Tiong Ang

The young Dutch artist Tiong Ang has worked in various media, including painting, video, photographs, text, and installations. In his recent show he placed three small, unobtrusive TV monitors on the floor at a distance from each other, in an almost empty space. The viewer was surrounded by soft music emanating continuously from the monitors, each of which presented a single frozen image that recalled casts or models.

The three screens included a Buddha’s head (Insomniac Buddha; all works 1997); a wig-head (Insomniac Wig Head) and a doll’s head (Insomniac Doll). One could gather from the flickering light reflected in the eyes that each faced a television screen; these mute “spectators” did not, of course, react to the images to which they were seemingly subjected—their blankness suggested how a continuous media avalanche can render the human eye almost impervious to detail.

The show included not only the expressionless faces appearing in the videos, but also several emotionally charged paintings based on images lifted from films, newspapers, and books. By showing only fragments of these images without any explanatory information, Ang poses questions about memory and transformation. Extracting fleeting icons from a stream of media, he brings them to rest in large-format “stills”—mere traces of reality. They stand in contrast to his earlier paintings, which included interior spaces and hints of human activity. Two dark, rectangular paintings, both entitled Portrait of a young girl (possible sister), had been hung on opposite walls of the gallery. One was an enlargement of a photographic image depicting the face of a young Japanese girl at a memorial to the victims of Hiroshima. It was impossible to tell from the girl’s dark, empty eyes whether she was feeling sympathetic, astonished, entranced, or isolated. Directly opposite hung a painting of an anonymous Chinese actress gazing at the ground, also with an ambiguous expression; across from this pair of images Ang placed The Portrait of a DJ, a painting of a well-known English disk jockey. The DJ appeared aggressive and vitally present, and, as in Ang’s earlier paintings, a pronounced distortion was visible in portions of the face.

In another room the artist hung small portraits of Tallulah Bankhead and Louise Brooks as young women; he submerged this scene in semidarkness (the room was lit only by daylight), and stretched silk veils over the images, like shrouds or colored filters. Thus, there was no purity of perception, only a vague impression of gloom and disfigurement. In the past Ang has parodied the art scene in fake sitcoms, docudramas, and infomercials; here, too, one found an oscillation between reality and fiction, immediacy and mediation.

Frank-Alexander Hettig