Only a Fragment

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“Only a Fragment”

 

“A photograph is only a fragment, and with the passage of time its moorings come unstuck. It drifts away into a soft abstract pastness, open to any kind of reading” – Susan Sontag

Nowadays, we are constantly bombarded by the photographed image, scattered everywhere in the urban landscape, seducing us with their auratic quality while at the same time attempting to sell something, while in cyberspace, the digital image mutate, grow, change via digital tools or disintegrate via sharing and usage. Furthermore, the act of taking a photograph has become an innate gesture to most people equipped with smartphones and mobile digital devices. These photos captured anywhere using a mobile device could mean something for a moment either as a way to document vital information or freeze meaningful moments, but usually in time end up as hopeless digital relics forgotten in the phone’s memory. This group exhibition at Richard Koh Fine Art titled Only a Fragment presents three award-winning artists working in Malaysia that use photography as an important part of their visual language while expanding its utility as more than documentations of reality. The works on show offer varied conceptual strategies, with some using text to expand the reading of the images while others eliminate superfluous details, showing the images as they are, devoid of distracting allusions.

Eiffel Chong (b. 1977) is an accomplished photographer with a varied body of work that examines the impact of man’s action on the natural environment and the world. He was awarded the 3rd prize in the photography category for the Asean-Korea Multimedia Competition in 2010 in Seoul, South Korea and was a finalist in the Young Contemporary Art Awards at the National Visual Art Gallery Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in 2006. His visually delicate work Seascapes (2013 – 2015), titled aptly by the locations where they are shot, reveals bodies of placid seas captured from different piers such as in Hong Kong and Kampung Tanjung Rhu in Malaysia at different points in time. Though taken from varying locations, the strict formal structure maintained (centered horizon line, pastel color palettes) makes the vistas appear similar, universally simple and pure. With a limited color palette, sensitive tonal difference and the strict visual structure, Eiffel is able to conjure a breath of associations such as Color Field paintings to minimal abstraction. As in his other previous series, Eiffel considers the abstract concepts of life and death through an economical visual language, highlighting banal details such as soft clouds in the sky and the horizon line into delicate textures. Furthermore their uniformed stillness links them as one, and one is again reminded that all seas are actually part of the same mass of water. Finally, there is a sense of calmness fabricated by the images as one is given an opportunity to view nature before the intervention of man.

Minstrel Kuik (b. 1976) is a dynamic artist working with a variety of media such as photography, artist publication, painting and drawing. She was recently awarded the prestigious UOB Painting of the Year prize under the Established Artist category in Malaysia in 2014 and in 2013, she was the winner of the International Photographer Award at Higashikawa Photo festival, Japan. Her previous work reflects on life and the sense of being framed from a personal perspective, and this ongoing series on show titled “Cosmic Matter” (2005-) photographed during her studies at the Arles School of Photography, France, is a grouping of photographs alluding to in a larger sense the mysteries of the universe stimulated by her readings on space travels and parallel universes, though visual clues are left to anchor the interstellar associations with everyday domestic objects and familial situations. Trusting that words and images are complementary in her creative process, a piece of fictional text inspired by Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 film “2001: A Space Odyssey”, the 1967 song by the Beatles titled “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” as well as the 1969 tune “I Took a Trip on a Gemini Spaceship” by Legendary Stardust Cowboy accompanies the 6 photographs in this exhibition. The glossy images of distant full moons, model planets and fluttering luminous invertebrates are a metaphor, a simulacrum of space travel and time. The text, in the tone of science fiction and heavy with pop culture allusions mirrors the aesthetic choices of the photographs. Fragments of the artist’s life are blended into the creations. The work such as Cosmic Matter (2005) was photographed in Seattle, US while the artist was visiting a family member, examines signs of absence while hinting at the other, the elsewhere and the uncanny. She is interested in the digitalization of our memory once our physical body has disintegrated and the existence of parallel universes, and how through photography, this conception can be explored or alluded to. She quotes the experience of the Chinese philosopher Zhuangzi (c. 369 BC – c. 286 BC) in which he dreamed one night that he was a butterfly fluttering joyfully in space but when he awoken from the slumber, he realized that he returned as himself, thus confusing him on whether he was a man dreaming he was a butterfly or the other way around. The artist passionately believes that our experience of the universe, the unconscious and the afterlife is limited and there is still much to learn and understand. Seeing the works as fragments of herself, Minstrel opines that due to the autobiographical and personal nature of her works, the journey and exploration is not yet over.

Similar in conceptual approach to Minstrel’s, an obscured story narrating an accidental encounter weaves together the 4 photographs by Sherman Ong (b. 1971), a Malaysian artist based in-between Malacca and Singapore and has widely exhibited in museums, biennales and film festivals worldwide such as the Venice, Singapore and Jakarta biennales, ICA and Tate Modern in London, UK as well as the Rotterdam International Film Festival, the Netherlands. He was the winner of the 2010 ICON de Martell Cordon Bleu Photography Award and the 2015 Prudential Eye Awards for the photography category. He works mainly in film and photography, with varying series that examine the human condition and our relationships within the larger milieu. For this exhibition, the artist presents a paired-down installation consisting of 4 printed photographs on archival paper and a piece of printed text mounted on board displayed like objects on a shelf. The text serves as an introduction to the images and explains in a poem-like manner an encounter with a stray cat cradling a dead moth in its mouth. In the encounter, the artist attempted to make a trade for the moth with the cat using a tuna bun during which an unexpected gaze into the feline’s eyes raised a chain of associations. A snapshot image of the cat on the grass greets the audience; its informal appearance makes the image seems ‘genuine’. Finally, the photographs of 3 pairs of mutilated moths, in which one appears to be morphing into a gecko or vice-versa, complete the assemblage. The juxtaposition of text and images welcome various readings and the text aid in the creation of layers to the reading of the images. Sherman also researched on the ancient art of shape shifting in Southeast Asia where there is a documented history of shape shifters such as were-cats and were-tigers, in certain parts of Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand. In Malaysia, were-tigers are known as harimau jadian. In local folklore, harimau jadian is believed to be non-hostile to man, and is said to take its animal form only at night to guard plantations from wild pigs. As hinted in the text, the artist views the early art of shape shifting to have been modernized and adapted into contemporary culture, exemplified in the antics of local politicians.

This exhibition Only a Fragment at Richard Koh Fine Art, Kuala Lumpur reveals the expanded language of photography in the Malaysian context through the works of 3 innovative photographers that are continuously pushing the boundaries of their respective practices.

 

Haffendi Anuar
2015

  Only a Fragment

Only a Fragment

Eiffel Chong
Minstrel Kuik
Sherman Ong

07 - 21 MAY 2015

Richard Koh Fine Art,
Lot No.2F-3, Level 2, Bangsar Village II,
Jalan Telawi, Bangsar Baru,
59100 Kuala Lumpur.

Daily, 10am - 10pm

Eiffel Chong
Minstrel Kuik
Sherman Ong

Only a Fragment

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