The Pleasures of Odds and Ends – Landscapes, Figures and Still Lifes @ Feeka

Gan Siong King selects 23 pictures from the internet then paints a realistic copy of it. As forewarned by the exhibition title, any attempt to decode his decade-long output, has to take into account the incoherent bits and pieces that intrigue one creative mind. The artist’s personal preoccupation with technological developments and outer space, manifest a desire to interrogate his “bad relationship with paintings.” Trained in painting and passionate about it, the arresting images chosen denote visual appeal as the main criteria, where the creative act of meaning-making is subsequently assigned via titles and web links. Tan Zi Hao’s eloquent essay states, “…a closer inspection on Gan’s paintings is never really satisfying because his paintings never elucidate despite being ‘realistic’.” So, what pleasures are attained upon inspecting these paintings?

The persistence of why (2014) [Reference image]

Beginning with the desire to understand colour, a heart-shaped diamond makes reference to light, refraction, and the colours in between, while the RGB blocks on a Cathode Ray Tube (CRT), indicate the elements that make up colour on a computer screen. The latter forms a diptych with a drawing of Yttrium, a rare earth element included in CRTs; Exhibited two metres away is a picture of neodymium magnets, and a DIY electric motor constructed using a battery cell, copper wire, and magnet. Power sources describe the profound impulse to paint, this desire for creation more obvious in the stone axe head illustrated on a sea blue background. Hung opposite are overt symbols of the industrial revolution, two mechanical engines hinting at a related invention – the production assembly line, where items are created repetitively.

Sooner or later everything becomes a copy of a copy (2014) [Reference image]

Industrial capitalism also advanced marketing methods that emphasized the aesthetic qualities of merchandise, which narrowed the association between art and manufactured product, through shop window and trade fair displays. This reconfiguration in the act of looking is elaborated in paintings based on a Windows desktop wallpaper, and one Martian scenery snapped by the Pathfinder rover. Thematically connected to the other exhibits, such landscapes question both the mechanical lens that captured the picture, and the technological set up of projecting it. Self-reference occurs regularly among the mimicked pictures, where dwelling on the ownership of Googled images is perhaps Siong King’s intent, yet such onerous thoughts are best ignored and assumed as the artist’s failure to accentuate salient points.

Bliss (2005) [Reference image]

Having ‘Search by image’ via Google Images before my visit, these works emit a strong aura upon visual inspection. Wong Hoy Cheong, whose painting is referred to in the Martian landscape, offers a useful approach to interpret Siong King’s presentation – “This foldedness-of-experience (of the real and virtual worlds) (…) vis-à-vis the overcoming of subject/object dichotomy in real time and space, recognises that the slippages in the real-virtual continuum are integral to contemporary life.” Staying connected to a digital world is now a fundamental experience, but supplementing wall labels with multiple QR codes indicate an artist who lacks confidence in the audience. When the invested visitor responds to his desire to show, one is led through a frustrating Daedalian web of cross references which attempt to impose multiple layers of meaning onto photographic images.

Sisyphus (2014) [Reference image]

Relating less to scientific knowledge gained from YouTube videos, singular objects that touch on personal politics prove to be the best works on show. A hominid fossil is titled ‘Ancestor (or Non-Bumiputera)’, transforming a still life subject into a clever dig at indigenous claims of superiority. ‘Terang Bulan’ alludes to one French-Indonesian song which evolved into our national anthem, the circular painting clearly depicting the dark side of the moon. This in turn recalls the iconic cover of a Pink Floyd album, and the mockumentary about Stanley Kubrick creating a fake moon landing. Malaysia’s formative years curiously coincide with the time when magnetic-core memory was the dominant form of computer memory. Titled ‘Sisyphus’, this recreation refers to the repetitive process involved in memorising; the object’s obsolete status relays the futility of memory.

Terang Bulan (2014) [Reference image]

A black metallic form used in letterpress printing refers to the proliferation of books and subsequently religion, yet the painting’s title alludes to a biblical account of how language was created to confuse mankind, the picture questioning the correlation between text publications and spiritual enlightenment. The desire for learned knowledge is evident in this exhibition, but an underlying sense of self-loathe is present, as the artist fails to locate answers in his continuous interrogation of painting. Prosthetic limbs attached to a thalidomide patient imply a desire to repair a disability, while a penicillin culture vessel insinuates a desire to cure oneself from an ailment, in this case, an addiction to painting and art. By presenting readymade images undone via painting, the wartime references mask the true conflict, which is the artist’s “bad relationship with paintings”.

Confusion of tongues (2014) [Reference image]

Art that invokes deep thought is typically good art, although Siong King’s forceful approach towards restating his personal aesthetic, presents a broad and reflexive viewpoint that is too open-ended for subsequently meaningful reflections. Raising my mobile gadget up towards the QR codes stuck beside a painted image of one celebrity scientist, I wonder, which is the artwork – a painting of a still frame from a television program, or this technological marvel known as the smartphone? As Marcel Duchamp once remarked, “ …I do not believe in painting per se – A painting is made not by the artist but by those who look at it and grant it their favours. In other words, no painter knows himself or what he is doing…” In a show of paintings which leads one to appreciate art beyond wall hangings, not knowing – may be the greatest pleasure of it all.

Fountain (a.k.a inside this vessel, a magic drug is brewing) (2014) [Reference image]