Digital prints, on un-primed canvasses, of enlarged copies of the front pages of The Straits Times (ST) newspaper; a short story that can only be told orally and must be learnt by heart by the audience before they can move on; and a library of Chinese legal books. These are some of the latest works by conceptual artist Heman Chong that he likes to describe as “located at the intersection between image, performance, situations and writing”.
An artist, curator and writer, Heman Chong has long been interested in languages, with most of his practice centred on “thinking about fiction and the spaces that overlap with reality”.
“A lot of my work mediates the space where fact and fiction co-exist, and is continuously morphing into and around each other. There’s no such thing as an absolute truth or a complete lie. Things usually exist within the greys of speech, communication and nuance,” Chong says.
Abstracts from The Straits Times, his latest series, which was presented at Rossi & Rossi during Art Basel Hong Kong, appropriated front pages from the Singaporean newspaper between 2010 and 2017, enlarging them and superimposing numerous layers to render the printed words illegible.
“I think the simplest way to talk about Abstracts from The Straits Times is that I’m using what we assume is fact to produce a series of abstractions where this fact can immediately be thought about as something soft and pliable; that information is often not a fixed thing, it changes when you shift the context in which it’s read,” Chong explains. “Truth doesn’t really only exist in black and white. One could be stating the complete truth, but seen in a certain light, it becomes unbelievable and vice versa.”
The artist said he used The Strait Times as a basis for talking about mass media but points out it could have been any other newspaper. “I thought it apt to use ST because I live in Singapore and it is the main paper in town. If I lived in New York, I would have totally used The New York Times.”
Chong has an installation at the Swiss Institute Contemporary Art in New York (until August 19, 2018), which presents a bookshop with titles relating to the legal system in China that were selected by a lawyer. “I envision the bookshop as an open-ended platform where it’s a space to browse, read, and talk about different issues,” he says.
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