Tiong Ang

INOVA - Institute of Visual Arts

In his recent video projections Tiong Ang makes the feelings of estrangement and disorientation experienced by the international traveler seem the basic conditions of contemporary life. The Indonesian-born, Amsterdam-based artist spends a fair amount of time far from home, and he brings along a handheld video camera on his various journeys. He aimlessly shoots pretty much everything—scenes from a cab ride, unfocused bits of street life, swaths of the landscape—using video as a variant of street photography. Back home in Holland he examines the hours of tape, seeking curious episodes accidentally captured, unexpected moments of alienation or disconnection. He then isolates these fragments and edits them into short video projections.

Traffic (all works 2001) is made up of two segments Ang shot on his first trip to India in 1998, projected side by side on a large screen resting on the floor. One sequence was filmed from the seat of a ricksha in the congested city of Varanasi. The loose turban of the driver, whose face we never see, dominates our field of vision as Ang casually pans across the glut of advertisements and store awnings that line the streets. The signage offers a strange commingling of Indian and Western commerce, an uneasy hybridity that Ang's own unspoken relationship with his driver seems to reflect. The second snippet was shot from a taxi; here Ang scans the sidewalk, stopping and starting as the cab makes its way through traffic. Suddenly the camera catches two young Indian women, one an albino, engaged in a lively conversation at a busy street corner. Ang zooms in, and for seven or eight seconds we see the pair talk, laugh, and gesticulate broadly, then the cab moves on. In those few moments an aperture to something profound seems to open; for the instant that it is difficult to determine the ethnicity of the albino woman, race is rendered mute by the absence of one of its central signs. The momentary glimpse becomes testament to both the voyeuristic fascination with the other that can characterize travel in foreign countries and the layers of difference in every society.

Three Men, a video projection of a trio of Africans walking slowly toward the camera over the crest of a hill, was produced after a trip to South Africa. The artist used a computer to lay a yellow-green filter over this scene. which he shows in slow motion. The men, one casually pushing a bicycle, are clothed in garments that reflect their native culture as well as a Western influence: their ease of movement and sense of self-possession can only come in a place one calls home. The scene, an encounter between members of an indigenous population and the artist as camera-toting interloper, seems to suggest that the traveler recognizes but can never achieve this level of comfort and familiarity. Ang's chartreuse filter functions like the sepia tone of vintage images, which a few generations ago documented the “other” for the so-called civilized West: It separates as it reveals, positioning its subjects in an ether that both defines and overwhelms our sense of boundaries.

James Yood