Zheng Lu “Resurface”
Gajah Gallery (140 Hill Street, Singapore), Nov 15–27, 2014
Our world is one of images in constant motion. An endless flurry of updating and circulating as information sloshes across the globe: to be consumed and absorbed, or to occasion successive mutations as we respond, remix, and reinterpret this flow of data. Within the digital sphere, these shifts happen seamlessly, for the most part, excluding the curiosities of long-dormant sites which remain online, replete with dead links and broken images. As for the physical world, these flows imply a particular infrastructure which passes largely unnoticed—printing, transporting, and applying posters and billboards, swopping out one image for another in advertising light boxes.
The images on show in Zheng Lu’s solo exhibition “Resurface” seem to come to us as frozen snapshots of this process—not so much as documentation of a linear progression of forms, but some strange superposition of the moment of change, multiple images blending into one another in a simultaneous moment of removal and application. Less speculatively, the images suggest the relentless competition for attention in urban spaces, as one piece of street art is painted over by another, or posters hurriedly torn down to make room for new ones, generating a mottled sediment of image fragments. Where the grain of a piece of wood provides the linear chronology of the tree’s existence, the smooth grain of Lu’s industrially sanded surfaces is more apt to confound the passage of time.
In their simultaneity, the layered fragmentation of these images challenges our capacity for recognition and meaning-making, with slivers of recognizable forms jostling together in tangled uncertainty. Extracting (or projecting) form and coherence from/onto such a confusion of sensory information verges on paredolaic divination—of (finding meaning in the patterns of tea leaves), or the entrails of a fresh sacrifice. The images should not, however, be thought to be wholly random; just as Luke Reinhart’s “The Dice Man” (1971) tells the tale of a psychoanalyst who vows to live by the roll of the dice (but ultimately retains an obfuscated agency), so too, are these images consciously steered.
The underpinnings of meaning are not all that are perturbed by simultaneity, however; our perception of time as a simple succession of past, present and future is also questioned. This line of thought is rendered explicitly in “Communism,” (2014) in which portraits of some of the foremost icons in communist history are subjected to the same process—which, by happy coincidence, yields a surface suggestive of early propaganda woodcuts. What remains is a face that bears traces of each figure, suggesting a model of history not as a stable, incremental edifice on which the present rests, but one which is simultaneous, through its representation, with the present, subject to the whims of editing and interpretation.
However, the weight of history is not the principal concern of “Resurface,” with much of the imagery being drawn from the evanescent drifts of current affairs and the advertisements which saturate our lives. Most of the works’ titles include the date of their creation, and thus the date of the circulation of the images used—a process which recalls, perhaps, an On Kawara more concerned with our world’s spectacular circulation of images.