SONG-MING ANG, Backwards Bach (still), 2013, two-channel video. Courtesy the artist and FOST Gallery, Singapore.

SONG-MING ANG, Music Manuscripts No. 6–No.7, ink on paper, 29.7 × 42 cm. Courtesy the artist and FOST Gallery, Singapore.

Logical Progressions

Song-Ming Ang

FOST Gallery

Song-Ming Ang considers himself a conceptualist, rather than a sound artist. The title of his latest show, for instance, is modestly dubbed “Logical Progressions,” and is indebted to Sol LeWitt’s, “Paragraphs on Conceptual Art” (1967) which state that “Irrational thoughts should be followed absolutely and logically.” But, contrary to Lucy Lippard and John Chandler’s “dematerialized” object, or the conceptual work of art par excellence, Ang evinces an obsession with artistry and technique. The complex of conceptualist gestures that include anti-formalist strategies of refusal, erasure and nullification is nowhere to be discerned here; what the viewer is confronted with, instead, are works that foreground traces of the artist’s hand, both literally and metaphorically, emphasizing the material or experiential nature of the (painstakingly executed) art object.

Backwards Bach (2013), a two-channel video, is the ostensible centerpiece, as the only work—in a show concerned with music—featuring an audio component. Ang is depicted playing Bach’s Prelude in C Major from the eighteenth-century collection, The Well-Tempered Clavier, on a harpsichord—both in its original order and backwards. New to the instrument, he observes: “It took me quite some time, yes. The practising alone took me about two full months of daily, hourly practice . . . I don’t think playing the tune is terribly complex—more a question of dedication and endurance.” Such deliberate efforts echo Ang’s earlier project, Parts and Labour (2012), in which the artist spent four months in a workshop working with a piano, during which time he disassembled the instrument and put it back together again in operational condition. In Backwards Bach, both portions were shot in single, uninterrupted takes, feats of technical coordination and physical and mental concentration. The artist notes that 16 takes were necessary before obtaining the desired outcome. Here, procedural exposure alludes to the process behind the product—the director’s hand clapping to begin and end filming, tracks, mic and wires made clearly visible—and Ang himself looks directly at the crew and camera once he has finished.

The true stars of the show, however, are the works executed on music manuscripts, a series of some 20 pieces. In an act of interventionist mark-making, the artist introduced hand-drawn lines onto printed pages of sheet music, creating linear compositions of geometric grace against the intervals of musical staff. Rendered in ink, Ang’s lines are caught in a tension between calligraphic flair and systemic order. They approximate the enforced regularity of the printed scores, maintaining a rigid diagonal across the page, yet retain the characteristics of manual production that recall the expressive brushwork of traditional Chinese calligraphy: uneven lengths and textures; chromatic tonalities of ink reflecting the varying force of applied pressure; the telltale blot of ink at the end of the line that indicates the cessation of motion. Here is evidence of the autographic, the artist’s hand, re-inscribed on the commodity. Ang’s works are determinedly anti-conceptual: their significance lies not in their cerebral abstractions, but in the scrupulous, compulsive material force that animates their presence.

Logical Progressions is on view at FOST Gallery at Gillman Barracks, Singapore, through March 2, 2014.

Louis Ho is an art historian and curator based in Singapore.