South London Gallery is a small but perfectly formed bastion for the contemporary arts. Its latest show, by the artist Heman Chong, is an exploration of exchange – how ideas and information are passed consciously and unconsciously between participators.
The main room of the gallery exhibits a piece entitled Monument to the people we’ve conveniently forgotten (I hate you), which is made up of one million all black business cards scattered across the floor, over which the visitors walk. The work speaks of repetition and excess, but in a futile way. The work envelopes you in a space of blank information – it’s a sea of dark and heavy matter which has no value, and cleverly dissects the contemporary love for people to procure business cards in a pseudo-allying of interests. Everyone has a stack of cards they received, whether in business or social meetings, that never get glanced at again.
On the walls of this room is another work, entitled Surfacing, for which the artist provides a number of luminous orange stickers with loose instructions on how they are to be installed. Each time the work moves from one show to the next, the instructions become interpreted differently thus creating an every changing, ever evolving work. Its thought provoking – everyone has their own cultural constructs affecting how they interpret things.
A sign hangs on an adjacent wall reading “THIS PAVILION IS STRICTLY FOR COMMUNITY BONDING ACTIVITIES ONLY.” These exact words were copied form a sign the artist encountered while in Singapore. It speaks of an authoritarian voice – people are designating what is good and what is not, and in this case the good is community bonding – but in its new context, it seems an alien thought amongst a sea of works questioning interaction.
The main room is cordoned by a rope half way across – at first it appears to be a security rope – a boundary beyond which the public may not pass, yet this is another work by the artist. It cleverly denotes censorship, authority and social cophesion. Every Wednesday at 1pm and 5pm a performance takes place around this rope, where a different participant is taught by an instructor to memorise and recite a 500 word short story written by the artist and only ever transmitted by word of mouth.
In the museum gift shop, second hand copies of books by authors such as Albert Camus, are for sale. Again it addresses the theme of the transmission of ideas – but in this environment, it goes a step further, raising ideas of authorship and what constitutes an artwork.
Heman’s work is extremely poignant – its hardly subtle, but clear and pragmatic in its execution. It makes for appealing viewing, and if nothing else, makes you think about how you interatic with both the physical people around you, and those who hold influence.
By Toby Mellors
Heman Chong – An Arm, A Leg and Other Stories, 11 Dec 2015 – 28 Feb 2016, Admission Free, http://www.southlondongallery.org