Critics’ Picks

Kray Chen, Waiting for the Bird, 2016, installation view.

Kray Chen, Waiting for the Bird, 2016, installation view.


Kray Chen

Grey Projects
6B Kim Tian Road, Tiong Bahru
April 8–May 7, 2016

The centerpiece of Kray Chen’s exhibition features an unlikely configuration of mah-jongg tiles. Waiting for the Bird, 2016, has a small square table that will fit exactly fourteen mah-jongg tiles on each edge—the number required to complete a winning hand. Sitting on this table are four combinations of thirteen tiles, each awaiting the crucial last tile. To players of the popular game from China, these four extremely rare winning combinations-to-be are the stuff of legend, and in television and cinema they are milked for the incredulity of their occurrence in scenes of overblown one-upmanship. The artifice of this construction plays up the fantasy, though not without indulging our irrational desires for the utterly improbable and its attendant spectacles. Yet the missing final piece in each combination also registers frustration, a sentiment elaborated on by an accompanying video of a hand impatiently fiddling with the prized tile.

Following the 2008 securitization crisis, probability has gotten a bad name. Casting a wry eye at the mathematical rationalization of uncertainty, Chen foregrounds the superstitions at play. In the video Study and Lose in Gambling, 2016, a pair of hands hurriedly flips through the pages of Marcus du Sautoy’s The Music of the Primes, a numerological field manual that can be otherwise read as the exhibition’s deliberate attempt at self-sabotage. The artwork arises from a deep superstition regarding books as bad luck, as “book” and “lose” are homophonic in Mandarin. The stakes here are heightened by positioning the video beside a display of fifty lottery tickets bought by the artist, each betting on a significant number in his life. A sly mocking tone pervades the show, although throughout, one is left hoping.