Videology

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Videology: a word made up to suggest ‘the study of how video or moving images are made and understood’.

It is a project that aims to challenge the working and research methods of five artists, all of whom take a process-based approach to artmaking. Claes Erik Eriksson, Julie Lee, Maxine Chionh, Patricia Ho and Veliana come from diverse artistic backgrounds: drawing, painting, printmaking, sculpture. The exhibition thereof will show the artists’ intent to employ any form of the video medium in place of, or in conjunction with, their current methods and subject matters.” (Curator’s text)

The study of video and its relevance in today’s art making context, is a profound and ambitious project. Not only should it acknowledge the history of video art, installation art, the technicalities of creating moving images and mechanical reproduction; it needs to be rigorous, academic, and exhaustive. It should encompass the role of video art, as a component of new media art in the internet age.

The exhibition at the Substation, curated by a Singapore video artist seems like a gamble to contain the above. Featuring relatively young artists and choosing them based on merit of their ‘process-based approach to artmaking’, does attempt to investigate the differences in artistic processes when dealing with different media. Some artists do insists of being called ‘visual artists working with painting’, then being called a painter. However, the previous works of these artists were not presented for comparison.

To consider this exhibition in the context of Singapore’s art history, and artists that dealt with video, we could briefly examine the works by Tang Da Wu, Matthew Ngui, Tan Kai Syng and Heman Chong with the pervasive and methodical use of video. Some of Tang Da Wu’s performances were recorded on video PAL format, and epitomises how a time-based media such as video, enabled the performance to be preserved, arguably more effectively than still photographs. Matthew Ngui, exploring the optics of video when he creates his illusionary Matthew Ngui Walks Through A Chair (1997) , by splitting the act of seeing, into ‘reception/recording’ and ‘playback’. Tan Kai Syng and Heman Chong have consistently used video in many of their works, and first presented an all video exhibition in 2000, at Alliance Francaise Gallery with Dense.

A darken space, and projections suggest a close knit genealogy of video art, film art and experimental film art, where the sophisticated audience would sit, in a theatre setting, bemused by the moving images on a large screen. The exhibition presented at the Substation features installation works that uses video, or critiques the materials of video.

Valiana’s piece, titled Taped, consists of a large wrapping across two pillars within the gallery with magnetic tape extracted from numerous VHS cassette tapes. This unconventional work, reflects the space, capturing a ‘live feed’ of a scene in the gallery. While the poor lighting actually dampens the ‘resolution’ of the work, as we can hardly see our own reflections, the work is sensuous, beautiful to look at. It could perhaps be compared to Matthew Ngui’s commissioned work at the National Museum of Singapore, made from thousands of fibre optic cables and linked to an interactive camera setup. It reminds me of Heman Chong’s Molotov Cocktail remix, where a video recording of a bus journey is re-recorded until the magnetic tape breaks down, together with the VCR, and the static filled VHS tape presented.

Patricia Ho’s (S) Physics references many other works, especially Nam June Paik’s installations with the shells of televisions. This questions the simulacra presented by television broadcasts, and indeed of any recorded image. The pieces are too disparate, perhaps 3 different pieces in their own right. The flushing piece, does have the rigour of an experimental piece, not unlike Tan Pin Pin’s ‘microwave barbie doll’ (shown at the Singapore Art Museum, President’s Young Talent Exhibition, 2005). The piece nearer the wall is shroud with symbolism suggested by the folded section of the Straits Times, and collaged image of a urinal, and at best confusing.

Claes Erik Eriksson’s A Virtual Walk presents the possibility of walking with your fingers, using the keyboard via a pain-stakingly hand drawn classical animation of the floor plan of the gallery space, and a circle that represents the viewer. The work is amusing and dis-orientating as the viewer represented by a circle icon, soon loses bearing when the arrows do not correspond with the orientation of the screen, but by the viewer: the ‘up’ key does not always move the viewer up the screen, but by virtue of the direction faced by the viewer icon.The work could also be compared to Virtual Marathon, initiated by Woon Tien Wei. In Virtual Marathon, viewers compete with other viewers by clicking two keys with their fingers, moving icons across virtual terrains in a virtual marathon. The work is a different kind of thorough video documentation, so much so that it becomes a work in itself, compared to Tang Da Wu’s video documentations.

Julie Lee’s Start.Rewind.Pause. stutters, creating an obstacle for the viewer to absorb in the action of the stop-motion animation. This imaginary world straddles three screens unconvincingly, with the thread/line coming to life and creating shapes and patterns on bubble wrap. Whimsical, child-like in nature, it does conform to a certain aesthetics, not unlike the works of Angie Seah. To some extent, it reveals the sub-conscious of the artist, but un-decoded for the viewer.

Maxine Chionh’s Window View highlights the difference in perspective, cropping an everyday scene a building entrance. We see only the passing bobbing crowns of heads of pedestrians, but projected on a below eye-level window of the gallery, viewed from the outside. The work is monotonous to watch, and serves more like an experimental piece, a prelude to larger ambitions and themes. Like Matthew Ngui’ Walking through a Chair piece or Tan Siang Yu’s Escalator video work (showing a plan view of a looped stream of shoppers on mind dazzling escalators descending and ascending from left to right. 2005, last seen at the opening of iforum at Takashimaya, level 4), this has the potential to show another perspective to ‘seeing’ and the critique of everyday life.

While the criticism here may seem harsh, the aesthetics of installation video art is ultimately different from viewing a painting – unless you are referring to Bill Viola’s The Passion series. What the various works in the exhibition does is to build a common understanding of this aesthetics – and how this aesthetics can be experienced, contemplated, shared, amplified or diminished in a gallery setting. I am sure the next video art exhibition will engage us in more than one way, and not just in the name of experimentation.

Videology

6.0 of 10 stars

Substation Gallery, February 29 till March 10, 2008

Curator’s Text by Urich Lau accompanied by quicktime clips of the work, (http://www.substation.org/mag/features/videology.html), accessed March 12, 2008, can be found on the substation magazine’s e-zine.

Other links: Preservation of Video Art (website by The LUX centre, UK), is intrinsically linked to the status of video art as a main-stream art form, which can be archived, kept and shown to future generations, accessed March 12, 2008, (http://kmi.lux.org.uk/casestudies/videoart.htm)

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