Clang. A Self Portrait.

Clang. A Self Portrait.
Jendela Gallery, The Esplanade, Singapore
June 11 - July 11, 2004
Solo exhibition
Curator: Michelle Lim

Clang. A Self Portrait. is New York-based artist John Clang's visual diary of expressions on issues that he feels relevant to his identity as a Singaporean. Through a series of photography works featuring a disarmingly real protagonist by the name of BeOn[1], Clang reflects on topics as diverse as reactions to last year's SARS epidemic and universal loneliness in the HDB[2] heartland. Witty and tongue-in-cheek, there is nevertheless a serious undertone to Clang's work that deftly captures the poignancy of dreams and realities shared in Singapore urbanscape.

Artist-photographer John Clang has created a new site-specific installation work for his first solo exhibition in Singapore - Clang. A Self Portrait.

A selection of photographs taken from his BeOn series form the mainstay of the show, which Clang has chosen to stage in the beautiful, if challenging, Jendela Gallery space.

Tales of the city unfold in almost-cinematic tableaus as the completely trusting and unselfconscious BeOn submits to Clang’s direction. Exploring the dynamics of a collaborative creative relationship, the artist and his subject exchange roles at various points as they give expression to the artist’s feelings about events and happenings in Singapore.

In Sleeping, the first of the series, BeOn becomes a traffic-stopper, of people and vehicles. Defiantly falling asleep in the path of danger, BeOn waves a valiant but futile flag for people slow down their frantic pace of life in Singapore.

SARs is a hilariously ironic parody of the irrational panic that swept through the city during the epidemic. BeOn wears a mask everywhere he goes, even in a swimming pool. BeOn’s challenging gaze dares you to make fun of him, even as his portraits become symbol of all the faceless fears that cause walls to come up between people.

The third series, Stray Cat, highlights the loneliness and isolation of urban life, cast in relief by the SARs epidemic. BeOn is a street cat under threat of being culled, having been fingered as the carrier of the mysterious virus. The once-familiar shadows of home take on an ominous air of danger as BeOn searches out spaces of refuge in the concrete jungle.

In order to create an immersive visual experience for the audience, Clang has worked with oft-time collaborator Theseus Chan to design an exhibition space conspicuously devoid of panel text and other conventional signage. Forced to rely on their own interpretation of the scenes, the audience is compelled to enter into a wordless dialogue with Clang’s humorous, if sometimes uncomfortable, musings about life for the everyman in Singapore.

Is BeOn Clang or is Clang BeOn? This perplexing riddle is thrown to the audience who may well end up seeing themselves in Clang’s photographs.

Clang’s move out of Singapore six years ago has only served to sharpen his insights about events and changes in the country he grew up in. There is a Chinese proverb about how an observer’s view of the situation is always clearer than that of one embroiled in the action. Clang. A Self Portrait. demonstrates the truth to that saying.

[1] BeOn’s name is derived from a command often used on young Singaporean soldiers serving their National Service. The instruction, “Be On!” is the Singaporean colloquial version of the phrase “to be on the ball”.

[2] HDB: Housing Development Board, the Singapore public housing development authority.