Heman Chong, Calendars (2020-2096), 2004-2010, Offset prints on paper. 1001 sheets, each H: 11 3/4 in x W: 11 3/4 in. Installation view. Photo by Jay Jao.
Recently staff were treated to an exclusive tour of Phantoms of Asia led by Associate Curator of Contemporary Art Allison Harding. While Allison can’t personally escort every visitor around the galleries, we wanted to share the experience. We’ll be presenting a series of posts based on the tour, with Allison’s insights into the works and the artists who created them. First up, Heman Chong‘s Calendars (2020–2096).
In this work, Chong presents an imagined vision of the future through 1001 calendar pages starting in the year 2020. Chong started with that year because he felt that it was a kind of fulcrum: many of the big goals we hear about—around health, climate change, economic stability—take 2020 as their target date. It’s a year that could be a promise or an ultimatum.
Calendars (2020–2096) is presented with the pages attached directly to the gallery walls. Chong personally oversaw much of the installation, ensuring that the spaces between pages were absolutely uniform throughout the room. Allison commented that this uniformity put her in mind of the use of the grid in postwar art. Rosalind Krauss wrote in the Summer 1979 issue of October 9 that the “grid announces modern art’s will to silence, its hostility to literature, to narrative, to discourse.” For others, the grid is about creating complexity from the simplest of formal structures. It’s an interesting context to use when thinking about Chong’s work, which deliberately shows scenes devoid of people, haunted spaces, suggesting that what we have created might outlive us. Although I’m guessing that an artist who considers social media to be part of his art practice is not entirely hostile to discourse.
The images that make up the work were all taken in Singapore. Chong wanted to use public spaces for this work, but he also never asked people to leave. He simply waited in the space until no one was around. It’s hardly surprising, then, that these images were captured over a seven-year span—including an entire year in Ikea. He did not seek permission for any of these photographs, which is significant in Singapore where the use pf public space is highly regulated.
Walking into the room that contains this work, I was at first overwhelmed. Then slowly I started to see patterns, repetition of the same location, similar locations across a single column. These are just a couple of ways you could think about it; spend some time with it and you’ll find plenty more.
Tour Part 2: Hiroshi Sugimoto
Tour Part 3: Asian Cosmologies
Tour Part 4: Hidden Energies
Tour Part 5: The Afterlife
Tour Part 6: Myth, Ritual, Meditation
Tour Part 7: Art from Home
Related: Heman Chong on Sci Fi