|By Huang Z'ming|
|Humour is unabashedly the key to Head In Loop Loop Loop Loop, an exhibition which would easily call to mind the term 'Arte Povera' simply by virtue of the material used. For though the installations all clearly evoke some modes of modern transport, they are constructed of cardboard, papier mache and wire for a crude appearance that is fitting for the childlike absurdity they convey - a car or bicycle seemingly running through the wall, hair dangling midair vertically at the apex of a rollercoaster ride or horizontally in an impossible high-speed motion on the road. In the stripped-down shophouse space of the Post-Museum gallery with its characteristic exposed brick walls in parts, artists Mark Thia and Mike Chang, graduates from the UK and the US respectively, have found a perfect setting, and also cleverly utilised the layout with a centre partition to their advantage, in the strategic juxtaposition of the artworks that often seem to lead from one to another, such as a ramp for skiing or car stunts placed right through a doorway, inviting one to enter the inner space behind for some revelation. But rest assured you can never be sure what to foresee, given the artists' uncanny ability to throw a curveball right past one's expectation of what the story might be.
The first installation that greets the visitor is a bar from the ceiling with two golden rings big as a doughnut, one strung up directly from the bar, the other hanging from one ear of a faceless head made of papier mache, painted in a beige colour that recalls those “big-head doll” masks used in Chinese New Year street parades. According to Mark, inspiration actually came from the quaint Hong Kong comic Lao Fu Zi, which sometimes plays on silly visual illusions and once had a joke about a person's big ear-ring being mistaken for the loop for bus passengers to hold on to. The fact that the golden rings look identical while referring to different things makes their proximity under the same bar look uneasy and the safety distance between them obligatory; the contrast between the animate and the inanimate also makes this look like a statement on the fear of human contact in bus or subway train travelling. And if this installation only hints at the concepts of inertia and relativity in its ambiguous state of motion or stillness, the piece behind to its left clearly points to the idea of gravity being defied. It captures a person in a rollercoaster ride at the very moment where he or she would have fallen headfirst from the apex of the loop were it not part of a fast motion on the tracks. The very idea of such peril, contained by the safety of the physical mechanism, is of course part and parcel of the thrills in such joy rides, which are not meant to be travel. In the third and last piece of artwork within this section, the thrill of high-speed motion is again represented by a conical lock of fake hair cast in resin, this time disappearing into the wall together with half a bicycle wheel, the rider's head and body plainly out of sight.
Do such movements constitute a form of escape, or mere diversion? In the terms of Gilles Deleuze, a 'line of flight' in social theory would denote a creative escape from standardisation and stratification in society. According to him, a society is collectively defined first and foremost by its points and flows of deterritorialisation, and history's greatest geographic adventures are lines of flight. Judging by the title of this exhibition, what we are seeing here are simply individuals moving in a loop, not quite shifting out of the status quo. The shiny runway, extending into a ramp skewed to one side, apparently comes from a notion of Mike that a vehicle which leaves the ground to perform a stunt in the air has ceased to be functional and just turned itself into a spectacle. I suppose one may imagine this as an escape from the tedium of daily life, but of course a car stunt is almost bound to be an event sponsored by the media machine. Our artists clearly take a playful approach throughout their show and have shrewdly chosen not to display any object that would represent a car in this trajectory. Instead one sees hanging on the wall in the opposite side a little snowman in flight that would have come from a different trajectory. One peeping through its butthole would see a screen image, a video in loop, of a heart shape in fiery red, which is all very funny and it is entirely up to you how to make head or tail out of this.
The final piece, up against the wall in the extreme end of the gallery, is the back view of a brown car with red rear lights, with a ridiculous height and narrow width that allows a man to stand inside, and that happens to be a man dressed as big yellow bird. Apart from poking fun at the idea of one being free as a bird, the direction of the exhibit is decidedly away from the madding crowd. It is the antithesis of something like the car crashing out of a Hard Rock Cafe, which would make a clear case of a glamourous spectacle right in one's face, a perfect phallic symbol of the automobile as male ego popping right out in ecstasy. Thankfully, the approach in this body of works is more modest, or feminine if you will, reserved for the keener eye. There is even a late addition towards the end of the exhibition that serves as bonus for the very discerning visitor or loyal patron a little car stuck up in the ceiling, in a spot that would be missed in all probability.