Heman Chong, Lau­rent Gras­so, Susan Jacobs, Jesse Jones, Jane and Louise Wil­son, Ming Wong, Haegue Yang
You promised me, and you said a lie to me

5th October – 9th November 2013
Anna Schwartz Gallery Carriageworks

A thing that is not possible

You promised me, and you said a lie to me’ brings togeth­er sig­nif­i­cant works by sev­en high­ly-regard­ed artists, in dia­logue with one anoth­er for the first time; artists whose prac­tices indi­vid­u­al­ly address instances of agency, resis­tance and vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty in the face of inter­per­son­al and polit­i­cal authority.

The title of the exhi­bi­tion departs from a lament, a bal­lad of loss. Don­al Og, Young Don­al’, is traced to the 8th Cen­tu­ry and passed on in the Irish tra­di­tion of oral sto­ry­telling. In Lady Augus­ta Gregory’s late 18th Cen­tu­ry trans­la­tion, the pro­tag­o­nist claims, You promised me, and you said a lie to me / That you would be before me where the sheep are flocked; / I gave a whis­tle and three hun­dred cries to you, / And I found noth­ing there but a bleat­ing lamb.’ In the orig­i­nal, a loss of self is writ­ten into the form of the poem, passed on anony­mous­ly, with­out attri­bu­tion to an author, from poet to poet. Then through the coloni­sa­tion of lan­guage, in trans­la­tion from Irish to Eng­lish, the poem speaks explic­it­ly of loss, osten­si­bly of love, but also of agency: a lament for how one is con­sti­tut­ed in rela­tion to anoth­er, the lack of a lis­ten­er, the poten­tial removal of God from one’s life and the pow­er of redemp­tion. What remains is a ques­tion of how agency can be reclaimed; and whether any promise can tru­ly be kept, with­in the con­di­tions of human fallibility.

An act of obstruc­tion is the first ele­ment in the exhi­bi­tion instal­la­tion of You promised me, and you said a lie to me’. Lau­rent Grasso’s vis­i­bil­i­ty is a trap, a large arma­ture of alu­mini­um, neon and cables, both block and frame the path into the exhibition.

The eye moves swift­ly to Jane and Louise Wilson’s works, which draw on their strong inter­est in cin­e­ma, social his­to­ry and rep­re­sen­ta­tions of pow­er, and are often under­scored with a sense of fem­i­nist agency. They use archives as mate­r­i­al for rethink­ing estab­lished nar­ra­tives from par­tic­u­lar moments in time, and to find ways to work against sys­tems of author­i­ty by exca­vat­ing new mean­ing from old sit­u­a­tions. In the work False Pos­i­tives and False Neg­a­tives, pho­tographs of the artists’ paint­ed faces are lay­ered over images tak­en from sur­veil­lance footage of the moments imme­di­ate­ly pre­ced­ing and fol­low­ing the Mossad assas­si­na­tion of a Hamas oper­a­tive in a Dubai hotel in 2010. Tak­ing advan­tage of the unusu­al avail­abil­i­ty of the footage released online by Dubai author­i­ties, which doc­u­ments all of the events sur­round­ing the assas­si­na­tion except the moment of the killing itself, the Wilsons engage in the prac­tice of hand-paint­ed cam­ou­flage. The geo­met­ric forms work to obscure the sub­jects’ iden­ti­ty, scram­bling human fea­tures in pix­el-based video record­ings, mak­ing the wear­ers unrecog­nis­able to dig­i­tal sur­veil­lance. This basic form of dis­guise (a prim­i­tive mask-mak­ing to effec­tive­ly deflect sophis­ti­cat­ed and secret secu­ri­ty tech­nol­o­gy) reit­er­ates a con­di­tion of con­tem­po­rary soci­ety that was bru­tal­ly laid out by the killing: regard­less of the advanced sys­tems avail­able, humans default to the most base acts of mur­der in order to estab­lish polit­i­cal pow­er over one-another.

This is the first pre­sen­ta­tion of the Wilsons’ work in Aus­tralia since the 1990s, and the mate­ri­al­i­ty of False Pos­i­tives and False Neg­a­tives demon­strates the impor­tance of the mov­ing image in these still works. The images of the artists’ faces, and those tak­en from the Dubai footage, are print­ed by hand in lay­ers onto a mir­rored sur­face, mix­ing dig­i­tal and ana­logue and result­ing in a series of shift­ing pic­tures rem­i­nis­cent of daguerreotypes.

The Wilsons move from ear­ly pho­tog­ra­phy to late-twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry film in The Kon­vas Automat. Through this cast bronze film cam­era, vision is entire­ly denied. This piece is cast after the mod­el used by Sovi­et film­mak­er Vladimir Shevchenko in his Cher­nobyl: A Chron­i­cle of Dif­fi­cult Weeks, 1986. Shevchenko’s film, pocked with white as if over­ex­posed, was indeed dam­aged by extreme radi­a­tion, and the cam­era itself was lat­er buried under­ground in a con­crete bunker out­side Kiev. The Kon­vas Automat on its cement plinth is a mon­u­ment to a man-made cat­a­stro­phe and the impos­si­bil­i­ty of ever exca­vat­ing the full con­se­quences in a way that is pos­si­ble to comprehend.

Jesse Jones’ works also speak to the dif­fi­cul­ty of under­stand­ing in an age of decen­tralised sub­jec­tiv­i­ty. Jones works pri­mar­i­ly in film and per­for­mance, often adopt­ing tech­niques of Brecht­ian the­atre and psy­cho­analy­sis or enact­ing oth­er modes of ther­a­py to come to terms with com­plex polit­i­cal and social sit­u­a­tions. In 2008, Jones vis­it­ed Aus­tralia and trav­eled to the Moon Plain, out­side Coober Pedy, work­ing with Mel­bourne col­lec­tive DAMP to pro­duce Mahogany, based on the Brecht opera Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, 1930, to be shown at the Istan­bul Bien­nale. She also filmed a day-long time-lapse sequence that con­sti­tutes The Predica­ment of Man, which pre­mieres here. Each day for the fol­low­ing year, Jones would ded­i­cate an hour to flow-of-con­scious­ness writ­ing, then extract keys words from these texts as online search terms. The data­base of thou­sands of images she has built from this exer­cise flash­es past, super­im­posed over the 16mm Moon Plain footage, allow­ing the view­er only fleet­ing glimpses and sug­ges­tions of images. The per­sis­tent accu­mu­la­tion of images in a sat­u­rat­ed, hal­lu­cino­genic stream under­mines any capac­i­ty to for­mu­late under­stand­ing from sur­plus mate­r­i­al. There is sim­ply too much infor­ma­tion for any knowl­edge to remain, and the absence of mean­ing occurs as a con­se­quence of overload.

Heman Chong’s 51 paint­ings, cre­at­ed espe­cial­ly for You promised me, and you said a lie to me’ from his ongo­ing Cov­er (Ver­sions) series, use lan­guage to obstruct inter­pre­ta­tion. In a strat­e­gy anal­o­gous to Jones’ image-bor­row­ing, Chong appro­pri­ates the titles of books and motifs of graph­ic design and abstract art to sug­gest new, if cloudy, mean­ings. At once strip-min­ing the his­to­ries of late-Twen­ti­eth Cen­tu­ry paint­ing and design, and con­tem­po­rary lit­er­a­ture, the works are almost visu­al haiku, evad­ing direct mean­ing for some­thing less lit­er­al, deny­ing the direct com­mu­nica­tive pow­er of words.

Abstract­ing com­plex sit­u­a­tions of Agit­prop and sys­tems of resis­tance into for­mal­ly com­pelling sculp­tur­al works, Haegue Yang imparts a deep under­stand­ing of com­plex emo­tion­al and polit­i­cal sit­u­a­tions, freight­ed in colour­ful and illu­mi­nat­ed assem­blages, which are bal­anced by play­ful­ness and a light­ness of touch. Yang’s instal­la­tion Strange Fruit invokes Albert Meeropol’s poem of that title, made famous as a song per­formed by Bil­lie Hol­i­day and lat­er Nina Simone. Him­self a sur­vivor of the holo­caust, Meeropol wrote about lynch­ings of the Amer­i­can South. Yang often trans­forms com­mon­place mate­ri­als into con­fig­u­ra­tions that sur­pass the ready­made, and here she con­fers a deeply dis­turb­ing char­ac­ter to oth­er­wise innocu­ous domes­tic items such as shop-floor cloth­ing racks and imi­ta­tion plants by tak­ing up Meeropol’s lyrics as her titles. The lamps sus­pend­ed in ele­gant jum­bles of cabling, paint­ed man­nequin hands and sug­ges­tive balls of foliage, speak of the lives extin­guished by intol­er­ance in pub­lic dis­plays of hatred.

Ming Wong’s Actress’ Entrance, from the series Per­sona Per­for­ma, replays a self-con­scious moment of pub­lic vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty, ref­er­enc­ing the lit­er­al loss of voice of char­ac­ter Elis­a­bet Vol­ger (Liv Ull­man) in Ing­mar Bergman’s 1966 film Per­sona. Sin­ga­pore-born Wong, who learned for­eign lan­guages by watch­ing movies and tele­vi­sion soap operas, re-deploys moments of world cin­e­ma with an almost mali­cious humour, under­scor­ing stark issues of oth­er­ness with a sense of camp, often play­ing the lead roles in his own re-pro­duc­tions. In Actress’ Entrance, filmed as part of a mul­ti-part live event at Per­for­ma, New York, Wong casts actors of dif­fer­ent eth­nic­i­ties and gen­ders in the same role, cut­ting them togeth­er in a rep­e­ti­tious cycle of what is a unique and sur­pris­ing moment in Per­sona. Wong’s min­i­mal efforts to apply the same qual­i­ties to each actress only ampli­fy their dif­fer­ences and the impos­si­bil­i­ty of recon­struct­ing the expe­ri­ence of anoth­er. As in the works by the Wilsons, Chong and Jones, Wong’s use of rep­e­ti­tion reit­er­ates the futil­i­ty of try­ing to make dis­parate per­son­al­i­ties con­firm to a sin­gle identity.

The near-hys­ter­i­cal, com­i­cal moment of Wong’s real­i­sa­tion’ plays out in a dif­fer­ent form in Lau­rent Grasso’s vis­i­bil­i­ty is a trap. The neon phrase, mount­ed on the face of the struc­ture that blocks the gallery’s entrance, illu­mi­nates as it obstructs. The text is a sen­tence from Michel Foucault’s Dis­ci­pline and Pun­ish, 1971, which deals explic­it­ly with the­o­ries of pow­er and occu­pa­tion, and like Chong’s Cov­er (Ver­sions), both sug­gests and denies the pos­si­bil­i­ty of direct com­mu­ni­ca­tion. Vis­i­bil­i­ty is a trap… he who is sub­ject­ed to a field of vis­i­bil­i­ty, and who knows it, assumes respon­si­bil­i­ty for the con­straints of pow­er; he makes them play spon­ta­neous­ly upon him­self; he inscribes in him­self the pow­er rela­tion in which he simul­ta­ne­ous­ly plays both roles; he becomes the prin­ci­ple of his own sub­jec­tion” (Dis­ci­pline and Pun­ish, Vin­tage Books New York, 1995, p. 200 — 203). Fur­ther to open­ly quot­ing Foucault’s words, Gras­so trans­forms the state­ment into a phys­i­cal man­i­fes­ta­tion of the pow­er struc­tures that Fou­cault describes, forc­ing us by its size and bright­ness to obey the work’s demand that we see and read it. It is both the first and the final object that is nego­ti­at­ed in the exhi­bi­tion, and like many of Grasso’s works, it is a chal­lenge: does one accept and believe what one is told, or does one real­ly have the abil­i­ty to deter­mine what one wants to believe for one­self? Whether engag­ing with Foucault’s idea of panop­ti­cism, medieval sci­en­tif­ic and reli­gious belief, or envi­ron­men­tal cat­a­stro­phy, Grasso’s works are a reminder of the place of the com­plic­it polit­i­cal being: when one choos­es to believe a lie, then one remains invisible.

Susan Jacob’s work lies at the phys­i­cal and con­cep­tu­al core of the exhi­bi­tion. Com­mis­sioned for this space, the instal­la­tion maps both mag­net­ic north and true north, from the cen­tre of the gallery. The four car­di­nal points are marked out by sets of objects, each com­pris­ing a sliv­er of cork pierced through with a mag­ne­tised steel nee­dle, float­ing in a ves­sel of water, con­nect­ed to cured fish leather. In the mid­dle of this are­na is the totemic navel: a heavy steel form, upon which are stacked a vin­tage hemacite door­knob and a mag­net. Jacobs’ title, Ded Reck­on­ing riffs on deduc­tive rea­son­ing, a process of con­cep­tu­al ori­en­ta­tion based on elim­i­na­tion and deci­sion mak­ing: one’s place can only be deter­mined by what has pre­ced­ed. The mag­nets and mag­net­ic stones, along with the skins of migra­to­ry fish­es are tools for nav­i­ga­tion, as if to be used in the ongo­ing process of intu­itive emo­tion­al car­tog­ra­phy of every­day life. There is a con­nec­tion with lived land­scapes, in the inclu­sion of cork, leather and the hemacite (com­prised of pigs’ blood and saw­dust). There is also a taut mate­r­i­al con­nec­tion to Don­al Og, whose pro­tag­o­nist recalls You promised me a thing that is not pos­si­ble, / that you would give me gloves of the skin of a fish; / that you would give me shoes of the skin of a bird; /​and a suit of the dear­est silk in Ire­land.” These mate­r­i­al promis­es, not held, hang in the ten­sion of Jacobs’ magen­tised nee­dles, which in sev­er­al cas­es are per­suad­ed away from North by clos­er, if small­er, mag­net­ic sources. Jacobs makes vis­i­ble the usu­al­ly unseen, vis­cer­al expe­ri­ences that are sel­dom dis­cussed, moments felt as pure vibra­tion, unable to be artic­u­lat­ed in language.

In each of the works in You promised me, and you said a lie to me’, there is a con­stant dri­ve to under­stand how things move, how the self and the inter­per­son­al map onto the wider social and polit­i­cal field. You have tak­en the east from me, you have tak­en the west from me; / you have tak­en what is before me and what is behind me”. These works look to the social engage­ment and for­ma­tion of pub­lic rep­re­sen­ta­tion that encode who a per­son is. They ask how it might be pos­si­ble to oper­ate with­in and against a sys­tem, and to find agency against the author­i­ty of social conditions.

Alex­ie Glass-Kan­tor, Cura­tor with Ash Kil­martin, Assis­tant Curator

Octo­ber 2013

BIOGRA­PHIES

Heman Chong (b. 1977, lives Sin­ga­pore) rep­re­sent­ed Sin­ga­pore at the 2003 Bien­nale di Venezia, Dreams and Con­flicts: the Dic­ta­tor­ship of the View­er. He has par­tic­i­pat­ed in inter­na­tion­al bien­nales includ­ing The 7th Asia Pacif­ic Tri­en­ni­al of Con­tem­po­rary Art, 2012; Per­for­ma 11, New York, and Momen­tum 6, Nor­way, 2011; Man­i­fes­ta 8, Mur­cia, 2010; the Sin­ga­pore Bien­nale WON­DER, 2008; SCAPE Bien­nale, Christchurch, 2006; the Busan Bien­nale, Chasm, South Korea, 2004; and the 10th Tri­en­nale India, 2000. His most recent mono­graph, The Part In The Sto­ry Where We Lost Count Of The Days, was pub­lished in 2013 by Art Asia Pacific.

Lau­rent Gras­so (b. 1972, lives Paris) was the recip­i­ent of the pres­ti­gious Prix Mar­cel Duchamp, 2008. He has par­tic­i­pat­ed in the Gwangju Bien­nale, South Korea, 2012; Man­i­fes­ta 8, 2010; the Shar­jah Bien­ni­al and Against Exclu­sion: 3rd Moscow Bien­ni­al, 2009; the Bien­nale de Lyon, 2007; and the Busan Bien­ni­ale 2006 Every­where, South Korea. In 2012, he pre­sent­ed a major solo exhi­bi­tion at Jeu de Paume, Paris.

Susan Jacobs (b.1977, lives Mel­bourne) was includ­ed in The 7th Asia Pacif­ic Tri­en­ni­al of Con­tem­po­rary Art, and the Ade­laide Bien­nale, Par­al­lel Col­li­sions, 2012; NEW10, Aus­tralian Cen­tre for Con­tem­po­rary Art, Mel­bourne, and the Exper­i­men­tal Utopia Now Inter­na­tion­al Bien­ni­al of Media Art, 2010. She has recent­ly com­plet­ed new com­mis­sions for the Nation­al Cen­tre for Syn­chro­tron Sci­ence at Monash Uni­ver­si­ty, and for Mel­bourne Now at the Nation­al Gallery of Victoria.

Jesse Jones (b. 1978, lives Dublin) has pre­sent­ed solo exhi­bi­tions at Art­son­je Cen­tre, Seoul and CCA Lon­don­der­ry, 2013; The Hugh Lane Gallery, Dublin, 2012; Spike Island, Bris­tol, 2011; the Uni­ver­si­ty of Toronto’s Black­wood Gallery, and Project Arts Cen­tre, Dublin, 2009. Her work fea­tured in the 2010 Glas­gow Inter­na­tion­al, and the 2009 11th Istan­bul Biennial.

Jane and Louise Wil­son (b. 1967, live Lon­don) have held solo exhi­bi­tions at the British Film Insti­tute Gallery, Lon­don and the Musée d’Art Con­tem­po­rain de Mon­tréal, 2009; BALTIC, UK, 2003; the Ser­pen­tine Gallery, Lon­don, 1999; and the Chisen­hale Gallery, Lon­don, 1995. They were includ­ed in the 2011 and 2009 Shar­jah Bien­ni­als, the 2001 SITE San­ta Fe Bien­ni­al Beau Monde Toward a Redeem­ing Cos­mopoli­tanism; the 2001 7th Istan­bul Bien­nale; and the 1993 Bien­nale di Venezia Car­di­nal Points of the Arts. In 1999 they were nom­i­nat­ed for the Turn­er Prize. They will present a new com­mis­sion for the Impe­r­i­al War Muse­um, Lon­don, in 2014.

Ming Wong (b. 1971, lives Berlin/​Singapore) has pre­sent­ed work at the Bien­nale de Lyon, France, 2013; the Liv­er­pool Bien­ni­al, UK, 2012; Per­for­ma 11 at the Muse­um of the Mov­ing Image, NY, 2011; the Gwangju Bien­nale: 10,000 lives, South Korea and the Bien­nale of Syd­ney THE BEAU­TY OF DIS­TANCE Songs of Sur­vival in a Pre­car­i­ous Age, 2010. He rep­re­sent­ed Sin­ga­pore at the 53rd Bien­nale di Venezia Mak­ing Worlds, 2009, with Life of Imi­ta­tion, for which he was grant­ed Spe­cial Men­tion in the Biennale’s offi­cial awards.

Haegue Yang (b. 1971, lives Berlin/​Seoul) rep­re­sent­ed South Korea at the 2009 Bien­nale di Venezia Mak­ing Worlds. In 2013, she will present a major solo exhi­bi­tion across mul­ti­ple venues in Stras­bourg. Her work was includ­ed in dOC­U­MEN­TA (13)’, Kas­sel, 2012; the 8th Gwangju Bien­nale 10,000 lives, South Korea, 2010; the 3rd Guangzhou Tri­en­ni­al Farewell to Post-colo­nial­ism’, Chi­na, 2008; and the 27th Bien­al de São Pao­lo How to Live Togeth­er, Brazil, 2006.

Alex­ie Glass-Kan­tor is the Direc­tor of Art­space, Syd­ney. From 2006 — 2013 she was the Direc­tor & Senior Cura­tor of Gertrude Con­tem­po­rary, Mel­bourne. Glass-Kan­tor has curat­ed wide­ly, col­lab­o­rat­ing on exhi­bi­tions around Aus­tralia, the USA, Europe and the Asia-Pacif­ic region, notable high­lights being the series of Inde­pen­dence Projects in Malaysia, Sin­ga­pore, Chi­na and South Korea; and Par­al­lel Col­li­sions: 2012’ Ade­laide Bien­ni­al of Aus­tralian Art, co-curat­ed with Natasha Bul­lock at the Art Gallery of South Australia.

Jesse Jones’ par­tic­i­pa­tion in You promised me, and you said a lie to me’ is sup­port­ed by Cul­ture Ireland.

Images

You promised me, and you said a lie to me, 2013
instal­la­tion view, Anna Schwartz Gallery, Carriageworks
Curat­ed by Alex­ie Glass-Kantor

You promised me, and you said a lie to me, 2013
instal­la­tion view, Anna Schwartz Gallery, Carriageworks
Curat­ed by Alex­ie Glass-Kantor

You promised me, and you said a lie to me, 2013
instal­la­tion view, Anna Schwartz Gallery, Carriageworks
Curat­ed by Alex­ie Glass-Kantor

You promised me, and you said a lie to me, 2013
instal­la­tion view, Anna Schwartz Gallery, Carriageworks
Curat­ed by Alex­ie Glass-Kantor

Heman Chong

Cov­er (Ver­sions), 2009
Acrylic on canvas
Each: 61463.5 cm

Haegue Yang

Strange Fruit, 2012
Six mixed-media sculptures
Dimen­sions variable

Lau­rent Grasso

vis­i­bil­i­ty is a trap, 2012
Neon, trans­form­ers, alu­mini­um stand structure
380750100 cm

Jane and Louise Wilson

False Pos­i­tives and False Negatives, 2012
16 parts, pho­to-silkscreen on mir­rored per­spex, framed
Each: 96.577.5 cm (framed)

Jane and Louise Wilson

The Kon­vas Automat, 2012
Bronze, concrete
Cam­era: 251212 cm; Plinth: 11040.540.5 cm

Jesse Jones

The Predica­ment of Man, 2010
Sin­gle chan­nel dig­i­tal video from 16mm and dig­i­tal flash frames, 16:9, colour
3 minutes

Ming Wong

Per­sona Per­for­ma (Actress’ Entrance), 2012
Sin­gle-chan­nel High Def­i­n­i­tion video, colour, silent
4 minutes