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Heman Chong’s Cycles of Time

“The Part In The Story Where We Lost Count Of The Days” is the title of a monograph and a series of three exhibitions being held across Asia that present the multiple-genre works of artist, curator and writer Heman Chong. Narelle Yabuka spoke to him at the Singapore show.

Heman Chong’s Cycles of Time


July 31st, 2013

The title of the exhibition and monograph seems to reference the passing of time and repetitive experiences. Does it refer to the process of compilation of the book, or to your work as a whole?

It refers pretty much to my practice. It’s a lot about this sense of déjà vu when we’re encountering art. It’s as if nothing is new anymore. There’s a complacency we have in locating the new. There are a lot of biographical references to how we would understand time as a kind of cyclic motion that we have no escape from.

Heman Chong

Heman Chong’s new monograph – The Part In The Story Where We Lost Count Of The Days – published by ArtAsiaPacific. Image courtesy of Heman Chong and Future Perfect.

Why did you choose this point in your life to release a monograph?

I was approached by ArtAsiaPacific to consider a monographic volume, simply because I’ve never had one. I’ve been working as an artist for about ten years now, so it’s a good way to organise things. Also, because my practice involves so many things, it’s good to somehow structure the different strands in which I’ve worked.

Heman Chong

Exhibition installation – The Part in the Story Where We Lost Count of the Days (2), at Future Perfect. Image by Russell Morton and courtesy of Future Perfect

Why did you choose to exhibit in three international locations?

The first reason is they are all in Asia, which I thought would be interesting for the book launches simply because this is the context I’ve been working with for some time. I’ve been working with Rossi & Rossi in Hong Kong for a long time, so it made sense for me to have them do the launch in Hong Kong. Also, they were very pivotal in designing the sponsorship for the monograph, so I guess it’s obvious that I would do it with them.

I had promised David Teh a show when he opened Future Perfect here in Singapore, and I’ve always liked their programme. Among the galleries in Gillman Barracks, Future Perfect seems to be highly invested in talking about contemporary art in Singapore. Fost Gallery also does that very well.

I like The Reading Room in Bangkok because it’s one of those spaces you can’t really define. It’s a library, a screening room – it falls in between a lot of things, which I thought was like my work. Also I thought it would be nice to have a one-year performance in Bangkok.

Heman Chong

Exhibition installation – The Part in the Story Where We Lost Count of the Days (2), close up view. Image by Russell Morton and courtesy of Future Perfect

 Do each of the exhibition programmes have a focus on Singapore?

No. The one in Rossi & Rossi spans a series of paintings I’ve done since 2009 called Cover Versions, for which I redesign and paint book covers. The one here at Future Perfect talks about my processes and relationships with photography. At The Reading Room, every Saturday you can go and see a performance where you’ll have access to an instructor who will teach you how to memorise a short story.

Heman Chong

From left: July 1978, Acrylic on Canvas (2011); August 1973, Acrylic on Canvas (2011). Image courtesy of Heman Chong and Future Perfect.

Telok Blangah Hill Park: A Survey, which is part of the Future Perfect show, is a photo-essay that takes the form of a book. You’ve also co-authored a sci-fi novel (PHILIP), and your LEM1 exhibition in London last year took the form of a sci-fi bookshop. What intrigues you about books as a medium?

It’s not so much books as the stories within books. I’m very keen on locating narratives as conceptual vehicles for ideas. I’m a big fan of narratives in the way that they often have this possibility of talking about something in an oblique manner, where it’s much more about the circumference of an object rather than the object itself. For me it’s always about processing one thing using a completely ridiculous, different method to the actual purpose of that thing. It’s about misusing things and seeing what that misuse could come to.

Heman Chong

A Short Story About Singapore (Volume 1) No. 11 (2013), offset print on acid-free paper. Image courtesy of Heman Chong and Future Perfect

Please talk about how you use photography to straddle present, past and future. In A Short Story About Singapore (Volume 1) what, other than the scene in front of you, are you documenting or manifesting?

I’m not so interested in documentation. People who document are essentially looking for things to document. All the photos you see here are by-products of another process, which is something very simple that I do a lot – walking. It’s a way for me to think through ideas and exercise, and also somehow encounter the city at a very slow pace. A lot of these photos came to me when I was walking. They’re more like found objects. I’m not there to locate photographs, as much as allowing situations to come to me.

Heman Chong

 A Short Story About Singapore (Volume 1) No. 73 (2013), offset print on acid-free paper. Image courtesy of Heman Chong and Future Perfect

The Part In The Story Where We Lost Count Of The Days is being exhibited at:
Future Perfect, Singapore, 26 July to 31 August 2013
Rossi & Rossi, Hong Kong, 5 July to 10 August, 2013
The Reading Room, Bangkok, Saturdays from 7 September 2013 to 7 September 2014

The monograph, published by ArtAsiaPacific, can be purchased here.

Heman Chong

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