Installation view of GUO-LIANG TAN’s “Ghost Screen” at Ota Fine Arts, Singapore, 2017. Courtesy Ota Fine Arts, Singapore/Tokyo.

Ghost Screen

Guo-Liang Tan

Ota Fine Arts

In “Ghost Screen,” presented at Ota Fine Arts, Singapore, dreamy pastels flood the surfaces of impervious fabrics which embraced the gallery’s walls: a result of Guo-Liang Tan’s exploration into composer and artist John Cage’s observations of an artist’s environment. Cage had once quipped to friend and fellow artist Philip Guston: “When you start working, everybody is in your studio—the past, your friends, enemies, the art world, and above all, your own ideas—all are there. But as you continue painting, they start leaving, one by one, and you are left completely alone. Then, if you are lucky, even you leave.” For his latest series of paintings, Tan endeavoured to limit his own presence at the edges of the compositions. Utilizing a cloth chosen for its intrinsic plasticity as a foundation for a space of experimentation, his process entailed tilting the fabric after applying layers of paint, allowing the emulsions to cascade and interact before being permanently set in accidentally distributed forms.

GUO-LIANG TAN, Perfume Cast, 2017, acrylic on fabric and wood, 141.5 × 121 cm. Courtesy Ota Fine Arts, Singapore/Tokyo.

At the onset, the works that emerged from the process appeared to be visually coherent, sharing colors from the same family of soft pinks, peaches and blues. With each approach, however, they began to diverge and then converge again. At the exhibition, sunlight streamed through the main gallery space, highlighting the crevasses and saturation of spots which frolic on the surface of Violet Faults (2017)—marks that could easily be mistaken as floaters in the eye—the hues were strengthened then weakened under the varying degrees of luminance, while the minutiae danced, appearing and disappearing. On the opposing wall shielded from natural light, Perfume Cast (2017) carried a heavier viscosity; the molding and melting of blushes and blues were sedated and leisurely, like a plant under artificial light. It was as though the works photosynthesized and grew with the viewer throughout the day, casting the visitor into the center through the specificity of time and place of seeing.

GUO-LIANG TAN, (Untitled) Cassiopeia, 2015, acrylic on fabric and wood, 151 × 131 cm. Courtesy Ota Fine Arts, Singapore/Tokyo.

Upon closer inspection still, the paintings presented themselves simultaneously as surfaces and as windows. In works such as Untitled (Cassiopeia) (2015) and Blue Nude (2017), the nuance goes beyond the seemingly organic flow of overlapping layers and the immiscible pockets of space that emerge like oil through water; viewers begin to decipher the structure of the stretcher bars that sit behind the surface in a mixture of clarity and abstraction as our eyes were drawn through to a subterranean core. The screen transformed into a window, a petri dish, an aperture of the artist’s making.

GUO-LIANG TAN, Blue Nude, 2017, acrylic on fabric and wood, 122 × 101 cm. Courtesy Ota Fine Arts, Singapore/Tokyo.

Tan’s journey in “Ghost Screen” not only physically and visually tackles the idea of “ghosting” in its materiality, but also in the gestures and processes of mark-making that allows the artist independence from the product, as put forth by Cage. Within Karl Marx’s concept of entfremdung, the issue of alienation that occurs between the maker and his work is similarly raised. From social and cultural capital, to the art historical canon and traditional anthropological notions of the creator, the artists’ presence is very much embedded in his work. With the advent of modern technology, Marx describes alienation as a weight that had to be borne by society, a price we all have to pay. Instead, Tan seemed to embrace this very language of alienation. In his process, Tan strove to leave the studio and gallery space to all but himself.

Perhaps then, “Ghost Screen” and Tan’s approach to making is more about what it is not, than what it is. The screens, in their translucency, immiscibility and evolution, carry a dream-like quality of immeasurability and openness. Through these works, Tan moves away from definition and strives for more questions than answers. In that process of obfuscation, he arrives at a point of exploration.

Installation view of GUO-LIANG TAN’s “Ghost Screen” at Ota Fine Arts, Singapore, 2017. Courtesy Ota Fine Arts, Singapore/Tokyo.

Ghost Screen: Guo-Liang Tan is on view at Ota Fine Arts, Singapore, until October 21, 2017.

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