A slippery view

Katrina Simmons

The phenomenal growth of communication systems promotes somewhat idealistically the view that geographical and social boundaries are dissolving. However, negotiating interpersonal relationships is still fraught with miscommunication. Contemporary existence relies upon disentangling systems of social, historical, political and personal bias and can leave us subject to preconceptions and psychological instabilities. It is the fragile dynamics of human interaction that tends to undermine our conscientious desire to get along, leaving us, potentially, a bit myopic.

At times then, it seems necessary to adopt a particular viewpoint and defend it and Ricardo Fernendes, writing in the exhibition catalogue on the work of Singaporean artist Mathew Ngui, acknowledges that this can have a polarizing effect. He states: “Everyone chooses his position, be it conniving or rebelling.” The slipperiness and fallibility of systems of communication is demonstrated in Ngui’s cleverly devised installation in Adelaide’s Contemporary Art Centre. As in previous works it is layered with complex metaphors for human activity and the subjectivity of perception.

Precisely planned out in its choreography of materials, Ngui’s installation uses technological devices to negotiate and invert perceptions of the real. Two video cameras on tripods at opposite ends of the room are trained on a forest of PVC pipes inscribed with hand-painted and unintelligible markings. Innocuous looking scraps of timber are placed against one wall and along the gallery floor. When the viewer looks through the video eyepiece the forest of pipes appears as a flat wall and the markings form into a coherent text describing the action of sitting upon a chair. When viewed from a precise vantage point the apparently random bits of wood suddenly coalesce into a chair or rather a perspective ‘drawing’ of a chair in space.

In an empty gallery the PVC and text are coolly totemic. However the static image through the eyepiece is interrupted when visitors pass between the pipes as they navigate their way through the room. This destabilizing of perception is further heightened when the viewer moves to the back room. Here, the relayed wall of text, together with taped sounds from the video cameras, is now projected directly onto the gallery wall. In a performance video Ngui observes, interacts with, and seats himself upon the representation of the chair as seen in the first room. Under surveillance, the viewer has participated unknowingly in the work and becomes an integral part of it.

Multiplying possible viewpoints through the use of multisensory devices and strategically placed clues, Ngui reminds us that reality is a construct, subject to flux and interpretation. Electrical conduits and PVC piping suggest systems of conveyance but interpretation of the objects requires a willingness to ‘see’ beyond the obvious. The viewer is led by recognition and misrecognition of vision, sound and text to investigate the ‘logic’ of spatial and social realms. Trompe-l’oeil illusionism provokes shifts in pictorial space by introducing ambiguous imagery that appears to fluctuate from the real to fictive. Ngui’s work provides metaphors for the perception of multiple physical realities and provides a parallel invitation to explore the complexity of the emotional realm. The transmission of the personal and the emotional are equally susceptible to misinterpretation. Fernendes underlines this emotional capacity in the exhibition catalogue stating, “It is an open space for poetic, logical and metaphysical interventions.”

Mathew Ngui, Tell Me Where I Stand, Contemporary Art Centre of South Australi , July 12-Aug 11

RealTime issue #51 Oct-Nov 2002 pg. web

© Katrina Simmons; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 October 2002