Study of 3 Thermos Flasks (1991/2), Faizal Fadil. Included in Intersecting Histories. Image courtesy of Postcolonial Web.
The inaugural show at the newly revived Gallery of the School of Art, Design and Media at NTU is Intersecting Histories: Contemporary turns in Southeast Asian art.
An exhibition of postwar Southeast Asian art ? Okay, pretty interesting.
One curated by T. K. Sabapathy ? I’m there.
I’m still trying to make up my mind about the show, but in the meantime, the art reviewer for The Straits Times had a couple of pretty interesting opinions about it. In response, a pal – newly befriended, through sheer serendipity – had a response to her piece. Both review and rejoinder are reproduced below.
(Full disclosure: Letter-writer Yvonne Low, a PhD candidate in the Dept. of Art History & Theory at the Uni. of Sydney, is currently researching female artists of Singapore and Indonesia. She is also the author of various articles on SE Asian art, one of which is included in the catalogue for the present show.)
Review, Huang Lijie
History that is skimpy on details
(Huang Lijie, 9 October 2012)
NTU’s exhibition on the turning points in the region’s contemporary art offers little illumination on its choices
The Nanyang Technological University recently announced its ambition to be a major player in South-east Asia’s burgeoning arts scene at the re- opening of its gallery and launch of a new exhibition.
The renovated School of Art, Design and Media gallery was inaugurated with the show, Intersecting Histories. The exhibition sets out to spotlight works of art that mark turning points in the rise and development of contemporary art in the region. The curator is well-known art historian T.K. Sabapathy.
It features 28 artists and 37 works, spanning four decades to the present, from collections such as the Singapore Art Museum and National University of Singapore Museum.
The aspiration of the university and curator to participate in the writing of contemporary art history through the show befits their callings. The university will run the Centre for Contemporary Art, which opens next year at Gillman Barracks and aims to be a world- renowned centre for art residency, research and exhibition. Mr Sabapathy, meanwhile, is co-chair of the advisory committee for the programme at next year’s Singapore Biennale.
Such clarity of vision on ambition, however, is not always evident in the show.
It opens purposefully with works by five artists that date from the 1970s but exude a remarkable sense of the here-and-now in form and content.
It includes Cheo Chai Hiang’s assembly of a found piece of log and a hinged wooden washing board that swings open to reveal in red the repeated phrase, “and miles to go before I sleep”. There is also Redza Piyadasa’s tall coffin-shaped box painted with the Malaysian flag and mirrored on the floor, and Jim Supangkat’s bust of a legendary Javanese queen placed on a plinth with the drawing of a naked female torso and a lower body clad in unzipped jeans that exposes pubic hair.
The curator asserts in the wall text that the works, which also include a painting by Benedicto Cabrera and five photo-etchings by Sulaiman Esa, show qualities of nascent contemporary art practice in South-east Asia.
Yet the reason they qualify as icons and why they were picked can be gleaned only from two oblique sentences in the text. The absence of labels for individual works that explain why they are each pivotal in contemporary art history does the show no favour.
The diligent viewer, though, will be rewarded if he reads the curator’s 32-page essay in the show’s catalogue, which is being printed. The curator posits the works as hallmarks because they are by artists who either individually or as part of a collective, voiced early-on at crucial moments the need for art to stop being a purely aesthetic object defined by rigid artistic principles. The works were also made using alternative mediums and techniques, and they engaged critically with the milieu of the times, traits that distinguish it from previous art.
Works embodying these contemporary concerns are seen in a section focusing on the female body. Nindityo Adipurnomo’s wooden sculptures of traditional hair pieces worn by Javanese women as status symbols open up like jewellery boxes with mirrors under the lids to reveal an assemblage of icons that critique social obsession with sex, superstition and intoxication.
This invitation to peek and ponder is echoed in the mirrors of nearby works by Amanda Heng and Julie Lluch. The gaze that meets Lluch’s wearied, naked female sculpture, however, is introspective while Heng’s mirror on a table under a pair of red divination blocks and dish cover has a more gender-charged view.
This dynamic interplay between works continues in an open-ended segment, which the wall text proposes, explores various themes including the human figure as a symbol of a person’s pained inner psyche and global strife.
A more satisfying approach perhaps, might be to see the works as a myriad of responses to structures of power such as in politics, the art canon and personal desires. This would place Donna Ong’s sublime dioramas in serendipitous conversation with Bayu Utomo Radjikin’s fierce metal scrap warrior. In Ong’s piece, personal desires succumb to fantastical landscapes while Bayu’s sculpture stoicly resists the siege of Westernisation on indigenous identity.
Resonance persists in a standalone section of the gallery, which looks at how artists such as Niranjan Rajah and Ho Tzu Nyen become power brokers through narratives on art and history in their video works.
These intersecting discourses among the many works, which overcrowd the main gallery, highlight ideas in contemporary art. They also show how contemporary art, which is rooted in history, continually redefines itself in creative ways to respond to the present. But it offers little illumination on why themes raised, such as the female body, are pivotal to the development of contemporary art in the region and why the other works, besides those in the opening section, mark critical moments in contemporary art.
The scant wall texts are mum and the essay is not explicit. It states the significance of some works in the context of their creation, exhibition and reception but this still stops short of articulating why or how the works marked decisive changes in the history of contemporary art. The shortcoming is reinforced by the fact that at least seven works in this show have appeared in recent contemporary shows at the Singapore Art Museum such as Classic Contemporary, Negotiating Home, History And Nation, and Telah Terbit (Out Now), which examine themes in contemporary art and the history of the practice; this exhibition did not cast the works in a new light.
Response, Yvonne Low
A response to review, “History that is skimpy on details”
(Yvonne Low, 17 November 2012)
The following article is written in response to Huang Lijie’s review of the exhibition, Intersecting histories: Contemporary turns in Southeast Asian art, held at ADM Gallery, Nanyang Technological University, which was published on 9 October 2012 in the Life! Arts section, The Straits Times.
I read with genuine surprise at the author’s appraisal of the exhibition that opened at the School of Art, Design and Media gallery on 27 September 2012 and guest curated by art historian, T.K. Sabapathy. In her write-up, Huang provided a well-composed and critical description of the exhibition, including an interesting reading of selected works. Her main contention, however, was the lack of clarity in the exhibition’s curatorial design, specifically that there were inadequate content within the signposts – by way of wall-text and labels – to explain why the selected works “qualify as icons and why they were picked” and “why they are each pivotal in contemporary art history”. Though the author referred to the curatorial essay and subsequently proceeded to provide the reasons for the works’ selection as discerned from the text, she insisted that even the essay “is not explicit”:
It states the significance of some works in the context of their creation, exhibition and reception but this still stops short of articulating why and how the works marked decisive changes in the history of contemporary art. The shortcoming is reinforced by the fact that at least seven works in this show have appeared in recent contemporary shows at the Singapore Art Museum, such as Classic Contemporary, Negotiating Home, History and Nation, and Telah Terbit (Out Now), which examine themes in contemporary art and the history of the practice; this exhibition did not cast the works in a new light.
My encounter with the exhibition turned out to be quite different from the author’s – unsurprisingly, one might say, given my somewhat privileged position where I have not only contributed an essay to the exhibition catalogue discussing three of the works on display but also had several opportunities to speak with the curator when the exhibition was still being developed. That said, such “privileges” could hardly have robbed me of my ability to look at the exhibition in its entirety with all the works installed as they are now and to think for myself what to make of it all.
It is quite difficult to not consider the works in a new light given that no two exhibition can be the same; every show will be different in intent if not in configuration. It matters not if seven or seventeen of the works had in fact been shown elsewhere, but it is of how they have been exhibited in relation to other works and how they can be read in the given contexts that should matter.
Even on the outset, it is clear – without needing to read the exhibition catalogue – that this exhibition has a strong pedagogical tenor that undoubtedly sets it apart from all preceding exhibitions on Southeast Asian contemporary art. The exhibition is conceived as a project within an academic institution – a platform, far more conducive than the museum, to encourage if not foster deep and critical thinking on, especially those things that are “problematic”. The limitations of the recently renovated ADM gallery – to hold and show the scale and scope desired of a subject as expansive as Southeast Asian contemporary art – were plain to see. Huang was right about the overcrowded state of the main gallery; what she overlooked was the valiant effort that went in working with the limitations of the gallery and other institutional constraints (the works are afterall borrowed) to give to the audience as inclusive a selection as possible – or at least enough of a selection to generate some meaningful discussion and exploration of the theme and subject “intersecting histories”.
With the exception of two new site-specific creations by Koh Nguang How and Tang Da Wu (works that too were based on previous artworks), all the works on show have in some form or another been exhibited before in the last 40 years in Singapore or elsewhere in the region. Many of them acquired seminal status when they were collected by prominent institutions (and sometimes even before they were collected); these works have been rarified throughout history and in the course of their exhibition and re-exhibition. Yet, rarely have their consecration been subjected to study or examination in this manner.
The point here was precisely to explore the works’ significance and histories – this includes its exhibition history – in the context of Southeast Asian art and art historiography. The sub-themes (the explication of the human form as one example) – some of which Huang herself has shrewdly identified – reflect the investigative concerns that are deeply rooted in the discipline of art history. What the exhibition has shown is that by employing interpretive models (iconography, the study of technique and media, history etc), one may still arrive at multiple, intersecting and insightful perspectives of the contemporary.
Whether this opportunity can be fully appreciated by the Singaporean public is itself a separate issue altogether. If the exhibition has not cast new light to the works, then it would only be because the viewers have chosen to stay in the dark.
Maimed, melancholic, meta-textual.
A portrait of a young boy missing a limb, the dismembered stump dissipating into polychromatic, painterly wisps where skin and flesh should be – like so many of his fellows. A child sits with a paper-bag over his head; another is poised before what looks to be a row of Japanese soldiers in hachimaki headbands. A boy in a sailor suit and a girl perched atop a tiger-skin rug strike poses — in two different paintings — before renderings of Friedrich’s Rocky Reef on the Seashore. A seemingly unfinished triple portrait includes a re-presentation of Caravaggio’s David with the Head of Goliath (the Borghese version), with a filmic projection placed squarely over Goliath’s head, introducing a constant glare of shifting, flickering disruptions into the visual field.
Such is the iconography of enigmatic, near anonymous Singaporean painter Huang Wei.
According to local gallery owner Alan Oei (the man behind Evil Empire and the annual OH! Open House event), who also curated the present show at Valentine Willie’s space in Kuala Lumpur, the story of the discovery of Huang runs like this:
In mid 2009, my [Oei’s] friend Nora Samosir called me. She said her uncle-contractor had found rolls and rolls of old paintings. At that time, I was deeply interested in the Equator Art Society – a group of Chinese Social Realist painters who were largely forgotten. To come across an outsider artist who didn’t even make it into our art history – was an incredible find !
The paintings of strange and maimed children were just completely at odds with everything I knew about Singapore. Me and Nora, and a few others decided to organize a lecture-performance. Nora is a veteran actress so she presented it while I helped with the research about the artist and restoration of the paintings. Part of the attraction was that there was so little material about him – one trunk of personal effects – and I’m not exactly an archivist researcher, so there was a fair amount of conjecture. I became obsessed with this romantic archetype of the melancholic artist painting in his own warped universe.
Of what little is known about Huang:
Huang Wei is a Singaporean artist born in 1914. He worked in his family photography studio even while he was in school. My guess is that his first love was art not photography. He won an art scholarship for instance, and also studied with the famous Richard Walker, art superintendent of Singapore. But his paintings are all heavily influenced by photography.
(From an interview published in the show’s accompanying pamphlet.)
In a nutshell, that’s pretty much it for facts.
And the significance of Velázquez, so tellingly namechecked in the title ?
Cue Huang’s triumvirate from the early ‘60s: The boy in the arch, The boy with the glacier, The girl with the tiger. (See above.) That the three paintings belong in a series of sorts is clear at first glance: Arch and Tiger both feature the back of a large canvas as a salient motif, the first on the right side of the composition, the second on its left, as if the same canvas – visual details also correspond in both works – had been stretched across the interstitial gap. And a rendition of Caspar David Friedrich’s Rocky Reef on the Sea Shore (c. 1824) appears in Tiger and in Glacier: mounted on the wall in the former, as a surreally large copy in the latter. The motific parallels to Velázquez’s Las Meninas (1656) are unmissable, if somewhat ambiguous: the canvas with it’s back to viewer, of course; the slant of sunlight moving in from the right of the space in Glacier (Las Meninas is similarly lit); the painting of a painting (like the del Mazo renditions of Reubens in the background of Meninas, themselves depictions of copies, or paintings of copies of paintings); the pendant around the necks of the girl in Tiger and the figure of doña Isabel de Velasco (standing to the right of the princess in Meninas), as well as the tiger’s head in the former, and the dog in Velázquez.
Many of these parallels are perhaps oblique visual references, and less by way of outright similarities, but the fact remains that Huang seems to have been greatly taken with the work of the Spanish master:
When I [Oei] saw Huang’s paintings with these bizarre motifs that present the back-of-canvas, I could only think of Las Meninas. And true enough, Huang was inspired by that painting. I don’t know exactly what inspired him, but he made at least 30 drawings and paintings around this iconic work …… Michel Foucault, the French theorist, suggested that Las Meninas was the first history painting to recognize and embody the idea of representation. The world that exists within paintings (and texts) is not the same as reality. Representation organizes signs and information within different systems.
(From the interview.)
Oei is of course referring to Foucault’s famous disquisition on the painting – far too detailed and extensive to reproduce in its entirety here – which concludes along these lines:
Perhaps there exists, in this painting by Velázquez, the representation as it were, of Classical representation, and the definition of the space it opens up to us. And, indeed, representation undertakes to represent itself here in all its elements … indicated compellingly from every side: the necessary disappearance of that which is its foundation – of the person it resembles and the person in whose eyes it is only a resemblance. This very subject – which is the same – has been elided. And representation, freed finally from the relation that was impeding it, can offer itself as representation in its pure form.
(See the chapter “Las Meninas” in Foucault, The Order of Things.)
You’ll have to read the essay for that to make sense, but the bottomline is this: Las Meninas is a representation of representation, a painting in which the praxis of two-dimensional depiction, in all its strategic methods, manipulations and craft, is depicted two-dimensionally – the gaps in the narrative, such as it were, foregrounding the artifice of an aesthetic construction.
And it is that sense of the performative, of a painter painting a deliberately painterly painting, an art historical art, which leaps out at the viewer. The nexus of cross-gazes and semantic lacunae which Foucault identifies in Las Meninas is missing here, but Huang’s work remains imbricated in various layers of citational self-reflexivity, of discursive canniness, of teasing, ambiguous hints and half-truths, of occluded, private spheres of meaning. What, in other words, does one make of the tiger’s head in Girl with the tiger, the feline motif also recurring in The boy with the tiger (c. 1960; below) ? The latter seems to be a self-portrait of a young Huang, if the photographs uncovered by Oei, and included in the show (below), are anything to go by; the juxtaposition of boy and tiger may be an expression of personal preference, or it may be personal in another way altogether (1914, the purported year of the artist’s birth, being a Year of the Tiger). As a creature slaughtered and skinned, lying at the feet of a winsome, comely young thing, does it assume yet another channel of significance we are not privy to ? (A lost love maybe ?) And the allusion to Friedrich ? Rocky Reef is not one of the German painter’s better-known works – what of its inclusion not once, but twice, in two different paintings ? In Boy with glacier, the work has been enlarged almost to the point of taking on the character of a realistic backdrop; the choice of a work sans Friedrich’s trademark Rückenfigur may or may not be of import. Is the boy then to be read as a reversal, of the absent “back figure” (literally) contemplating the sublimity of a romantic topography – here conspicuously turned to face the viewer, acutely aware of the “burning gaze” (as Oei puts it) of the reality beyond the canvas ? And the reduction of Friedrich’s painting to its original dimensions, firmly embedded within a domestic interior, in Girl with tiger ? The wildness of the landscape, in this case a murkily visible presence contained in a frame, a controlled sublimity; the ostensible ferocity of the tiger’s head, in actuality no more than a rug beneath the subject’s feet; even the flowers, resembling rather a naturally-blooming branch, is as carefully cultivated as a pot of bonsai, as aesthetically appealing as a still-life (the geometric angularity of the pot measured against the biomorphic shapes of the plant, the profusion of foliage and flora tapering into a slender stem) – the disparity between the tamed nature which characterizes the girl’s domestic milieu, and the deliberate verisimilitude of Rocky Reef as a backdrop for the boy, seems to gesture at some form of gendered asymmetry at work. Finally, how does one imagine the relationship between the tiger girl and the boy beneath the arch, if indeed the depicted canvas unites the pair ? And the boy with the glacier ? What is his relationship to his fellows ? How does one account for the triangulated iconography suturing the three works ?
As with so much concerning Huang Wei, answers – or even leads – seem to be in short supply at this stage.
Another reiterated motif in Huang’s oeuvre is that of the maimed child: often missing an arm, sometimes an eye. And – again, in the absence of the displaced artist, who cannot or will not speak out of the silence to which history has relegated him – we have only Oei’s word to go on: Alan Oei, who willy-nilly seems to have become a posthumous alter-ego of sorts for Huang, speaking for, or channeling, if you will, in the manner of a conjuration or a possession*, the dead man, the ghostly overtones of that process evoking the no less eerie, spectral entities of Huang’s paintings, haunting the present moment like so many anomalous apparitions. In any case, here is Oei on the topic of Huang’s malformed children:
Huang lost his family – his two children and his wife – at the start of the Second World War when the bombs fell. I don’t know if he was specifically trying to express or sublimate that trauma onto the canvas, but it certainly feels that way. It’s hard not to relate this to the violence of war. However, I do think there is much more than that. Perhaps it’s also the futility of making paintings in a time of photography, of new ways of looking at the world.
(See his interview.)
* Although it has to pointed out, perhaps, that in this case the line between the roles of possessor and possessed are far from clear.
It may be a little difficult perhaps to make a case for Huang’s aesthetics of negation and transformation vis-à-vis photographic technology – the “the futility of making paintings in a time of photography, of new ways of looking at the world” – almost a century after the advent of Impressionism, which emerged in part at least as a response to the new scopic regime of the photograph. Most of his paintings on display here date to the 1950s and 1960s, only a short while, one notes, before the relationship between the autographic and photographic arts was reconfigured again by the photorealist movement, which took flight in the late ‘60s. If anything, Huang’s work seems deliberately anachronistic: harking back to an earlier era of the studio photograph-portrait, adopting a citational idiom teased out from the work of the Baroque masters – at a time when his peers, like the Nanyang school folk, were still indebted to the visual vocabulary of the various Modernist -isms.
Yet, at the same time, Huang also strikes the one as being more … oddly contemporary than many of his contemporaries. (Though ‘contemporary’ in this case may be something of a relative term.) Take The boy with the golden collar (above), the figure quite visibly wanting a left limb. Despite the conventions of portrait painting which informs so much of Huang’s vision, the point at which the human body is disrupted here – the boundary between broken arm and exteriority – is rendered destabilized, ambivalent, heteroclitic. The departure from the nominally naturalistic idiom of the painting is striking: the child’s coat-sleeve has seemingly vanished along with his phantom limb, leaving in its place an abstract mess of thread-like skeins resembling splinters of ripped-off fabric – or, more significantly, brushstrokes that never quite cohered into a recognizable form. The phenomenon becomes even more pronounced in The boy with the emerald sleeve (above): where the rest of the figure’s right arm should be is instead a kaleidoscopic complex of painterly gestures in bejeweled hues, a complex of dripping, bleeding runnels of surreal chromaticism. The motif of the fractured body, then, of the breakdown of bodily integrity, dovetails, at both visual and conceptual levels, with an inflected, irregular mode of mimesis, a grammar of naturalism interrupted by hints of the sort of Pollock-ian painterliness that came to dominate the Ab Ex school – as if, at the very point where the mimetically-depicted human body surrendered its fleshly unity, the means of representation itself relinquished any claims to verisimilitude, assuming instead the abstraction of process-oriented actionism, with the conceptual shift occurring spatially at the site of a corporeal distortion.
Untitled (unknown date), Huang Wei. Oil on linen (and video projection).
Perhaps no other work in the show encapsulates, or crystallizes, the issues concerning the Huang Wei myth better than the untitled piece (above), a seemingly unfinished, undated/undateable canvas featuring a troika of figures including two unidentified personages – although one of those bears a rather uncanny likeness to Singapore’s eminent Minister Mentor – as well as a reproduction of Caravaggio’s version of David with the Head of Goliath in the Borghese gallery. The curator – I think – decided to augment the piece, such as it were: Oei projected video footage of the head of Goliath, said to be a self-portrait of Caravaggio, over its painted counterpart, a projection which assumed the angular contours of a four-sided canvas, thus imposing onto the real canvas a meta-painting of flickering light, with the subject matter of both – Goliath’s, or the artist’s head – meeting in a precisely calibrated position. One, an actual, three-dimensional object, a work sedimented in numerous layers of contextual, iconographic and semantic uncertainties; the other, a thing of light and shadow, insubstantial as the evacuated meanings behind the first. One, an obscure artist unknown in his time and now dead; the other, a curator-archeologist whose personal presence at the site of the first seems in equal parts excavation and intervention.
It’s all almost delectably confused.
The cab ride there, which included two spins down the length of Jalan Cempaka and a couple of mini-tours of the surrounding housing estates, cost me 30 RM. Matching up addresses and topographical reality can be a hazardous business in Kuala Lumpur.
Well worth it though, all things considered.
The House of Matahati, which evolved out of the Matahati collective founded by a group of young Malaysian artists in the late ’80s, is definitely one of the highlights on the KL art circuit (the latter, unfortunately, a rather nondescript one). Its current offering, Drawing a Distance: Drawings from 3 cities, boasts quite a few gems: works from Filipino Victor Balanon’s Dream of the Nameless Hundred series; Indonesian Maryanto’s etchings on photographic paper; Nurrachmat Widyasena’s Each One Was a Hero; Malaysian Lim Keh Soon’s whimsical, macabre little figures, in the spirit of Edward Gorey’s Gashlycrumb Tinies perhaps.
Pictures below; enjoy.
Works by Poodien. [left] Brave Old World: Raya Untuk Ravana (2012), charcoal, acrylic & ink on canvas. [right] Brave Old World: Langkapuri Yang Lain, Melarut ufuk, Berpasak Alih (2012), shadow puppet & charcoal on paper.
Local art concern, Artesan Gallery + Studio, has gleaming, pristine new digs at the Raffles Hotel.
And I do mean gleaming.
Not that their Bukit Timah home was lacking — if anything, the space was both charming and cozy — but in a sense the present move really marks an arrival of sorts.
The inaugural show is a solo presentation of Filipino artist Roldan “Manok” Ventura‘s latest work.
Bruce Davidson‘s been on the mind lately.
Was revisiting his Subway book for a short project I’m currently working on with a friend (apropos of the SKL0 affair). The images are justifiably admired: graceful, single-minded, beguilingly insalubrious snapshots of a New York City I thought I was going to discover when I moved there in the early 2000s — only to find, of course, that that world of urban decay, of dirt and graffiti and muggings and CBGB and Bernhard Goetz, had long given way to what, by then, statistics proved was the safest large city in the country. (A fact corroborated by the number of Starbucks cafes and D’agostino’s supermarkets I found on every block. Both phenomena thanks in large part to Giuliani-driven gentrification.)
But that’s not the point here.
Another pal and I were having drinks at a rooftop bar a couple of nights ago: a cool, balmy evening, with a slight breeze and a couple of beers (and the high of seeing one’s name on a wall) and talk for some reason turned to our adolescent days — misspent adolescence, in my case.
Of playing hooky, of screwing up the ‘O’s, of hiding out in the bathrooms to smoke during P.E. lessons …
Fast-forward two decades later, and sometimes I’d dream of some amateur photog out there who’s amassed an unseen stash of images capturing the subculture of ’90s ‘kids’: the doc marts and Birkenstocks, the Guess berms, the Hunting World tees, the black JPG wallets and the Sonia Rykiel quilted bags, the tea dances at Fire and hanging out at the McDonald’s outlet at Centrepoint … You know, the way Carol Jerrems did for the Sharpie movement in Melbourne, or Gavin Watson’s punks and skinheads.
The pal and I soon moved on to other topics, but the exchange, however brief, dredged up out of the cold-freeze of consciousness a younger self I haven’t seen around in a while. A younger, hungrier, more starry-eyed self. And, oddly enough, he’s been missed.
The images here are from another iconic Bruce Davidson project, his Brooklyn Gang series, which preceded the work of Jerrems and Watson. According to one commentator, it “stands as one of the first in-depth photographic records of rebellious postwar youth culture”:
In 1959, there were about 1,000 gang members in New York City, mainly teenage males from ethnically-defined neighbourhoods in the outer boroughs. In the spring of that year, Bruce Davidson read a newspaper article about outbreaks of street fighting in Prospect Park and travelled across the Brooklyn Bridge from Manhattan in search of a gang to photograph.
“I met a group of teenagers called the Jokers,” he wrote in the afterword to his seminal book of insider reportage, Brooklyn Gang. “I was 25 and they were about 16. I could easily have been taken for one of them.”
…… For several months Davidson followed the Jokers on their endless wanderings around their Brooklyn turf and beyond. He captured them hanging out in Prospect Park, where outdoor dances were held on weekend summer nights, and lounging on the beach at Coney Island. He snapped the young men as they killed time in a neighbourhood diner called Helen’s Candy Store. In his photographs, the Jokers look both tough and innocent, uncertain adolescent kids caught in that hinterland between childhood and – this being New York – premature adulthood.
(Read the full Guardian article here.)
More pictures from the series below. The opening image at the top of the post, though, pretty much encapsulates my sentiments about vanished selves and halycon springs: a seemingly perfect moment fixed in monochrome, a taxidermic impression of a street corner, reckless hijinks, an endless stretch of street, and the splintered corona of a late-afternoon sunbeam scintillating out of an open sky — the Peter Pan-nish promise of the eternal good vibe.
The mythology of memory ……
Here’s perhaps the perfect counterpoint (culled from one of the most famous novels of prodigal youth):
I don’t even know what I was running for — I guess I just felt like it. After I got across the road, I felt like I was sort of disappearing. It was that kind of a crazy afternoon, terrifically cold, and no sun out or anything, and you felt like disappearing every time you crossed a road.
So apparently she got picked up by the cops yesterday.
Who ? The “Press until shiok” sticker lady. Don’t know who that is ? See this abbreviated ST article.
The guerrilla art scene in Singapore gets slapped in the face.
Happy birthday, Keith Haring !
He would have turned 54 today. (A fact that Google is celebrating with one of their always-entertaining doodles.)
Singaporeans who frequent the Bras Basah neighbourhood may have noticed the Haring-esque mural on the low wall of the walkway leading up to the foodcourt – the work of a local public art enterprise, Social Creatives. The similarities are a little too, ahem, salient to be overlooked.
We’ll consider it a tribute — one especially apt here.