Heman Chong

05.27.14

Song-Ming Ang’s “Guilty Pleasures” listening party with artists Nadim Abbas and Magdalen Wong at Spring Workshop, Hong Kong, August 18, 2013. Photo: Ken Fung.


Singapore-based artist Heman Chong makes work that often dissolves boundaries between literature, performing arts, and graphic design. Moderation(s), his latest project, is a two-year experimental platform that involves collaborative institutional programming between artists, curators, and writers. It is being held at the Spring Workshop in Hong Kong and the Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art in Rotterdam, and it concludes this month at the latter venue with “The Part in the Story Where a Part Becomes a Part of Something Else,” a group show on view from May 22 to August 17, 2014.

MODERATIONS(S) occurs between two very different institutions. Spring Workshop, a very new space, provides artists with a residency program in which to think and reflect on their work; Witte de With, on the other hand, is a twenty-year-old institution that has dedicated itself to making rigorous content-driven exhibitions. Each part of Moderation(s) is designed to use the strengths of each institution and to suggest new ways of engaging between these two models.

The entire program hinges on perceiving artwork as a selection process. It allows the participants to do what they want within a given structure, which is designed around a series of encounters or situations. There is often an open-ended “task.” For example, the participants may be given the task to write a short story in a week or to produce a presentation at a conference. But the content within these tasks is not predetermined; the participants must arrive at that themselves.

It is not important for me that the results of these situations be legible or that they produce a coherent vehicle. I consider the structure of Moderation(s) itself to be the artwork, not what’s happening within it. I do not claim authorship for the project at all; I instead take on the role of a specter. Letting go is part of the work. That is what makes Moderation(s) different from relational aesthetics: The output is not merely an exhibition but a series of situations that involves elements that are not normally dealt with in an exhibition.

The work mostly involves enabling people by finding out what they do best. This comes from my background, when I first started working as an artist in Singapore in 1999. My generation of artists—Matthew Ngui, Chun Kaifeng, Ming Wong, Song-Ming Ang, Michael Lee, Genevieve Chua, and Charles Lim—is a loose network of individuals concerned with looking at each other’s work and discussing what it is we are making. We began projects by acting like what we know curators to be today. We wrote the proposals, spoke to the funders, dealt with the institutions directly. We all performed this two-as-one role simply because there were no professional freelance curators doing it back then. Now, it has become more interesting for me to try and understand the skins that lie between these porous roles, producing ideas in a more fluid manner with less bureaucracy.

Much of art history concerns description; but having said that, a lot of its failings have come from the inability to describe a work using its critical language. Still, I do feel more comfortable talking about Moderation(s) nowadays. I still haven’t found a better way to document it.

— As told to Lee Ambrozy