person(a) @ Black Box

"The persona is a complicated system of relations between individual consciousness and society, fittingly enough a kind of mask, designed on the one hand to make a definite impression upon others, and, on the other, to conceal the true nature of the individual."
- Carl Jung, The Relations between the Ego and the Unconscious (1928), CW7: Two Essays on Analytical Psychology, p.305
"Whoever looks into the mirror of the water will see first of all his own face. Whoever goes to himself risks a confrontation with himself. The mirror does not flatter, it faithfully shows whatever looks into it; namely, the face we never show to the world because we cover it with the persona, the mask of the actor. But the mirror lies behind the mask and shows the true face."
- Carl Jung, Archetypes of the Collective Unconscious (1935), CW9 Pt. I: The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, p.43

Chris Chong Chan Fui - Pekan Nabalu (2015)

The visitor sees oneself in four sequential frames while walking past mirrors into Black Box, which dispels the static characteristic of the selfie, a curatorial inspiration for this photography-based exhibition. Freeze frames as a narrative method are presented immediately in a hilarious series by Hoo Fan Chon, who documents his reaction after consuming alcohol, the body shots also a tender representation of cultural assimilation. Fellow Penang-based artist Okui Lala too focuses on outward appearances, capturing a cheerful visit to the hairdresser’s. Effectively light-hearted is the triptych ‘Pekan Nabalu’ by Chris Chong Chan Fui. Tourists taking photographs at a lookout point, either by hand or by tripod, describe lucidly what photographs mean to the majority of the populace – a documentary evidence of space and time. 

Installation snapshot of Pang Khee Teik - MyMyKad (2015)

Identity as a social construct provides an appealing interpretation of the persona theme, seen in Pang Khee Teik’s puckish MyKads and Liew Kwai Fei’s subversive photobook. Philosophy paperbacks and sex toys in the former’s drawers present moral contradictions manifest within the definition of a citizen; the latter’s blurred magnifications of former classmates remind about a problematic public education undergone by Gen-X nationals that informed current prejudices. Lim Paik Yin shows a few captivating photographs, but the overall installation is too sentimental towards her own lineage. Nearby, Minstrel Kuik reconstructs photographs overlayed with a heavily pixelated mask, leaving one more detached the harder one looks at it. Sharon Chin’s Bersih-related illustrations are lovely to look at, yet the journalistic method renders it out of place within this exhibition.

Installation and book contents of Liew Kwai Fei - Muka Surat (2015)

Threading between the real and the virtual, two works project the digital nature of contemporary photography in a cheeky manner. Vincent Leong’s found photographs online (including one photographer that bears the same name as the artist) is equal parts sardonic and nonsense, while a pastiche slide show by the mysterious Specimen X delights with its crude yet effective portrayal about the online persona. Does each ‘Like’ dilutes one’s virtual presence? How much do old pictures of persons online, affect contemporary appreciation of the same person? Among many unnecessary lightboxes and obvious digital manipulations, Anna Rina’s captures of herself standing barefooted on a paved road – with ‘The Cleaver’ – stand out for its simplicity, and compels one to read the wall statement about her parents. 

Slide show snapshots of Specimen X - Person A (2015)

Looking at Diana Lui’s shadow traces reflecting upon freeze frames by Sherman Ong, it is telling that the art practitioners (not photographers) do not project overt emotional content in their response to the curatorial theme. In an “Art + Photography” forum attended by people active in Malaysian visual art (myself included), the discussion around what is art and what is photography was inconclusive, unsurprising given the non-representation of a self-professed photographer (not artist) in the panel. Narrative was mentioned as a key criteria for successful art-making, an aspect lacking in this exhibition of mostly new works, where self-indulgence is mistaken for self-expression. High prices for some works exacerbate this siok sendiri observation, as I read in the news about another person who died while attempting a selfie.

Anna-Rina - The Cleaver (2015)