interrogating the self and medium
|(Con)front by John Clang
Images taken with permission from 2902 Gallery
Before you shout “United Colours of Benetton inspired!“, I beg you to take a closer look.
In the age of Digital Imaging (or some might call it DI for short), photography is often more than meets the eye. Why limit an image (of advertising) to be taken with a camera, when you can manipulate the composition and the subject matter? You can splice time, splice space, splice subject matter. Some might say photography that has been through the process of Digital Imaging is a con; some say it has pushed the limits of the medium. The twin thresholds of photography would thus arguably be Representation – how real is an image of the depicted subject matter, time and space; The other elusive threshold of our imagination in composition and dumb-ass luck in pressing the shutter is Zeitgeist – capturing the spirit of the moment, and spirit of the age.
The body of work presented by John Clang crosses both thresholds, in a reflexive manner that will intrigue traditionalists that marvel at Henri Cartier-Bressonian or serious DI artists on Deviant art. As Gwen from 2902 explained, the 45 pieces spanning 11 series from 9 years were selected to be representational of John Clang’s style and interests in strangers, the city and spontaneous juxtaposition of ‘windows’ – tears, holes, scenes, inlets. Not unlike Jeff Wall, his images make us uneasy: the photograph as an object is interrogated more than we can imagine.
In the earliest series, Open Wound (2001), projections of unknown landscapes are projected over tears in the canvases/screen. Perhaps inspired by artist Lucio Fontana, these slashes are like ‘rifts’, reminding us of the banality of the image or reminding us that it’s just an image of an image. Very often we forget that when we read art books or the newspaper.
The surface of the photograph becomes evident again, in Time (2009) series, where multiple photographs taken at the same place are reduced to vertical stripes with passerbys. These are then laid out, and rephotographed, resulting in a hypnotic image of people weaving in or out of the edge of each stripe. An arm disappears, and a leg sticks out of thin air. The photos’ physical edge are not hidden, nor the shadows of the vertical stripes obscured. Like David Hockney, time is compressed poetically onto a singular image where strangers surreptitiously meet.
Me and Friends (2009) are treated similarly, resembling numerous passport-like portrait photographs of friends passed through a shredder and reassembled into a recognisable face. Like long litmus strips, they test our divided attention span for details and clarity. The flash, the fading of colours once again remind us the fragility of the image, the reality of handshakes, real imperfections that advertising photography hides. The flesh and skin deteriorates, just like a polaroid.
The most shaking series is titled Guilt (2010), where heads are blanked with correction fluid and words of apology mask the faces. The setting of the photograph is obviously homely. In the brother’s room, the shelves feel the weight of the comic books in the background, with a feet massager in the foreground. A personal narrative lines the bottom of the print, citing instances the artist felt extreme emotions for his family. This series, a catharsis from guilt, echoes in all viewers. We relate to the personal narratives of misadventures, insensitivity and pure rudeness; we are shaken, but envious of the honesty.
The contemporary masterpiece of the exhibition is a series of family portraits, Being Together (2010). The projection of family members, a simulacra are like solidified thoughts. Elaborately staged with Skype, or iChat, the artist poses with a projection from the video chat, of his family members in Singapore while in New York. The result, an uncanny image with his harsh shadow towering behind, contrast with the pure affection we see in the smiles and little awkwardness of staring at a (web) camera. An image of the ‘photographer’ is placed carefully in the bottom left of the image, much like a screen grab of a video chat will reveal. The tenderness of the moment is perhaps more personal to the artist than the viewer. By placing himself as the subject matter, the artist has allowed us to reflect and muse on ourselves – our relationship with our family. The significance of the work may best be understood by those who have been separated from their loved ones by time and space. The method, the crew involved are revealed in a video projection documenting the process. In a simple gesture of wanting to take a photograph together, and not digitally stitched allows a consistent interrogation of the Image. Through the artist, we search for our own zeitgeist in our own lives.
The exhibition confronts us in two ways. Firstly, his solo show in Singapore marks a maturity in his style, presenting his artwork to his family and us. The most important audience, might just be family. Art is not necessarily a solitary pursuit, as John Clang has showed us in Being Together (2010). Secondly, photography as an object susceptible to manipulation will require the viewer to question the image more than ever. Only when we acknowledge this, can we look beyond the surface and let ourselves be touched by the art.
8.0 or 10 stars
(Con)Front is on at 2902 Gallery, from 12 Jun 2010 to 3 July 2010. For more information, visit: http://www.2902gallery.com/
Better images of John Clang’s work may be seen at: http://www.johnclang.com/
P.s. Special thanks to John Clang and Elin for bringing back the Stars…