October 1 – 31, 2015
CHUNG CHAK identifies himself not as artist or photographer but image-maker. He is also Associate Professor of Graphic Design at The College of New Jersey. Chak’s work is a form of photomontage created by randomly connecting images of unrelated persons, events, and environments. The work is finalized in digital prints, silver prints, gum-dichromate, Cyanotype, or image transfer. Chak’s work is strongly influenced by the Cranbrook’s design theory of deconstruction. The theory is a counter response to the Modernist approach and is rooted in the philosophy of post-structuralism. Chak applies the theory to photographic-based communication, and deconstructs photographs from the “ordinary” world into abstract visual codes. The resulted imagery becomes, as Chak describes, “timeless visual poetry with psychological impact.”
Looking from the outside, and imagining the inside is the core of THE BOXES series. A total of 5 selected photomontages are exhibited here at t A d. Each print is a 40″ x 40″ square. As Chak illustrates, “we all live in layers of boxes — literally in our living spaces …. We also see the world through different image-boxes — photographs, TV & computer screens.” As a foreigner who came to the U.S. in his early 20s, Chak was once fascinated by the images behind the beautiful windows of Broadway in New York City, and he would imagine what happened inside those windows. He said that “the stereotypes I learned from TV helped me fantasize about the stories behind the windowpanes.”
His cultural identity and experience of diaspora play a significant role in his image-making process. They also endue his imagery with a global, transnational perspective. In fact, the hundreds of fragments of random images that Chak used to create THE BOXES series were taken from many cities and places around the world. In this “chaotic and overwhelming, yet glamorous and energetic” world, Chak said, “I have always felt that we have very little control of our lives.” Image-making therefore becomes not just an outlet for his sense of alienated subjectivity, but also a way to assert his individual autonomy.
araya vivorakij, curator
The photomontages by Chung Chak excite intensity. Compositely they’re intricate, created by cropping, pasting, overlaying, rearranging, and putting together numerous images. A notable example of such technique dates back to the avant-garde movements of Surrealism and Dada. The fragmented images assembled in Chak’s photomontages render in multiple perspectives. They call to mind the paintings and collages of Cubism.
“Cubism, by seizing on instant total awareness, suddenly announced that the medium is the message. Is it not evident that the moment that sequence yields to the simultaneous, one is in the world of structure and configurations?”
Marshall McLuhan’s articulation serves as an entry point for my venture into THE BOXES, looking for a message in Chak’s photomontages. It shifts my approach from art history to the media and cultural discourse.
“The medium is the message”
Digital is the medium. Chak proclaims in his artist statement that “we … see the world through different image-boxes — photographs, TV & computer screens.” Inside those boxes, images are multiple-framed, multiply layered, abstract sequential, obliquely angled, and cut together in Photoshop. Everything we see is framed, the materiality of three dimensional space translated into two dimensional space, images fractured, discontinued and cut-off. Brian Massumi puts it this way: “Think of the fast cuts of the video clip … the cuts from TV programming to commercials …the constant cuts [distraction] from the screen to its immediate surroundings, … the joyously incongruent juxtapositions of surfing the Internet … Everywhere the cut, the suspense …” That’s our lived experience in the physical, corporeal spaces, beyond the image spaces. We are boxed in the world’s preoccupation with mediation: image, screen, network, simulation, and spectacle.
“The Spatial Turn”
We may fast-forward or transpose McLuhan’s rhetorical question — “Is it not evident that the moment that sequence yields to the simultaneous, one is in the world of structure and configurations?” — to the present era of postmodernism, when and where the instantaneity of time (or digital) is already a given. And, as a result, we exist in the world of complex structural spaces. The geographical spaces, the localized spaces, the global spaces, the metropolitan spaces, the architectural spaces, the material spaces, the digital spaces, the image spaces are, as a result, compressed, condensed, concentrated, truncated, disjunct, overlaid, and merged together. This cultural product of the postmodern era is aesthetically packed and jammed in the image spaces of Chak’s photomontages. “Our daily life, our psychic experience, our cultural languages, are today dominated by categories of space rather than by categories of time,” Fredric Jameson writes in his influential article on postmodernism.
In his writing about simulation and simulacra, Baudrillard tells a fable about a map so detailed and exact that it ends up covering the territory itself. In the postmodern world, it is the map that gives rise to the territory, not vice versa. The map is a simulation of “a real without origin or reality.” It no longer, as in the fable, represents the territory; it is therefore no longer a map in itself. It has become a hyperreal, characterized by systems of “signs of the real for the real”, while the real has disappeared. This is what exists in the hyperspace.
Hundreds of photographs taken from different places in the world are used to create a total of around 20 photomontages of global spaces for The Boxes series. The selected five showing in this exhibition at t A d refer, in their titles, to the city of Guangzhou, China. In those pictures, nothing actually looks real — not the Chinese flag, not the Chinese characters, not the Chinese people, not the Chinese temple, not the Chinese art sculptures, not the Chinese architecture. No “real” China is represented, only “a plethora of myths of origin and of signs of reality,” as Baudrillard describes. Everything is composite images of signs that stereotypically stand for what “Guangzhou” or “Chinese” is. Not only that the signs simulate equivalences, they also resurrect binary oppositions and differences. Disney-EPCOT model of China is an example.
The disappearance of the real flattens everything in those pictures. Unlike Picasso’s paintings or the photomontage by the Dadaists, the content of Chak’s images see no political ideologies or parodies of the kind. “Depth is replaced by surface, or by multiple surfaces,” as Fredric Jameson writes. On those surfaces, as in our encounter with THE BOXES, are the spectacle, an appropriate “nostalgia”, a feeling of exoticism, and a sense of euphoria.
Imagine how disorienting, confusing, and schizophrenic that would be, if you were one of the human figures in THE BOXES. Fredric Jameson calls this “existential bewilderment.” The postmodern hyperspace is, according to him, a “culture in which one cannot position oneself.” We float as we are engulfed in the weightlessness and depthlessness of space. Our bodies wander in the loss of spatial coordinates, incapable of distancing from THE BOXES.
Looking from the outside, and imagining the inside is, as Chak describes, the core notion of THE BOXES series. I suppose that in order to position oneself outside THE BOXES, one has to first create THE BOXES. Otherwise there wouldn’t have been an outside. What Chak has created conceptually corresponds to the kind of political art of postmodernism that Fredric Jameson proposes — “an aesthetic of cognitive mapping” which endows us, the viewer, with some heightened sense of where we are in the global system, effectual on a spatial scale.
Baudrillard, Jean (2006). “The Precession of Simulacra.” In M.G. Durham and D.M. Kellner (Eds.) Media and Cultural Studies, KeyWorks (revised edition, pp.453-481). Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing.
Jameson, Fredric (2006). “Postmodernism, or The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism.” In M.G. Durham and D.M. Kellner (Eds.) Media and Cultural Studies, KeyWorks (revised edition, pp.482-519). Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing.
Massumi, B. (2002). Parables for the Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
McLuhan, Marshall (1964). Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.