THERESA CHONG

 

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SHAPING MOVING REALMS by Yannis Ziogas, September 2006

Abstract painting, or at least what is called abstract today, seemed exhausted already two decades ago.
This exhaustion was attributed to the fact that the images of abstraction were completely assimilated
by daily life’s image systems. If the definition of a visionary space was one of the ideals abstract art was seeking, then this goal seemed void, for the utopian space of abstract art had been incorporated into
daily life. On the other hand, abstraction contained certainties that appeared dogmatic and out of place
in an era when theory systematically deconstructed assumptions. And yet, abstract painting, just like painting itself, survived. Perhaps the term abstract painting should be altered; however, there still exists
a realm of images whose origins lie in a sphere different from the one of recognizable reality.   

A more recent generation of artists, among them Theresa Chong, produce their works in a sphere where reality as experienced in everyday life is nonessential to them in order to give shape to their surfaces.
Is that a return to the long vilified abstraction or to utopia, a concept so close connected to it? Maybe it derives from the need to explore an area where recognizable reality does not matter or at least it matters less than the implications of everyday life.

Chong achieves to shape realms of a non-reality because she operates beyond the influences of the last great artists of abstraction, somewhere where subjectivism, and not the self-referentiality of artsystems, continues to have meaning. On one level she states that: the abstract brush strokes of Dekooning and Lichtenstein’s paintings are traced and are incorporated into my own linecompositions. The usage of preexisting abstract gesture marks are to provoke a new version of abstract expressionist gestures. However on a second level her work is permeated with references that appear to stem from her personal experiences. Two seem to be the experiences that are effecting more her process and are detaching her from the influences of the last masters of abstraction: first is her thorough investigation of outlines and joint points of lines and, second, her relation to music. In the series of woodblock drawings “Popper Etudes” (1998) Chong worked in an exhaustive way with detailed movements of line that introduced surfaces of an extremely dense layering. These drawings derive from her other influence; music and the sounds it produces. They are an exact translation of variations on Etude # 1 of Opus 73 by David Popper (1841-1913) a Viennese composer.

It seems that these experiences initiate movements where her points form courses and color masses which are placed without any gestational commentary; They could be construed as maps of another world, even as amalgamations of past visual periods. Nevertheless, they still constitute something beyond and above all that: they are projections of a personality which persistently (in a literal sense) draws in the much-vilified field of painting by forming new multiple fields of another and maybe novel world. The most personal element in Chong’s work lies in this obsession, as well as in the force she possesses to reflect it in her surfaces. The obsession with the small, the handmade, the almost imperceptible that forms large fields is the tiny spark that gives shape to her paintings. Her images
are visions of a world that is simultaneously close at hand and distant, a world that is necessary and useless; necessary for its complexity, useless for it conveys the impression that it may never materialize.

In the context of a pursuit of a potential realm of spiritual experience, and not of some morphological affinity with the old abstraction, Chong comes to encounter the course of art. Chong’s work can be directly associated with Poussin’s Et in Arcadia ego, Watteau’s Embarkment for Cythére, Kadinsky’s revelatory visions, Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities, or the fictitious constructions found in remote universes in Lucas’s Star Wars. Her work raises again the question of what was once called utopia in a way freed from the remorse of the past: not the quest of confrontational “truths” but a field where all minor and major elements of modernism have been integrated in short personal snapshots. The latter does not assume shape through certainties and impositions but through narrations of brief episodes, those episodes triggered by Chong’s personal story.

This is where her relationship with sound is revealed. Sound opens up like a field that enhances her relationship with a primary world wherein everything is in the process of genesis. The cello’s persistent rhythms (played by Chong herself) give rise to moving images that are nostalgic and at the same time existent. Popper’s Etudes are again present in her work and create a powerful feeling that kindles the imagination and forms brief visual episodes –the videos of a moving art (moving dots of lines or drawing). These brief episodes create the final surfaces of her works, surfaces where music, lines, dots, joint points are choreographing moving fields.

From there onwards, the formalistic conditions that build her spaces remain in the background. In the foreground lies the obsession to depict the small, which is shaped out of images of an explosive coherence. It is not merely Chong’s dexterity that plays a determinative role in her works, but her ideas about the sounds and moving images. Those ideas that give shape to moving realms of a fictional encounter, spaces which have been nullified for quite some time.