Over the last couple of years Heman Chong has amassed a substantial archive of unspectacular and rather banal images of embassy backdoors. The duplication of images in the compositions on show at Amanda Wilkinson Gallery not only makes them even more dull and non-descript, but also highlights the artist’s interest in surveillance and classification systems.
If for a minute we consider how ‘protected’ these sites of infrastructural power are, with high walls, greenery as camouflage and surveillance cameras in strategic spots, we can easily feel stripped in front of them. This is probably why the artist has decided to print them on large, unprimed canvases and hang them from the ceiling of the gallery as huge curtains. Compressed onto one form in order to produce another, these curtains trigger our curiosity to look for what’s behind – or for the more cynical of us, what’s hidden – while simultaneously creating a physical barrier that reinforces the notion of the individual versus an omnipresent State.
As the viewer has to push through these works without knowing what to expect, they are forced to take their chances: it is an interesting yet risky game. This “constructed situation” between the individual and the State, the viewer and the artwork is a necessary condition for interrogating the order of things, for questioning political operations and ultimately, for drawing the curtains to let some light in. Despite its playfulness, Chong’s work is therefore essentially political.
It’s not the first time that Chong has been thinking about the dissemination and manipulation of information: in an exhibition in Hong Kong last year titled Abstracts from The Straits Times (The Straits Times is Singapore’s newspaper of record) he centred on appearances and reality, secrets and lies. An accomplished writer himself, Chong is interested in the construction of narratives, and in “the ifs, ands, or buts” (also the title of his exhibition at Rockbund Art Museum in Shanghai) of fact and fiction.
Foreign Affairs is a natural culmination of these exhibitions and sits somewhere between image-making, performance and situationism. It speaks about what we regard as other peoples’ or other states’ business without realising the extent they affect our own everyday lives.
Pretty pictures these are not, but for a show that makes you think hard about how found objects can be fashioned into artworks, and the omnipresence of surveillance in today’s world, this exhibition is well worth a visit.
Curator of Programmes
Amanda Wilkinson Gallery, 1st Floor, 18 Brewer Street, London W1F 0SH. Open Tuesday-Saturday 11.00-18.00. Exhibition continues until 6 April 2019. www.amandawilkinsongallery.com