Photography by HO YUE WENG
Images compliments of HO HO YING and TEO ENG SENG
Excerpt from Frontline, India's National Magazine from the publishers of THE HINDU, URL: http://www.flonnet.com
A major exhibition of art in Singapore based on Chinese calligraphy highlights the ways in which language, genres and images flow freely across time and space.
Ho Ho Ying, "Flourishing Strokes", Pigment & Ink, 140 x 74 cm
Ho Ho Ying, "Restructure IV", Pigment & Ink, 140 x 74 cm.
Teo Eng Seng, "Together", Mixed Media, 300h x 140L x 140B
Teo Eng Seng, "Water, Bell, River, Sea", Fabric, Bronze, 600 x 200 cm
Ho Ho Ying and Teo Eng Seng employ Chinese calligraphy only to exhort us to `See It. Feel It. Love It', as the title of their recent joint art exhibition in Singapore goes. The exhibition was organized by the MASS - Modern Art Society, Singapore - between October and November 2003 at the Telok Kurau Studios Gallery.
They do not expect their viewers
to be literate in Chinese. In a conversation with the reviewer during the show,
Teo Eng Seng admitted that he was illiterate in Chinese calligraphy unlike Ho Ho
Ying who was well versed in it.
In any event, their works transform the calligraphic strokes, at an apparent level, into representational and non-representational images, in a typical modernist vein. They deploy the predominantly gestural characteristics of calligraphy to reinforce an arbitrary attribute of their brushwork.
At a deeper level, however, the external characteristics of calligraphy do not merely reinforce the flatness of the picture space in the ways in which such aesthetic options were favored during the 1950s and 1960s much beyond Europe. The works eschew, with remarkable freshness, further explorations into the known aesthetic elements of, say, surface and textures.
In other words, Ho Ying and Eng Seng appropriate calligraphy in such a way that the resulting images become visual subtexts. The subversive act of invoking a language only to undermine its textual content is a direct witness to this. The very title "See it. Feel it. Love it." foregrounds, for instance, these distinct expectations from the viewers. In turn, the show shifts attention from the readability of the artworks to a more effective participatory role of the viewers.
An installation piece by Teo Eng Seng, "Together" in the show is directly to the point.. It literally appropriates the viewers as well as the gallery space as its material. The work transforms the gallery space in such a way that the viewers become an indispensable part of the work with their limbs enacting parts of the calligraphic gesture in the work.
It proposes a mock serious distance that separates the viewers from a fictional horizon that is located away from them within the gallery. Teo Eng Seng, in a number of his two-dimensional works included in the show, constantly addresses such fictional spaces by employing layers upon layers of his chosen material. He employs hand made paper, through a process that he has named paperdyesculp, for creating multiple layers of surfaces.
Ho Ho Ying, on the other hand, merges the surface with the calligraphic characters in his compositions. The formal characteristics of the text and the image are integrated to reinforce the unique visual subtexts he proposes. His works seem to privilege sensory experiences, at the outset, by undermining analytical interpretations. However, they actually pay tribute to the alliance between image and text in such a way that neither of them is reduced to its apparent meaning.
The surface in "Restructure IV" (Figure 4), for instance, is reinforced through multiple colors that interlace and vibrate in such a way that neither of them can be reduced to a simplistic one-dimensional form or meaning. A baffling maze of calligraphic strokes overlap and define the composition through a marked stress on expressionist gestures. As Tao Eng Seng pointed out in a conversation with the reviewer during the show, calligraphy is calligraphy if we do not understand it. It is, in fact, a reminder of the complex issue that we do not get what we see in a language, visual or otherwise. It is an ever-expanding process suggesting the ways in which surface and depth constantly collaborate.
Ho Ho Ying and Teo Eng Seng's invocation of calligraphy and its related dimensions inevitably lead to the vexed issues of tradition especially as they appropriate the other conventional genre of painting. Their unique works hightlight with exceptional playfulness and wit the ways in which language, genres and images flow freely across time and space. Moreover, what results as a hybrid identity is but a potential beginning, considering the privileged position that the artists accord to their viewers