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2013.02.06 Wed, by Iona Whittaker Translated by: Liang Shuhan
Not Far Off

Nowhere Near” Chun Kaifeng solo exhibition

FOST Gallery (1 Lock Road (Gillman Barracks), #01-02, Singapore) Jan 18 – Feb 24 Feb, 2013

Slightly off the beaten track, just behind the glare of Gillman Barracks’ neon sign, is a compact space newly occupied by local gallery FOST. Inside one finds the first solo exhibition by Chun Kai Feng (b.1982). Chun is not quite a stranger on the local scene; his part in “The Singapore Show: Future Proof” at Singapore Art Museum last year included ¥€$”, which remarked visually on the negative impact of casinos in Singapore. In 2009, he was the recipient of the Singapore Art Exhibition Prize (SAE) for the installation “He’s Satisfied from Monday to Friday and on Sunday He Loves to Cry” – an equally cinematic diorama containing a miniature work station (a standardised desk, chair, filing cabinets, a white laptop) – implicitly the drab furnishings of contemporary psychological life.

The generous S$50,000 grant that gave him seems to have been put to positive use in both the practical and emotional sense – the proof is in this new solo show, which has been three years in the making. The atmosphere here is very different. In place of grey miniatures, here are several sculptures attracting light to their varied, definite forms. The exhibition concerns the notion of time and is articulated through materials associated (paradoxically, perhaps) with “placeless” sites – the generic late-night 7-Eleven shop, for instance, or the kind of pedestrian railings that line every subway, so often touched in transit but seldom seen.

“Before Sunrise” (2012) is a square work, its corners rounded off and the surface glazed in complementary-coloured pigment (in yellow, orange and royal blue) – the uniform kind used for cars. A large central circle, featureless but for an uneven balance of semicircular blue infill and line, gives the piece its name. Nearby, “Totem” (a somewhat hackneyed, but fitting title) stacks 5 layers with the look of concrete road flyover supports into a majestic little tower; thus executed and invested with interlocking repetition and parity, this object comes to resemble an altar, or indicate an unnamed classical style. On opposite sides of the gallery in narrow, walled-off areas, two works called “Nighthawks” (#1 and #2, 2012) hang in LED luminescence in the far top corner of the wall, their colours those of 7-Eleven’s familiar signage but with the red and orange strips reversed. The visual effect is not unlike that of seeing a word whose letters have been rearranged, but that is nonetheless equally legible.

Ironically, it is the piece “Like That One” that is most like the sculptures Hong Kong-based artist Adrian Wong makes, and which in a similar way refashion the casts of generic local urban or household items, removing the force of habit and rendering them sculptural. “Like That One” (2012) takes a commonplace wire bed frame and makes a new one, the functional wire pattern replaced with chaste blue-white neon light and mounted on a darkened wall.

According to the exhibition introduction, “Chun stages encounters with the past’s futures” – a phrase not entirely lucid (Ed. or just twaddle). The general approach might simply be described as the arrangement of urban components within a new time and place linked to aesthetics. The artist is mindful of the fact that the origin of the objects that inspired these works was in fact a non-place, at once nowhere and everywhere, but at the same time widely recognisable. A strange combination of place (or placement) and non-place thus condense together on these objects – taken from somewhere and then cemented together in the gallery for aesthetic appreciation, they retain a contrasting sense of the ephemeral and unnoticed. In temporal terms, the latter sensation, visually akin to a brief glance, mixes with the contemplative gaze expected in an artistic environment.

Perhaps as a residue from the artist’s earlier works exploring the negative sides of contemporary urban life, an undercurrent of apathy seems to slide between these clean, confident forms. Nonetheless, Chun’s ability and the distinct presence of these sculptures are impressive – this is a careful and well-executed exhibition and it confirms Chun Kai Feng and FOST gallery’s presence in the Singapore art scene.