The Part In The Story Where We Lost Count Of The Days by Heman Chong

Impetuous accounts: a Haiku collage of images, texts, and signs

The Part In The Story Where We Lost Count Of The Days

At the back of the gallery, a red movie poster is torn neatly in half. Possibly a punny play on the title of the movie, happy together, the two halves are better off together. An instructional text states that the artist has joint the two equal halves with masking tape, and the work (together with a signed certificate proving the work’s existence and legitimacy) will be exchanged for the exact same poster in an unripped condition. Understanding the significance of the gesture of selection, proclamation, and possible (unrequited) exchange requires the viewer to understand and accept conceptualism in contemporary art; or they must like things torn nicely in two equal halves. The poster, an identified ready-made has become a prop for a performance: excitement, exchange of narratives culminating in a transaction. As a ready made, the poster reminds us of the movie narrative, and our own relations to and interpretations of the movie. We could read the artist’s gesture like a metaphor for contemporary art and its aesthetics: it is an enacted performance that embodies excitement, exchange of narratives, culminating in a transaction of money for art. Not accepting the premise of conceptualism and the aesthetics of conceptualism might render the whole viewing experience futile, uneventful and rather pointless. Chong’s work cannot be liked or appreciated by everyone. As an artist with a designer background, the design decisions he made in his paintings and ‘text’ are obvious and somewhat enjoyable. Admittedly, his works plug into a larger fashionable movement and international trend of conceptualism and art writing in contemporary art, their appeal is likely as respectfully received as minimalism was to the American audience in the 1960s and 1970s.

In another part of the gallery, Monument for A Mystical Reality (2013) is a part document, part performance piece where the artist completed a short story by reflecting on 3 artworks by Redza Piyadasa and Sulaiman Esa. The ‘monument’ could refer to Chong’s short story, or by his action, a homage to this seminal 1974 exhibition, Towards a Mystical Reality. In the same vein, Chong has constructed a mystery surrounding this work which consists of 7 printed black and white sheets mounted in a frame.

In the main space of the gallery, grids of photographs adorn two walls. In Wong Kar Wai Film, Happy Together (1997), a moving waterfall picture is a recurring prop. Symbolically, a moving waterfall suggests abundant flow of good luck and wealth. The Singapore seen through the eyes of the artist is also a recurring prop in Chong’s body of work, evident in these grids. Grids, and orderliness are often characteristics used to described the sunny island of Singapore, glazing over what’s left behind by our relentless progress, urban redevelopment and economic boom. Representing snapshots of events, places and people pulled from an idiosyncratic stash of photographs, the images form an encrypted display of personal memories. We all have these personal stashes, in the form of abandoned negatives, unsorted photo folders or a mix of both. Non-linear yet somewhat ordered, the grid presentation of snapshot photographs become a collage of Singaporean-ness. We can relate to the Singaporean-ness because we probably have taken similar, seemingly uneventful photographic snapshots. Part performative and part narrative, they represent events and moments that might have been plainly banal, simply ‘cool’ or epic. I get the sense that the photographs are not accessible on their own, but as a voluminous collection. Like Walter Benjamin, Chong is a collector of images, texts and signs. Like Benjamin, Chong is trying to reveal and review a correspondence between his past, and a larger unstoppable contemporary moment. A Haiku collage of images as texts, and signs of some sorts. A waterfall picture, alluring and bafflingly kitsch.

The short story in Monument, along with the other works, demand a lot from the reader. Chong’s works here can best be described as impetuous but controlled short stories that remain difficult to re-tell. I suspect a lot more needs to be done and curate in order to deliver a designed viewer experience. While an exhibition might be read like a book, our expectations are not quite the same for a book and an art exhibition. With that perspective, we are better off thinking this exhibition was part of an elaborate book launch, and the meaning and message is adequately contained in The Part In The Story Where We Lost Count Of The Days (2013), published by ArtAsiaPacific.

Future Perfect, Gillman Barracks, 26 Jul – 30 Aug 2013

http://www.hemanchong.com

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