Essay Gwen Lee

A Subliminal Encounter

by Gwen Lee


Born in Singapore and currently based in New York, John Clang is an artist who feels a compelling need to share individual thoughts in this contemporary world.

While the contest on whether photography is art has already been a passé, the expectation of an artwork is to speak soul to soul has always been the prevailing expectation. What exactly does Clang’s work speak?

In 2009 starting from the first meeting with Clang at 2902 Gallery has turned out to a surprisingly open conversation about life, and the arts landscape. This subsequently gives way to more serious discussion and critic of works. During the preparation for his 3rd solo exhibition in 2010 has resulted in a series lively conversation on works. During this period, I was searching a definite message from the artist, and ended up finding a soul who simply wants to share his innermost thoughts through his work. It was a gem.

Maybe borne out of knowing John, I wrestle with absurd thoughts that the writing of his works seem contrary to the nature of his works which works on subliminal message, and perhaps writing would risk otherwise intention that the artist seek to express. Nevertheless, aside from personal opinion of mine, Clang’s works always have compelling desire to connect to individuals (to another soul) and to a certain extend of defying rational consideration of being overly emotional in tone. His longing, his reflections on life & immediate surrounding, his fear, guilt, and hope for tomorrow, and in many ways are common nuances, thoughts, mundane subjects that we may or may not choose to address in our lives.

Hence it is not a surprise his last exhibition in 2010 is titled (Con)Front, which suggest an emotional tension, & perhaps unresolved matters that the artist has to come to term through his artworks. This exhibition conceived as an open dialogue between the artist and the audience in Singapore whom he lives apart in another city, however does not contain big statement, nor global issues to expound upon, neither are there stunning images of NYC. Instead, the topics seemingly both mundane and profound touching on the fundamental existence of being, on living, contemplation on incidents he has witnessed in this generation and age.  It brings to minds what truly matter in this life whereby when each morning come with its own uncertainties. These essential issues strike the hearts of viewers to reconsider and to reaffirm their existence in thoughts and reflections presented in Clang’s works.

The works speak in meditative representative ways which evoke powerful emotions. Each percolation of thoughts trickle deeper into soul, and John’s work has like a life force that penetrate into the subconscious, bordering between personal awareness and confession, which came across like a diary of the artist’s inner thoughts. This chain of thoughts or confession does not arrive without a certain amount of mediation, and intercession. Time (2009), Self Reflection (2010) and Twilight Dreams of Papilio Demoleus (2011) are attempts made with layering of images which brings to mind his earlier work Open Wound (2001) which the artist question and examination of life beyond the surface existence. It is never about the subject matter that concerned Clang, for it would not matter to us who is his parents, but instead when the image flow into one’s consciousness, a subliminal encounter takes place, leading us to examine and re-create our own experience of looking, and forming our own personal experience of the emotions released from the works.

Even though the words ‘reflection’ and ‘life’ are recurring in this short article, the works of John Clang is never abstruse even though at times without delineate massages. In one public talk, John shared he is never a documentary photographer, and firmly state his stand on using photography as a medium of expression to put forth a way of thinking, thoughts and even philosophy that set him pondering. One good example is Self Reflection (2010) which the act of cutting the photographs of zoo implied a shattered realism, and the further act of photographing these photographs with the background of New York City within the zoo photograph has intensified the feeling of memory, loss and detachment in modern life.  

Today looking back at his career, starting from his early foray into arts with 5th Passage in 1993, John has remained true to his practice and craft as he continue to examine the existence of life and. The results we have seen such as the prestigious “President’s Designer of the Year (2010) award and solo showcase at the National Museum of Singapore are natural progression and milestones in his career. The intention of the artist has already surpassed all these accolades.  For Clang, it is the subliminal encounter that we could call our own through his works.