Chun Kai Qun’s “Solid Prayers”
By Marybeth Stock
The deceptive immutability of objects propels “Solid Prayers,” a solo exhibition by Singapore artist Chun Kai Qun at Fost Gallery. The multimedia artist presented over 20 of his characteristically off-kilter works, including paraphrasings of older pieces, a deft video installation, and works that might be described as meta-artifacts. One, a miniature tableau entitled Act 4 Scene 1 (Episode 1): One People One Nation (2016), depicts an art class enveloped by translucent mustard-yellow vinyl. Small uneasy figures at easels regard a manic creature posing as Goya’s Saturn Devouring His Son (1820–23). The artist envisages this fraught microcosm as a future performance piece, where conformity collides with creativity.
To counter “conformity,” whether social, political or artistic, Chun curates an alternative culture of objects (he gravitates particularly toward that day-to-day flotsam we permit to define us: eggs, newspapers, toasters)—sometimes through restraint, at times with derision, always with subtle humor. His models and contraptions are simple but satisfying. Storage #1 (2016) is an amalgamation of two earlier works: the room-sized installation The Paper, Some Paper (2015), where hundreds of issues of local government newspeak, The Straits Times, dangled prodigiously from the ceiling; and the sardonic Sunny-Side Up (2013) , where Chun scattered fried eggs on a rooftop as bird-repellant. At Fost, the artist rebooted those scenarios, strewing diminutive clay eggs atop the roof of a doll-house sized cage, inside of which hung a year’s worth of miniaturized newspapers. Nearby, accompanied by the smell of newsprint, stood 14 October of 2016 (Oh well) (2016), a precarious eight-foot (2.44 m) pile of Straits Times that bears an uncanny resemblance to Singapore’s ostentatious Marina Bay Sands casino complex.
Chun compounds two realities—one of disparate, inflexible objects, and that of those same objects infused with motive, as seen in several pieces from his series “Live and Die Forever” (all 2016). Framed Air involves a small vacuum cleaner hooked up to a sealed picture frame; within is a lovely abstractive silkscreen of a stove burner flaming in DayGlo blue and pink titled Love Play Games. Does the title with its implied anagram portray the vacuity of desire? Or do those flames kindle the machine? Then there is the hectic despair of Component 1: Die Forever, a mirror-backed shadow-box exhibiting a tilted cross, sooty melted candles, framed green-screens and empty pill-packet. All these conglomerations of found objects totter a few satirical steps beyond readymades: Chun describes them as “haikus,” an apt description of his bladeless electric fan in the spare Winless Streak, as well as of the video installation Waiting for the Same Things. That title is literal: three toasters repeatedly hang fire for several seconds, then pop up slices of bread—rarely simultaneously, often in stuttered succession. (Chun enlivens the game with quick takes of kitchen paraphernalia.) Waiting may be glib; it’s also mesmerizing and oddly calming.
Also at Fost was the series “Stoned Another 50 Years” (the title references Singapore’s 50th anniversary in 2015). Here, Chun critically reconceives the country’s National Day Parade, an annual extravaganza defined by earnest nationalist rhetoric and glitzy theatricals. Works in “Stoned” (all 2016) are tagged as “Acts,” “Scenes” or “Components” that embody a loose conceptual “storyboard” of distinct sketches and assemblages. One of the latter includes Component 2: One People One Nation (Costume), a jacket encrusted with tiny plastic figures spattered with red and hung, Christ-like, on a wall. In Component 4: Back-Up Dancers, two humanoid twists of bin liners pirouette against a length of Chroma-key fabric—Chun’s sly assertion that reality is malleable, if not virtual. National Day flags of that same fabric also hang above a half-dozen unsettling sketches (Act 1 Scenes 1-6, Episode 1) of ritualistic parade “Scenes” involving beasts and inverted crosses—images that are equal parts invective against jingoism and parody of the insipid.
Propped on wooden trestles in the middle of one room, Act 4 Scene 2 (Episode 1 Finale): The Mistakes I Made While Building The Joe Schooling Swimming School Diorama casts a weary eye on the over-publicized exploits of two local athletes. Chun features small figures who gamely swim or sink within a swimming pool of solidified resin, disingenuously admitting to several minute “errors” (“I glued down number 2 crooked”)—which naturally triggers compulsory inspection of the work.
More satisfying are three framed aggregations of cast-resin figurines smothered in laser-etched imagery, glittery pigments and assorted pop iconography lifted from Google searches. Chun freezes and quiets these landscapes of triviality—not necessarily to dissect, but to render impotent. Act 2 Scene 2 (Episode 1): Sometimes It’s OK If The Only Thing You Did Today Was Breathe is immersed in homilies countering depression that vie with religious and pharmaceutical bromides (“I wish I had a Prozac”).
The artifacts of “Solid Prayers”—a breakfast, an art class, a parade, a swimming pool—may be read as haiku, as scathing polemic, self-portraits or confessions. They may also be read, simply, as eccentricities. When Chun choreographs the indifference of a toaster into a sequential ode to anticipation, and when a trash bag acquires the air of a dancer—we can imagine anything.
Chun Kai Qun’s “Solid Prayers” is on view at Fost Gallery, Singapore, until February 19, 2017.