Heman Chong (Malaysia, 1977) is an artist whose work is located at the intersection between image, performance, situations and writing. His practice can be read as an imagining, interrogation and sometimes intervention into infrastructure as an everyday medium of politics.
Call For The Dead
While on residency at STPI in 2020, Heman Chong read. He read and then he redacted page after page of John le Carré's book Call For The Dead. The artist erased everything except for the verbs, leaving behind decontextualised traces of something that happened. Published in 1961, Call For The Dead was le Carré's first novel. Le Carré is a British author known for his espionage novels. Critical of Cold War espionage, his stories painted spies as morally compromised bureaucrats. Like his work, John le Carré is a fiction, a pen name. The author, David Cornwell, was a spy. Cornwell worked for Britain's domestic intelligence service, MI5, and its foreign intelligence service, MI6. Visualising redactions monumentalise the act of censorship. It represents the underlying power relations between redactor, imbued often with state power, and the reader. The more extensive the redaction, the larger the secret and the more authoritative the redactor. Consisting of 83 silkscreen prints that cover the walls of a gallery within STPI, Chong's repeated bureaucratic performance of running a thick line of ink to blot out text imply that le Carré's novel holds enough secrets to fill a room.
Foreign Affairs is a series of photographs of embassy backdoors. The artist began photographing these backdoors while on vacation. He would later return to this brief moment and examine the image(s) by systematically repeating them. As a literal and cumulative representation of embassy backdoors, each image of a backdoor can be read as infrastructural. The image makes apparent the very form of the non-descript embassy backdoor and its component parts, such as the lone face of a strategically positioned surveillance camera. These backdoors are the threshold of the exceptional space of the embassy, a physical manifestation of a concept as immaterial as the mutual acknowledgement between two states of their respective sovereignty and legitimacy, and the exceptional powers that come with this conceit. Foreign Affairs are presented as curtains or as canvas paintings, literal thresholds between spaces that can conceal or reveal