New Castle by Chua Chye Teck

Gallery View

Gallery View

(Images with the kind permission of the artist)

Prohibition in check

Last seen at solo exhibitions Wonderland at Wheelock Gallery in February – April 2008, and at Eternity at Post-Museum in December 2007 – January 2008, these new works from his 2007 Newcastle (UK) residency programme shed more light on his photography sensibilities.

Consistent with photographing the banal, as opposed to glamorous and glamorized cityscapes or landscapes, Chua continues to pursue his subject matter, with the same keen eye for urban blight. Newcastle, once an industrial town and shipbuilding centre strives for revitalization in the past two decades is remarkably examined from the eyes of an outsider, and the dilemmas of urban renewal captured in stasis. This series of works is not of despair, and neither is it of destruction. It seems to feature a desire, to keep things in check, to struggle or hold in place.

The term prohibition1 can then be used to describe two things happening when we view his photographs. Firstly, all pictures represent the barriers, boundaries setup by the inhabitants, as seen in the brick and mortar, windowless walls, closed windows, and the ubiquitous tall fences. These barriers it seems, are more psychological through Chua’s enigmatic photographs, with these same barriers looming unassumingly in the background. The near incinerated blue trash bin almost smells of crime, the terrible breakdown of law and order touted by the novel Clockwork Orange by Antony Burgess of 1962.

Secondly, as one is drawn to the surface of the print, we are restricted, barred from peering into these homes or beyond the horizon. We are curious, held by our fears of finding something unpleasant, and held by the picture plane. Something is always hidden in all these prints, even when the two prints that seem most out of place, the Sea and the Garden, are examined in this light. The sea, perhaps a view from Sunderland (Newcastle, UK), faces Scandinavia, enshrouded in a Sublime mist. The statuesque bust in the garden has its back turned against the photographer/viewer, and two eagle sculptures  just visible, one without a beak suggests more in our imaginations, then if we were to face them straight on and head on. The medium of photography too, it seems, keep things in check, providing the kind of evidence one needs to remember. This evidence is representational, a construct in place of the actual building or event, and strangely how we take them for granted. do we cherish holding photographs of our loved ones more, or an actual embrace and tug at their hands?

The mood of the exhibition is somewhat solemn, and chilly to the bone, gloomy, ultimately grey. The neutrality is diffused by the cloudy days, offering the kind of lighting prominent in many of Chua’s works – desaturated, between the brink of life and lifelessness. Chua’s insistence on using photographic film and the final presentation of 12 sleek aluminum mounted prints suggest a new level of artistry execution, and conceptual maturity. 

While the exhibition plays a pun on the name of the city, now suggesting the urban city replacing the medieval concept of a fortress of protection/barrier/boundary, the Singaporean or global audience will find sympathy for derelict buildings, here in haunting corners of Singapore and elsewhere. The photographs then serves the purpose to keep our ‘upgrading’, ‘en bloc sales’, ‘property investment’ mentalities in check, surely there’s more to calling a building a house, and a house a home. 


New Castle by Chua Chye Teck


Substation Gallery
Sep 7 – 16, 2008
Admission is free, Open daily 11-8pm
Limited edition prints, in two sizes are for sale. 

1: Prohibition refers to ‘the action of forbidding something, especially by law’.

Other links:

Artist’s website:  

Newcastle City Council Website:

One response to “New Castle by Chua Chye Teck

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