Pennangalanamania! by Grieve Perspective

Yet another reminder of mortality

Pennangalanamania! by Grieve Perspective

“Grieve Perspective turn their collective dark eye to the myth of the Pennangalan. In a video installation, this disembodied she-beast is depicted floating in a jungle as a living embodiment of this ancient Southeast Asian myth. Her head is a goat’s skull, garlanded with flowers, and her chest is a hollow cavity from which her entrails freely dangle. The audience is invited to listen to her tell stories of death and life, all of which are drawn from real-life situations in which these two conditions have become difficult to define. In a manner that is disturbing yet thoughtful, she presents the arguments that these conditions inevitably illicit, yet does not commit to any clear moral trajectory. Complementing this piece will be a range of videos and digital prints that build upon this theme.” (Curatorial Text)

Grieve Perspective turned from creating tongue-in-cheek urban legends to feeding (off) asian folklore, or so it seems. The main work in this exhibition, Pennangalanamania! (2013) is also a tongue twister to pronounced and the lead imaginative character will most likely fit in a science fiction movie, as a technologically advanced alien being. Pennangalanamania! might sound more like an abomination of food chain Pastamania, but it is not. Instead, it suggests an obsession and persistence to render an interpretation of a ghostly spirit with a philosophical twist. The spirit in question tells short narratives of Borgesian proportions. The stories are severe, most certainly involving death or contain severed body parts, no doubt part of the dark humour that pervade the works by this phantom artists collective. Gripping and disturbing, they are perhaps not impossible judging from contemporary news reportage of by natural disasters, epic pollution, and reports of human descent into evil depths.

Besides this triptych of screens, there are 5 other works in the exhibition. Owing to the theme and use of projections, LED screens, the viewing experience was perhaps optimal in the evenings if you had perfect eyesight. Moody yes, ease of viewing, not so. Modest in print size, the digital prints compel the viewers to go close to the works: an intimacy which might have troubled some viewers. For the short sighted viewers, the glare and reflection against the relatively dark printouts might have gotten on your nerves as you struggled to read the fine prints. If we can get over the placement, print size and lighting, the works are startling and offer profoundly evocative.

Immortality Through the Reverence of Our Ancestors (2013) is a video clip of a young man, dressed in tweed jacket and hat, huddled over a camp fire in a forest. The young man hardly moves, illuminated by the glowing artificial flame and basking in the pale dusk forest. He is clearly out of place, space and time. The forest is hardly alive, save for the sound of the forest and the occasional stammering movement of leaves, and branches. The flame, perhaps symbolic for curiosity, invention, faith or other metaphysical or philosophical matters, reminded me of the tale of Prometheus giving fire to man. While man gained fire, Prometheus was chained to a mountain by Zeus to suffer for eternity. Is this a message that there is a price to pay for curiosity, courage and generosity? Visibly, the forest is the same scene occupied by the image of the Pennangalan where the spirit haunts. Immortality could have referred the endless video loop, or the digital format of this video. In this case, it could also have referred to our ancestors’ immortality, their ‘beings’ kept alive through stories that are retold from generations to generations. Myths, legends and folklore survive death, so long as we speak, write and re-hash them. In this time and age, they must be spun and re-invented and adapted to new means of telling – in writing, in speech, image or digital moving images.

Your Raging Heart (2013) shows a flickering candle flame accompanied by the shriek of what appears to be a monkey. With each tremouring shriek, the flame flickers in response. Life, like a candle flame, is precious and can be extinguished easily. Lighting a candle is symbolic in many religions and customs. It is often regarded as a wish and a prayer for someone deceased or living. We might have in some point in our lives, be led to belief that each life on earth is represented by a candle flame burning in eternal temples. In this instance, the video work’s title suggested a primal urge to live. The question is, do we burn our internal candles slowly, brightly for others, or on both ends?

What is consistent with other Grieve Perspective exhibitions, is the message of mortality, awe with digital imaging and (light) touches of irony. ‘Distraught with technology advancing mortality’, ‘residual consciousness’, ‘horrifically ambivalent’ would be 3 phrases i would use to describe the feelings conveyed by this exhibition.

The people of Grieve Perspective might have wanted to stir our lumbering, complacent selves to begin to reflect on mortality, yet again. Against the works in this exhibition, while we might not have looked death in the/his/her eyes, we might begin to address why we live, and for what we live for.

7.0 of 10 stars

14 Aug – 28 August 2013


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