance could also be our natural hunter/gatherer instincts to hoard, only for later. Others are toys, ornaments or abandoned household items, in their various states of ‘health’.

The wonderland suggested by the title, could perhaps refer to a child’s play world, surrounded by these fascinating and distant objects, separated by time and space.The concept of abundance may have a perculiar significance in Chinese contemporary culture – it shows your social status and affluence, by how much stuff you accumulate, and now much stuff you can afford to throw out. Singapore seems to be in the position of abundance, based on the Straits Times report of overwhelming donations – some more acceptable than broken, unusable objects – to the Salvation Army’s charity boxes in Singapore. We seem to have glided into the age of conspicuous consumption, using the superstitious excuse of throwing out the ‘old to welcome in the new’ for good luck.

Chua Chye Teck’s photographs, in the matrix of presentation, 10 rows of 49 photographs making 490 5R prints, has that aura of abundance of an eccentric collector.Like his earlier works on heroic objects, and on-going Temporary Shelter series, he is a master collector of images. Reading each picture, guessing the thought processes the artist goes through to pick the object from perhaps hundreds others, reveal a certain consistency in logic and passive photographic prose – portraying the object as they are like passport photographs, sometimes presenting the ambiguity due to the current state of the object.

As a collector, and now presenter of images, the artist does not shock; instead, he choses to present his findings, like forensic evidence of the things we ‘junk’. The pictures as a series serve more than a reminder of runway decadence that we simply cannot ignore, in the face of dwindling ‘once abundant’ natural resource and global climate change.

Wonderland 2007/8

Feb 22 – Apr 20, 2008, Wheelock Art Gallery