It's no longer novel that the erasure or lifting of a layer is a painting gesture; that is, if painting is that in imperative relation to which one may consider other art forms today. A sculpture goes back to painting as much as a video returns to it, even a readymade may yearn for painterly treatments all over itself, carrying out a reactionary movement that is hilariously sickening. On the other hand, stuffing paintings with things and matters that are improper to it—making it dirty, casually defiling it—opens painting up to positions that are just as merrily speculative. That are dwindling.
Without being able to forget or isolate painting, to leave it as it is—fermenting or rotting—one may at least recall how only some years ago painting was exactly the disgusting thing from which emerging artists ran (old and crippled, museums, collectors, gallerists and critics never run). As we were saying in the last entry, blade runner (the title comes from the fact that she is weary of what comes) Ko Sin Tung is for a number of her works concerned with how unclean or unhygienic a surface is, gradually nurturing a play by breaking, tearing apart, and rolling the surface into a ball, making an ear-like dough before taking a picture of it, musing on an abyssal tunnel on a construction site, where destruction and building take place at once. Also concerned with to what extent a surface can be radically unclean, and also emphasising a cramp-giving, compulsively tightened hand gesture—although, unlike in Ko's photograph of the blu-tack, these fingers are clearly and repeatedly visible—Kong Chun Hei in Peeling skins a (sur)face off, again and again. A film screen protector—effectively a depthless transparency since there is nothing underneath it in the video work—commonly used on cellphones, is being carefully and diagonally peeled from top left corner to bottom right, as the artist's hand slowly appears from bottom right, manoeuvring to the top left corner, just to do it again. From bottom right to top left, and back; a piston motion, a penetration that is selective and careful about what it touches and untouches, it reminds one of, even before the hygienic conditions of such surface-less screen, a disturbing silence, a silence that is perhaps most felt in the exhibition of Evening's Blush. Deafening, the acoustic aspect of it even largely overwhelms Kwan Sheung Chi's yawn, Lai Chih-Sheng's chirps, and Liao Chien-Chung's dog's lethargy.
Regarding the hygienic conditions: it is exactly an endeavour to mess it up, to soil and tarnish, to induce solemnly timed orgasmic movements, one wave after another, stiff and painstaking just as the last one. Sisyphean or not, it is syphilisean, carefully unwrapping protectiveness, that which surfaces me apart from the flattened void, contaminating both of us—an unclean onlooker, and a seemingly unharmful, unaggressive, neutrally coloured blackhole. Hell, it was meant to be protected from me. Carelessly (for carefulness—not quite care—is what concerned us here, regarding an artist and an artwork that stay painfully vigilant) mysophobic, one gets to enjoy from time to time the beauty of skin-peeling (one needs only to be reminded of Goldmember's "oi yes yes this is a keeper," or Raj to Howard: "grab a corner."), and the beauty of reskinning. In Hei's case, we have seen at Para Site Hong Kong earlier this year the profound reskinning of a space in Breakdown: covering windows and glass doors of a shop-cum-exhibition space with sanded pages from overprinted Para Site publications. It was easily overshadowed by the biggest stuff in Hei's PS exhibition, Aftertaste, which is a giant, sprawling installation that heroically collects and recycles dust; but many months later, thinking reluctantly about Peeling's relationship with painting, one appreciates Breakdown's de-filing gesture more as an attempt to protect and haunt.
Gradually armed and unarmed, the lucid, diligent Peeling reminds me of the time when I was clumsily learning how to calligraph. It reminds me of how slow I was told to act, trying to quiet this restless bastard down. It looks like some kind of masterful illustration of how to start and finish a stroke, before going back to it again. I now reckon calligraphic gestures are more or less masturbatory, especially since the other hand is rendered patently invisible, and since, so I imagine, Herman is not involved in the process. He must be out there somewhere, maybe in America. Starting his America, Baudrillard:
Perhaps Hei's is a filmic act of painting a desert after all.