Void & Void Decks: Chow Chee Yong and Tang Ling Nah

3th August – 30th September

Introduction

This void is not that unfamiliar and has always been there.

Chow Chee Yong, 2012

 

It is alright to get lost!

Tang Ling Nah, 2012

 

The Private Museum presents an inaugural collaboration between two Singaporean artists, Chow Chee Yong and Tang Ling Nah, who cross paths for the first time. Chow juxtaposes different locations with a single shot, creating an ambiguous “Void” that exists only within the photograph. On the other hand, Tang suggests the extension of space through her charcoal drawings of the city’s transitory spaces such as “Void Decks”, corridors and underground passageways. This exhibition attempts to document two artists’ individual journeys as well as their collaborative interactions. We question what is real and what is imaginary; as the photograph becomes a drawing, and the drawing becomes a photograph…

Artwork

Artists

Artists Bio

Chow Chee Yong (b. 1969, Singapore)

Chow is a Singapore-based artist and educator. The genre of surrealism plays an important role in his work. He is inspired by imagination and dreams. Chowgraduated with a BFA (Honours) degree in Photography in 1994 from Western Michigan University, USA. In 1998, he was awarded the JCCI Art Scholarship and received his MA (Distinction) degree in Photography in 2001 from Musashino Art University, Tokyo, Japan. Chow was the first and only Singaporean among 15 photographers from around the globe to be recognised and incepted as one of “2011 Loweprofessionals” (Lowepro, USA) in 2011. In 2004, he exhibited in Club Paradiso – Jamming With Photography at Kiyosato Museum of Photographic Arts (Japan), alongside noted photographers such as Ansel Adams, Robert Frank, Helmut Newton, Irvin Penn and others.
He is in the collection of Back in Time International (USA), Center for Photography Musashino Art University (Japan), Kay Ngee Tan Architects Gallery (Singapore), Kiyosato Museum of Photographic Arts (Japan),National Museum of Singapore (Singapore), OP Editions (Canada & Hong Kong)and more.

SELECTED SOLO & GROUP EXHIBITIONS
2011 Project 37, 2902 Gallery,
Singapore
2010 3rd Singapore Young Photographer Award 2010 Exhibition, National Museum of Singapore, Singapore
2009 Spot & Shoot 2009 – Our Landscape, National Museum of Singapore,
Singapore
2008 30th Feb, Kay Ngee Tan Architects Gallery, Singapore
2007 CANVAS, The 2006 IMF – World Bank Meeting Photo Exhibition at MICA, Ministry of Communications and the Arts, Singapore
2006 Aperture, Elle Six Art Gallery, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
2003 Under Construction – Light Trails, Objectifs Pte Ltd, Singapore
2002 PhotosynthesisDreams, Artfolio Gallery, Raffles Hotel, Singapore
2001 Imagination: Lights & Illusion, Kumin Gallery, Meguro Museum of Art
Tokyo, Japan
1997 m2photosynthesis, Substation, Singapore
1994 The Final Images (a BFA exhibition), South Gallery, Western Michigan University, USA
1992 A Collection of Photographs, South Gallery, Western Michigan University, USA

 

 

Tang Ling Nah (b. 1971, Singapore)

Tang is a Singapore-based artist and independent curator. She is fascinated with the city’s transitory spaces. Her work seeks to reflect and address the conditions of the modern city, particularly its speed and the lack of interpersonal intimacy in urban life. She graduated with a Diploma in Fine Art (Painting) in 2000 from LASALLE-SIA College of the Arts, Singapore and received her Bachelor of Arts (Fine Art) with Distinction, conferred by Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) University, Melbourne, Australia in 2001. Her accolades include the Juror’s Choice in the Philip Morris Singapore-ASEAN Art Awards 2003, the Della Butcher Award 2000 and the Young Artist Award (Art) 2004 conferred by the National Arts Council, Singapore.In 2008, she represented Singapore in the 2ndSingapore Biennale and also exhibited a work in the 11thInternational Architecture Biennale in Venice (Singapore Pavilion). She is in the collection of Artist Pension Trust (Beijing), National Heritage Board (Singapore), John Batten Gallery (Hong Kong) and more, as well as private collections in France, Italy, Singapore, Spain, Taiwan.

SELECTED SOLO & GROUP EXHIBITIONS
2012 13 Steps Esplanade–Theatres on the Bay, Singapore
2011 ||| Movement, Stamford Green, Singapore
2010 Drawing Out Conversations: Taipei《對畫: 臺北》Nanhai Gallery,National Taipei University of Education, Taipei, Taiwan
The World Outside 《外面的世界》, Esplanade Tunnel, Singapore
An Other Space Within the House II, Kuandu Museum of Fine Arts, Taipei, Taiwan
2009 Whose Exhibition is This?, Taipei Fine Arts Museum, Taipei, Taiwan
2008 SUPERGARDEN, The 11th International Architecture Biennale (Singapore Pavilion), IstitutoProvinciale per l’Infanzia, Santa Maria della Pietà, Venice, Italy
WONDER, Singapore Biennale 2008, South Beach Development Site, Singapore
Dreaming in Black and White, Red Mill Gallery and Kahn Barn Studio, Vermont Studio Centre, USA
2002 activated C—An Exhibition of Charcoal Drawings by Tang LingNah, Société Générale Gallery, Alliance Française de Singapour, Singapore

Essay

A Space in a City

By Susie Wong

 

What is space? Given its numerous meanings and implications,space is further re-worked in these two artists’ oeuvres.

For his work, Chee Yong (CY)draws attention to a third space: where actual space intersects with a mirrored reflection, “the interplay of different locations”, which creates a “zone that would no longer be clear but rather ambiguous”.  “A ‘new’ space is birthed.  An arena not in reality but exists only within the photograph.” (CY statement)

In contrast to CY’s space,Ling Nah (LN) articulates space as transitory in her works. “The void decks, alleys, corridors and underground passageways”, hints atspaces which are ubiquitous, and which carry a function (“to connect us to a destination, or…lead us to getting lost”, LN statement).Here, “space” is connected to place.

As an example, she points out spaces, like the void decks of HDB, have the potential for bringing people together.  “The whole idea is not really about these spaces, but also about how we look at our immediate environment in general and how we relate to it, to other people”. Such spaces, she says, should become ‘known’, for people to become aware of these unnamed spaces.

In her body of works, LN’s articulates spaces in terms of architectural responses; the way rooms are built:the stairways, the doors, the windows, and walls. “Conventional use of transitory spaces is symptomatic of the urban condition. We use a corridor, alley, stairway or underground passageways to move between point A and B, without stopping to think about the functions of these spaces and potential interactions with fellow users”. LN’s space has a tangible connection to “place”.

Whereas the drawing is a pictorial representation, the photograph carries an ontological significance (S. Sontag, On Photography, 1977, New York: Dell). To illustrate, CY’s third space does not exist in reality save in a photograph: the photograph (as a carrier of “truth”) fools the eyewith light, mirrors and shadows. We believesuch illusory spatial dimensions exist because we trust the camera as an apparatus that captures what truly exists before it. HongKong(2012) for example shows a window/door to the “outside”, a view to a block of flats. We are tricked as it is a mere image-transparency overthe glass, suggesting actual physical depth.

CY’s intention is to intrigue, and certainly not, with his camera, to demystify. He incites awareness of a beauty of what isseen, and what is not seen: the trail of hanging lights over the window in Rain(2012), or the early morning mist at Changi Airport(2012). What lies beyond these? He plays with focal points. The focal point of the distance should be matched with what is before, and behind us, in a kind of unilinear plane of vision. Our eyes are the vehicle, the photograph facilitates.CY proposes that the photograph has the capability (more than the eye) to capture all – both the reflection and the space behind the mirror or glass.  “The camera allows us to see the multi facets, all at the same time, compact, compressed. So therefore the camera becomes an interesting tool…I can see the reflection on the glass, and when I don’t want to see the reflection on the glass, I focus on what is outside. I see what is outside. But I cannot see two of them at the same time. Using the camera, I am able to compact the two together, and now because these two are compacted together, a third space is found.” (Conversations, 18 May 2012)

To become enchanted again, by almost missing what is there – by double takes.

The rational single perspective is thrown into questionability.  CY’s bringing together mismatching perspectives that recall the multi-points of view, of a Chinese landscape.  Berger in the book About Looking pounced on a painting by a Persian artist, in which the distance and the foreground are confusingly represented on a pictorial space. Creating a spatial ambiguity. Berger talks about this as in narrating a story, in which unilinear time is abandoned, where all matters are “immediate”. “Thus there is a close parallel between pictorial representations of space and the ways stories are told”[1], concludes Berger.

In CY’s photographs,there is a sense of such placesbecoming desolate, and impenetrable. The frequent motifs, reflections, lights and darkness, and weather,act as barriers to seeing the “truth” with clarity.

Indoor Snow(2012), a screen capture of a security camera (a photograph of an screen image)records two different locations, two spaces superimposed over each other.  Airport(2012) also becomes removed from clear sight, as mist shrouds the planes. One always stands looking out from behind glass- Rain(2012) and Corridor (2012).The glassed city is a city that is impenetrable. “Glass also acts as a deterrent, a boundary that forbids access rather than granting it; thus ‘transparency’ quickly turns into obscurity (its apparent opposite) and reflectivity (its reversal).”[2] (Vidler, The Architectural Uncanny,quoted in R. Swope’s Supposing a Space, 27)

As a counterpoint LN’s drawn spaces invite. She talks of a previous work,in which she placed a bench in front of her work for people to sit and contemplate the drawings. To contemplate would entail to move with one’s mind into this imagined space, beyond the hard wall (if it is a wall-drawing), into that corridor, that place behind the next wall.

LN’s spaces always show some form of exit, with egress evidenced by“you”who are already in that space.

“[My] drawings of darkened architectural spaces contain glimpses of light that lead the viewer to such ‘ways of exit or entrance’, so as to be more aware of their environment; to stop and ponder on their relationships with other people and also with space.”

For this series, the stairs or stairwaysappear everywhere; they lead out (or in).  The space is fraught with a maze-like quality, perhaps there is no exit? “Here, there or nowhere”, anadopted phrase of LN’s,alludesto the “placelessness” of place (Edward Relph).Or one mayeven conjecture that this “nowhere” is akin to wandering the place, and finding that logic is not the key.

In today’s modern city, all places look alike in the end, with pipes and stairways, alleyways. The cityscape is“flattened, uniform, without depth, its repetitions and lack of features creating what Relph called the “placelessness of place”[3] (Swope 24). LN’s work probes the alienating characteristic of modern urban conditions, but not fully as something that is greyor flattened – not without “exit or egress” (as one would encounter in the “locked room” of writer Paul Auster’s poststructuralist imagination, “unable to exit to the world that stands at the threshold of their bodies”[4]). There is a passageway, a way forward, in LN’s work, a point leading from one to another:

Between compression and liberation, LN’s rooms dictate our relationship to the city. “For Void and Void Decks, I am working on the idea that was initially mentioned: passage. It is about travelling from one point to the next, but it may not always be unidirectional. It can be ‘here, there or nowhere’ (this is the title of a work). Like Piranesi’s etchings of interconnecting stairways. So, the ‘scenes’ I choose will be those that seem to lead the viewer from some point to the next. It could be to somewhere or nowhere. That is up to the imagination of the viewer. The main elements that I have in my drawing to help ‘direct’ this flow are staircases, openings (e.g. doorways, windows) and light (& dark).”

LN’s space is a puzzle of rooms, like a composition of scenes, in which “some areas of tension, and some, which are calmer”. “Fear, anxiety is ‘in the mind’ ”, says LN. By the light in LN’s drawings, we are able toorientate our positions; there is an outside/exterior. There is always something further, across the room, a doorway that gives us hope that we are not trapped. The heightened perspectives emphasise the nearness and distance of walls to you:the jutting balustrade, the steps. They emphasise the immediacy of the space in relation to you, who are in it.

The two artists strived to convey these spaces with a formal aestheticof chiaroscuro. Darkened areas of charcoal, blackened areas of pixels, form the darkened areas of shadowy forms that meet the white light, or speckled greyness. Heightened contrasts add to the dramatic tension, of wanting to enter and of fear of being repelled.

CY describes his response, as the feeling of apprehension: “something is coming, someone is coming”. Always what lies in the darkness, is what may incite a sense of terror.

LN: “I think my work’s ‘suspense’ in which things seem to be about to happen stems from the influence by Baroque paintings (e.g. Carravagio, Artemisia Gentileschi). Yes, their works portray humans in action, but it also applies to architectural space where something is about to happen.”

This uncanniness also exists in CY’s third space.For him, the “straight”shoot is an important process in the work.The straight shoot catches all as-it-is.“The thought process is important and the seeing process is just as critical.”Theimages would provoke doubt as to whether these photographs had been manipulated. The photograph represents – the objective truth – which is now thrown into doubt.  The third space here is that space which lies within that “blind spot”, CY wants you to do that double take, at that place he has managed to capture.

The act of roaming the city, and discovering places is part of the artistic process. CY: “For me, it is more than just mere walking through the streets or places like the ones I’ve shot. I actually do ‘dream’ up of these places and try to find one that appears to look like the one I have in mind.It is my way of pre-visualising an image before it comes about.”

LN: “I roam the streets with my camera and I select from the pictures I took. Usually, images selected are those with good contrast of light and dark; interesting perspective and which allow me to play with canted angles, etc. Sometimes, it is difficult to explain why I choose a particular one.”

There is an allure to the re-found, an enchantment with these lost spaces – lost as in lost to the outside world, and invisible.  CY and LN ask us to look, to fully contemplate. Be aware, rather than be wary.

What is significant in these representations of spaces is what they harbour in terms of the relationship between the inhabitant and the space. In this respect, both concur that represented space is a devoid of human presence. Except for you, who are looking in. But traces lie withineach photographand drawing, as a palimpsest of habitation. In the range of works, we can read a psychic imprint of a city.

For their cityscape the two artists respond with the city as a space tingedwith romanticism, an awe of the re-found, enamoured with details, cloaked with intrigue, and strangeness, as part of their habitat. The artists channel the pleasure of their encounters to their audience.

When we stand on the cusp of disenchantment, we become re-enchanted. The thrill of the “third space”, the leftover hope of being able to navigatethrough a series of rooms to nowhere is keenly felt in this exhibition.

 

Susie Wong is a Singapore-based writer and art critic. She is also an art educator, painter and curator. 

 


[1]J. Berger, About Looking, 1980, London: Bloomsbury

[2]R. Swope, Supposing a Space: The Detecting Subject in Paul Auster’s City of Glass, 2006, Reconstruction.eserver.org

[3] Ibid

[4]P.Auster, New York Trilogy, 1990, New York: Penguin

Documentation

Opening

Press