Artists Inspirations

Song Dong

In some way, he’s the Chinese version of Joseph Cornell. Using found objects as inspirations and materials for his art, he says that life is his main job, art is just a hobby. The philosophy behind his arts stamps from his upbringing, the way his mother has taught him about not wasting anything. Every object has its own value and life. Can we nurture their lives as beautiful as they can be?

His work really touches me, because I can feel so much love in there. It’s his way of responding to what’s happening in his life with virtues, culture and philosophy of the Chinese.

References:

http://www.artzip.org/song-dong-waste-not

https://www.cobosocial.com/dossiers/song-dong-borderless-wall/

https://www.cobosocial.com/dossiers/song-dong-a-world-in-a-well/

https://www.artnetnews.cn/art-world/songdongchichengshiyongyuwangcuihuita-75869

http://review.artintern.net/html.php?id=76542

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Photobook Wishes

Another Black Darkness- Saiko Nomura

I remember seeing Saiko Nomura’s work at the HKIPF Provoke show last year 2018. And her’s stands out the most because of the experimental way of printing.

“Another Black Darkness” is Nomura’s first experimental series created through solarization. The book, which consists of black ink oriented on black paper, has been highly praised for being the most experimental out of all recently published photo collections.

Would love to get my hands on this book!

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Artists Inspirations

Joseph Cornell

Heard from another artist about Joseph Cornell, and his famous work of shadow boxes somehow resonate with me. Maybe it’s the idea and theme of voyage and wanderlust. And the idea of collecting and using found objects to make art.

“He was a kind of magician, turning everyday objects into mysterious treasures. By collecting and carefully juxtaposing found objects in small, glass-front boxes, Cornell created visual poems in which surface, form, texture, and light play together. Using things we can see, Cornell made boxes about things we cannot see: ideas, memories, fantasies, and dreams.”

Throughout Cornell’s life, he has never left America but his wanderings around streets of Americas brought him objects and ephemera that allows him to travel within his own imaginations, through the centuries of history, the continents of the globe and even the celestial realm. His work is filled with a yearning for distant places and times.

Source @ Royal Academy of Arts

Podcast about Cornell and Surrealism: https://audioboom.com/posts/3550962-joseph-cornell-surrealism-and-time

References: https://www.josephcornellbox.com/

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Exhibition Reviews

The Bare Life – Philippe Grandrieux

Empty Gallery – one of my go-to galleries in Hong Kong which displays edgy contemporary artworks that are not exclusive to visual arts but other forms of medium or even crossing boundaries to other forms and media.

Philippe Grandrieux “The Bare Life” is currently exhibited from end of Sept til end of November. The text from the gallery describes the work really well.

“The performance in The Scream resemble an uncanny mixture of religious rituals, and choreographic workshop.  The affective intensity of these performances has only been heightened by Grandrieux’s decision to both to completely surround the spectator with images, and to introduce a slight delay of video, producing an effect no unlike the temporal blurring of which accompanies accumulated sensation. A sequence of 11 staggered projections surround the viewer within a purpose-built chamber, confronting them with a quivering multitude of naked bodies….

Bodies convulse and flail in an object choreography which oscillates between moments of surprising tenderness – the nearly automatic self-soothing activity of a body humming, rocking and whispering to itself – and moments of brutality – manifested not only by the titular scream, but also clawing, twitching, groveling of a body in distress.”

“The 3 single-channel work deals with the theme of anxiety – also explore the enigma of the human body and our relationship to our own materiality. Installed as life-size projections within the architecture of the gallery, each work present a human figure(s) enveloped by cover of darkness, moving according to an obscure logic beyond our comprehension.”

The works definitely confronts the viewers of their relationship with their sensations by being enfolded within the performer’s act. That confrontation sort of led us to awake our bodies as well and become extremely aware of how they respond to different stimuli. Visually striking and enigmatic, somehow disturbing too with the performer’s body almost felt as if she was not present, only with bones and skins moving according to the choreography. There were moments of her body postures which felt as if she was an alien, especially when the light source is not a warm but a fluorescent tone.  All in all, a mind-bending piece of work.

 

 

Snapshots of the single 3-channel projections @ Empty Gallery

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The Origin of Photography

Ways of Seeing – John Berger

I don’t know how many times I’ve watched this BAFTA award winning documentary series about art and images. But every time I re-watch this again, something new inspires me. This is the magic of really great work.

Episode 1 – John Berger talks about the reproduction of images due to the invention of photography and new media e.g. television. How this has an impact on how we appreciate art from the past.

In summary, he talks about how art was appreciated within context – the frame, the place displayed which creates the whole aesthetic experience subject to that piece of art. And art was unique in that sense – one piece one place one time. With the invention of photography, art becomes trasmittable – we no longer need to go to a particular place or travel to a certain country to have this experience. The art pieces can be delivered on prints, on television, in the context of our home. But will this experience be the same?

Berger argues that how we see the original art piece is entirely different to how it is being transmitted and displayed in front of our eyes. In some way, you are able respond to the original art piece by choosing how to see and appreciating the authenticity of it; in contrast, with the transmitted work, how the art work is arranged (e.g. zoom in or out, panning left or right, what music to play in background) is entirely coded to what the presenter wants us to see. The art can become easily manipulated and diverge from its original meaning. It has become like words rather than holy relics. He emphasised at the end that we need to be sceptical of how these images and meanings are arranged.

 

Episode 2 – he talks about the differences between being naked and nude – where the former is about being seen as oneself, whereas the latter is presenting oneself as an object, being on display without clothing. This refers to the portrayal of the female nude, an important part of the tradition of European art. Berger examines these paintings and asks whether they celebrate women as they really are or only as men would like them to be. Photography has elevated this issue to raising beauty in the public image of women and how this influences how women see themselves today.

 

Episode 3 – in this episode Berger examines where the value of art comes from. Before photography, art was somehow raised above life, turning it into a kind of religion. He said that when you buy a painting you also buys the look of the thing it represents. Early paintings were representations of private possessions, and some how possessing these paintings deduce a form of pride – because the sense of what you can put your hands on became closely connected with the sense of ownership. The celebration of merchandise began.

 

Episode 4 – the last episode he talks about the publicity of images. Where traditional art shows private possessions that consolidates the owner’s sense and value, the public images share a message of what we don’t have. The sight of it makes us want to possess it so to be envied. Publicity is a way of manufacturing glamour. It plays upon fear. Objects themselves are neutral, only publicity and images that raises or demolishes their values.

“In the urban world, we are surrounded by images of an alternative way of life. We may remember or forget these images – but briefly we take them in. And for a moment they stimulate our imagination, either by way of memory or by anticipation. But where is this other way of life?”

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Photo Critiques

Buttons for Eyes – Priya Kambli

Recently, I’ve been looking a lot into theories of photography for sure, and also photomontage works. I used to have this narrow vision of photography of Bresson’s decisive moment, praising Magnumphotos as God, and that was it for me for photography. Blindly ignoring what a big world is out there for making work with images. Maybe it was a good thing, so to just focus on one type of photography or maybe it was a bad thing, because there are so so so much more other possibilities with photography.

What changed me was, I got tired and bored of decisive moments. They are yes, decisive moments, of what claims to be moment of “truths”. Yet theories of photography opened up the question of photography as a medium. I mean, really opened up how I view and understand this medium. And photomontage, is one way of working with images that I feel I’d like to have a taste on. Similarly to decisive moments, there are already materials to work with (former, with what’s happening around the world; latter, with archival images and other materials).

Most immigrants exist in two worlds, the world of memories and visual connections of their growing up and the new realities of living in a culture where all is not familiar. This search for what is home, for the roots of that connect them to the most primal self is the main theme of Priya Kambli’s work.

“Buttons for Eyes” talks about loss, memory and identity (I guess I have a subconscious love for identity and loss, because of the work I’m drawn to). Kambli physically manipulates old family photographs and then rephotographs the altered artefacts. She uses light and flour as manipulative elements to add layers for starting a dialogue about cultural differences and global similarities.

© Priya Kambli, from the series ‘Buttons for Eyes, 2017- ; Source @ Lenscratch

She works with archival images which allows her to connect the past with the present, to bring forward memories, and to reimagine them adorned with tokens of the everyday – in a sense, making these memories physical. The way in which she maintains the photographs is akin to how Indian housewives tend to their kitchen deities – hence the use of flour. The meticulous patterns crafted on it symbolises the “Indianity” of her past identity (literally these patterns of flour can be blown away in seconds) – imprinted onto a physical form that she is re-creating for the present.

Much of the work talks about the separation and the exchange of cultural differences and similarities between herself and her sister, whom chose to stay in India whereas she immigrated to the US after their parents passed away.

There’s a final layer of narrative to this work which comes from the title “Button for Eyes.” It comes from a question her mother used to ask, “Do you have eyes or buttons for eyes?” Her mother’s concern was about Kambli’s inability to see trivial objects right in front of her, but also about our collective inability to see well enough to navigate the world. “It is a question laced with parental fear,” she says. Which goes back to, are we ignorant to these cultural differences and global similarities in the world? The laced patterns on the images may also symbolises not only the ignorant we ourselves may have, but those that derives from the parental fear in order to protect their children.

References: https://www.bjp-online.com/2019/10/female-in-focus-buttons-for-eyes/

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Photo Critiques

Solastalgia – Shi Yangkun

“Solastalgia” by definition it means the distress caused by environmental change. In the case of Shi Yangkun’s series, it is about a form of melancholy evoked by changes that have happened in the used-to-be familiar home context, referring to a special homesickness sensed by people when they are still within the home environment.

What drawn me to this work is probably because of my own history of leaving my home Hong Kong, and studying and living in UK, and now being back, everything has changed. And that sense of loss is permanent, unlike nostalgia which may just be temporary.

Quoting from Shi Yangkun,

“People are eager to go back home because they feel safe and comfortable with familiar attachments. From the view of nostalgia, the loss of attachment is temporary, because a person believe that they can go home sooner or later. The memory of these attachments could provide comfort. However, in the case of solastalgia, I would argue, the loss of attachment is permanent, which means even though they are standing in the original place they cannot find these attachments any more.”

The photographs speak to me because I totally understand that feeling and I can really resonate with the visual images. In his work, he questions not only the impact of the industrialisation but also reflects his uncertainties under a particular environment.

© Shi Yangkun, from the series ‘Solastalgia, 2016- ; Source @ Shi Yangkun

References: https://phmuseum.com/Henri/story/solastalgia-106f85fec8

Interview with SCMP: https://www.scmp.com/news/china/society/article/2091520/photographer-misses-his-home-especially-when-hes-there

 

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The Origin of Photography

Rhetoric of the Image – Roland Barthes

Barthes, has clearly demonstrated that there are signs in photographs. In his theory,

Signs (anything that convey a meaning) = signifier (things that give meaning) / signified (the mental concept of the things presented)

Here, is the famous advertisement that Barthes uses in his text “Rhetoric of the Image” to explain his theory of how to read photographs.

panzani-preview

According to Barthes, there are 4 signs here that can be read from this image:

  • the half opened bag and the unpackness signifies returned from the market
  • the tomatoes, pepper and pasta signify Italianicity – the food themselves as well as the colours, constituting to the Italian flag – green, red and white
  • the collection of the objects signifies a dinner to be prepared, the tin of product surrounded by fresh and natural food signifies its equivalence to them
  • the image composed is with relevance to painting categories of “still life”

There are also denoted message here, meaning the signifier is same as the signified. E.g. the image of tomatoes signifies tomatoes, the image of pasta signifies pasta. We still need to acquire these anthropological knowledge to be able to read these messages.

In his text, he claims that there are 3 messages from a photograph:

  • linguistic message
    • anchorage – this is the text which acts as an anchoring point for viewers to derive information from the image. For press photographs especially, the text often directs what information to focus and what information to ignore in an image, “remotely controlling the viewer towards a meaning chosen in advance.”
    • relay – this is text which complements and works alongside with the images in e.g. comic strips or films. Creating a dialogue. The meaning is found in the sequence rather than the image itself.
  • denoted message
    • He said that the denoted and connoted message is relational, not having one without the other. At least, there is no such image of representing just the denoted message.
  • connoted message
    • With connoted message, it truly depends on the knowledge of the person, as the reading of these signs are not fixed but varied – practical, national, cultural, aesthetics etc. And the language of the image is not just the total utterance emitted but also received

All in all, he claims that the denoted message counterbalances or neutralises the connoted message, and while the connoted message refers to culture, denoted message refers to nature. It is what both exists that makes the rhetoric of an image.

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The Origin of Photography

The Photographic Message – Roland Barthes

What is a photographic message? Is there a structural analysis into what a photograph transmits?

A lot of the philosophers have been saying how closely photography is related to realism (Walton, 1983). Even Barthes is saying that it is a literal transformation of the reality onto light sensitive photographic paper (what he later calls – the denoted message). Making a photograph does not rely on the beliefs of the creator, as Walton says, unlike a piece of artwork. A photograph, although still depends on the choices of the framing and technical skills of the creator, it in itself is something recorded from what’s in the world. Whereas with art, the creator can create and put onto the canvas of anything that he imagines or hallucinates.

But Barthes argues that there is a second message that photography transmit – known as the connoted message – which derives from the decisions of the creator e.g. frame, composition, style to the extend of how the society receives it i.e. inputting the cultural context into the composition of the photograph. Even with press photographs there are connoted messages – from composition, treatment, words attached to it plus the newspaper company itself are symbols to how the public reads these signs (note: this is especially transparent with the image consumption during the midst of Hong Kong protests). Barthes says that the connotation is realised at the different levels of production of the photograph – trick effects, pose, objects to photogenia, asetheticism and syntax.

Trick effects are often used in propagandas e.g. the American press 1951 photo of Senator Millard Tydings and Communist leader Earl Browder. The heavily connoted message in this photograph is really a sign only for certain society and people with certain values. Without understanding the history or the cultural context of what was happening in USA during 1951, this image is merely an image of two people conversing.

Objects are inducers of association of ideas e.g. a bookself = intellectual. So are people (but the associations are more complex e.g. Mother Teresa = compassion). In a photograph, objects and people are the vocabulary of the visual image, and how they are composed and posed turn this lexicon into syntax. “E.g. a window opening on to vineyards and tiled roofs; in front of the window a photograph album, a magnifying glass, a vase of flowers. Consequently, we are in the country, south of the Loire (vines and tiles), in a bourgeois house (flowers on the table) whose owner, advanced in years (the magnifying glass), is reliving his memories (the photograph album) – Francois Mauriac in Malagar (photo in Paris-Match).” (Barthes, 1971).

With photogenia, it relates to the technology of photographic production (lighting, exposure, printing) through which certain effects (motion blur, double exposure etc) create connotations in the photograph; aestheticism is about connotation based on classical paintings e..g classical rules of compositions and syntax, is about the connotation created by viewing a sequence of images and which emerges from the photographs in relation to each other rather than singly.

What Barthes also mentioned in this chapter from Image, Music, Text (1971) book is the relationship between text and images. Formerly, images illustrates the words but when text are attached to an image, it has a parasitic nature to quicken the understanding of the image and it affects how the image is being read. As Barthes says,

“The relationship is not the image which comes to elucidate or realise the text, but the latter comes to sublimate, patheticise or rationalised the image.”

Sometimes the text accompanied can invent a totally new message or contradict the image to produce a different message to the reader. So the big question is, do we read photographs based entirely on its entity, or the message is eluted or deluded by the surrounding text?

 

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Exhibition Reviews

A Room of Resistance – Yim Sui Fong

I really forgot how I come across these exhibitions in Hong Kong, but what moved me to find out what this exhibition is about was the question of one of Yim Sui Fong‘s works,

“How distinguished does an individual’s existence has to be before he merits a chronicle of his own? What if it’s merely that of a watchman, looking after something — a rickety hut on a slope, a nondescript warehouse by the sea — that has long been relegated to the margins of history?”

“人要如何偉大才應被記錄下來?如果他的工作只是看管或作一個見證?木屋和倉庫,有人為它記下歷史嗎?”

The exhibition starts with a carefully mounted individual bookshelf that holds the book “the man who attends to the times” for viewers to come in, take it out, and read it on the bench that was placed by the side.

It opens the dialogue of the exhibition on what it is meant by resistance – referring to a kind of tiny resistance, pinches of reverse action in everyday settings – whether these tiny resistance, these seems insignificant reverse actions or moments of uncertainties are worth documenting, and if so, what are they and what can they bring to us.

And then the walk takes one to see the work “Against Step” which is a collection of video recordings of passer-by’s unconscious little movements or mental states. The work is questioning whether active and continuous change of our body movement can avoid “gait identification” which aims to identify people and assign them a score for classifying them into categories. To add layers to this work, Yim also asked a dancer to continuously dance with only 1 instruction, which is to dance against her personal style and achieve the status of “no self”. The dance was filmed and projected on the large white panels against the wall.

Up until here, I get what she wanted to do. The exhibition was interesting and focused. And then, I feel it lost me with the other pieces. There was a piece of work called “Moments” which is hundreds of recorded conflicting moments within the 48 hours around the handover collaged into a one big lightbox panel, with lenticular printing. Quite literally, you can see how one moment moved to the next because of the lenticular printing technique, though I thought the link with the theme is too literal and loose. I wasn’t sure whether the focus of the exhibition wants to discuss more in the political direction, or in the psychology direction – which is what “The Hymn of Disquiet” wants to talk about, and in line with “Against Step”.

“The Hymn of Disquiet” is a visual result / recording of a workshop which invites the public to utilise restless emotions to obtain motivation for creation. The participants spent time in a remote place together and practiced various actions to encounter uncertainties. Personally I feel the content of this performative interaction is very rich, but was slightly disappointed with translated visual executions or works as the richness of the content was gone. And finally there was a sound installation piece which I felt was just something Yim wanted to experiment. It didn’t provide much depth to the exhibition of “resistance”.

Saying that, the most fruitful piece I got from this exhibition and the artist talk was the discussions with Floating Projects, an artist collective based in Hong Kong. The discussion revolves not only around the exhibition itself, but also the dynamics and how to work with curators.

Yim Sui Fong solo exhibition: A Room of Resistance

2019 28th Sept – 18th Oct
LO Gallery, JCCAC ; 11am-8pm

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