From Left to Right and Right to East – Steve Swindells

It is an indication of something that From Left to Right and Right to East presents some shared concerns, issues and moods that transcend across the art world. Each Artist uses paint to raise questions about the nature of the everyday, to make the familiar unfamiliar, elusive, messy, decorative and troubled. Tan Guo Liang, Boo Sze Yang and Ian Woo; the artists are trying to get close to the image of looking which is both paradoxical and recalcitrant. Looking at looking for something to look at, between East and West, establishes the title of the show.

Each painting has its own elaborate identification of perception with method; the thingness of the ‘thing’ requires a particular deployment of paint. Heidegger’s The Origin of a Work of Art links perception in art as recognition of the materials which are transformed into the image of something else. Heidegger’s nightmare, therefore, is an ungrounded ground, where industrial paints (tubes of paint) look truthful as a representation but have now lost the recognisable origin as matter transformed. This is a demanding situation. The artists seek the aura of beauty in the act of looking, and the act of looking for, and the image of looking for, which by way of its endless anticipation creates its own excess.

For each artist the concept of looking operates both topologically and discursively, across a field: of the ordinary, of knowing-ness, of frailty, of contingency, of weakening, of decoration, of the sublime, of nothingness. All of this can be realised as both creative and uncertain; it is a method of unpicking the task of making art and reconfiguring the operation as a continuous pattern. The result is like counting backwards, or altering the rhythm of a poem, by sucking the dispersed lines off the page back into another form of association while remaining metrically organised.

Pellicci shook a Kool from the bottom of the deck and lit the smoke. She felt little fear now about doing what she had to do. It was hard for Pellicci to apply a punishing irony to these pathetic times, because other more powerful people had thought to assert their place in this town. She started up the firebird. Driving the car she felt a pleasant kind of calm even liberated, but then she noticed the degenerate utopia of concrete sprawl and concrete weaknesses. This is a place conceived to an earlier epoch of modern confidence and enterprising projects, but now it’s a town in the twilight of time and in the maelstrom of its own simulation.  Pellicci could no longer relate to her own situation because it only existed in its own caricature. Cruising through the streets Pellicci dreaded the eventual seduction caused by the frisson which accompanies perpetual motion between signs, neon’s, urban glimpses, billboards, illusions and the imaginary vista she could put together across the hyper-sensations of the infectious mediated presence. The only truth she could now rely upon was the immediate contact between the asphalt and the wheels of the firebird. “I am only fiction,” she thought, but then the thought evaporated. Dreaming across the ruins, as far as the eye could see, there lay nothing but pockmarked buildings and perfect columns of thought in the transparency of the crystal air. Absorbed by light and silence, years of darkness and ambiguity began to melt and pour away.

Pellicci slipped Rhythm Heritage into the deck and cruised past unmarked streets, past the stench of dirty money and dark alcoves full of shadows making black  market deals. She drew hard on the smoke until she felt her lungs were full of tar. The stale, rancid smell of cigarette butts, the ashtrays all brimming forced her to open the car window. She took a right on University Boulevard and was suddenly blinded by the brilliance of the evening sun. The light was so bright that for an instant she lost her sense of direction. Her perspective was soon re-discovered moving along the ring-road where she could now see the shimmering effects of the skyline and its vast horizon highlighted by the day’s end. The edge of the horizon became milky and grey; its dissimilarity with the sky revealed a slight penumbra from the earth’s circumference… and beyond… infinite space. A deep, dark space. Panic began to rise in her demeanour, she pulled the car over and stopped alongside a modest and understated block of apartments; looking around she noted the ordinary everyday domesticity. For the first time in her life she had not been equal to the moment. “You smoke cigarettes right?” She said to herself while looking in the driver’s mirror. Pellicci had spent some time analysing the problem; she could no longer return to a semblance of her former self and now had to invent some other person. The effects of the morning whiskey had left a sour taste in her mouth and began to make her body shake and sweat underneath the cotton blouse. Pellicci thought about the pressures cooking at the edge of town, the disaffected youth, the hooded sleaze-ball, it was much more sinister and deeper than the news would have you believe. In her mind she saw only fire, she quickly returned to the mirror for reassurance.

A final reflection … in imposing an exterior demeanour. There was nothing that could be remedied and, deep down, nothing stirred other than the vain movements of the surface, which cannot hide the profusion of knowledge that is our lot. By standing to one side, for a moment, of the Enlightenment ambition of reasonable explanation the spectator is able to locate the artists caught in a moment of stillness contemplating their position. A simple confrontation of the viewer looking at the artists, who in turn view their work through looking at our own extraneous position.

We, the spectator, are observing ourselves being observed by a cimmerian darkness of globalisation, which haunts the post-modern, in all its concrete, empty, saturated end. But what is this we, which tries to reflect on this mood and predicament? This we is surely an image nourished by the idea of emancipation, an image which traces the shadow of modernity itself, an image of our own inept universality and a foreignness to ourselves, wherever we may reside. Must we, therefore, also feint to innumerable different positions of looking in order to observe the un-presentable elements of the privileged origin, and treat incompatibility as a starting point for elucidation never to arrive, rather than as an obstacle to be avoided?

Naturalism in painting required the medium to disappear in favour of what it depicted. In the Academies of European schools of art it was important for paint to seemingly take on the characteristics of what it represented, with so much thoroughness and plasticity that paints materiality became immaterial. However, the call for truth to materials in Modernism is reactive to this position, which is to make the art material be material rather than immaterial. Gilbert-Rolfe makes the point that the use of colour in the West was generally responsive to earth materials and the attitude was generally one which forbade colour mixing instead of favouring a cross-hatching technique where colours mixed as combinations of essences rather than as degradations of essences, thus keeping the essence pure.[1] He proposes this allowed paint to adopt a theologico-philosophical dimension within Western painting because such approaches never knew anything else other than a truth to materials. Similarly the continuous use of crackle varnish in painting is to maintain the historical look and therefore maintain the notion of a theologico-philosophical truth. So when the thick light and abstractions of modern painting emerged it was seen as radically secular and de-historicised. This is an important paradox in which these artists find themselves; looking backwards, forwards, left to right and East to West. Despite such a visual carousel the complexities of this image-making might be received as anti-visual, acknowledging the temporal challenge of viewing as much as the spatial one. It is an image of an image being rendered in a potentially infinite process of suggesting there may be no one position from which to look.

From Left to Right and Right to East is the possibility of a presence-in-absence, a ghost, a consciousness which folds back in on it-self, and quite significantly a ghost which is able to manifest itself in our consciousness as the knowledge of an inner lack, an awareness that something ought to be there. This is a gap in abeyance, which projects itself as an expectation of beauty.

The presence of beauty in this exhibition seems to occupy the edge-of-things, and the edge of beauty gains its effect by the intensity, and frequency of its absence; it is itself by virtue of what it is not. Beauty is mediated by a sense of things unspoken, by small anomalies in the texture of the everyday, by a feeling of distraction and nothingness in association with feelings of nascence and opening out. It is all of this that recurs and permeates seeing From Left to Right and Right to East.



[1] Jeremy Gilbert-Rolfe, (1996), ‘Cabbages, Raspberries and Video’s Thin Brightness’, Painting in the Age of Artificial Intelligence, Art & Design, Academy Editions, London