• Issue
  • Mar 04, 2021

Singapore: Yeo Workshop

Hydrographic concerns are salient in the contemporary art of Southeast Asia, a region with deep historical and material ties to the water. Recent years, in particular, have witnessed much art-making and conceptual discourse that relates to seas and rivers, marine communities and ecologies, and boats, maps and other implements of navigation—subject matter that is growing increasingly shopworn. It is to the credit of Taiwanese-American artist Mike HJ Chang, then, that his take on the theme retained its own idiosyncratic sensibility, quietly reveling in its unorthodox methods and vocabularies. “Calendar of Dilation,” curated by artist and researcher Alfonse Chiu at Singapore’s Yeo Workshop, began with a residency that Chang undertook in mid-2018, when he spent two weeks at sea on an oil tanker, traveling from Italy to the Netherlands. The works, beyond embodying ideas of the pelagic, were also informed by the circuit breaker imposed in Singapore last year, and the protracted confinement that framed both occasions for the artist fed into a subsidiary trope: the relativity of temporal experience, when time becomes unmoored from familiar modes of affect and measurement.

One of the more compelling dimensions of Chang’s practice is his sculptural work, offbeat objects featuring hand-crafted forms and quotidian materialities that often feel enigmatic, uncanny, and oddly intimate. Storyboard of a Fruit Soon to be Eaten by an Interdimensional Snake (all works 2020) includes a wall-mounted sequence of a red sphere rolling down a passageway. What appeared to be hand-drawn images were, in fact, ceramic tiles, each set into a unit of a grid and covered by a Fresnel lens. The gridded structure resembled a calendar, against which the optical distortion caused by the lenses seemed to allude to the show’s titular phenomenon, a destabilization of linear progression. Other pieces evince almost anthropomorphic qualities, in the manner of Claes Oldenburg’s objects. Delayed Swell, a length of silicone rubber with a scalloped underside, lay hanging off the edge of a small ceramic shelf. The curves, of course, evoke the eponymous tidal swells, but the upside-down orientation of the piece and the action of gravity seemed almost to suggest a body doubled over in despair, the personification of our collective melancholy at the ongoing Covid-19 crisis and the state of the world.