STPI Gallery is pleased to announce Peace Prosperity And Friendship With All Nations, Heman Chong's first solo exhibition at the gallery. From the Brexit coin, the backdoors of embassies, the spy novel, and the Straits Times to the QR codes of Singapore's COVID-19 SafeEntry system, the artworks in the exhibition bring together a constellation of conceptual gestures based upon everyday encounters and autobiographical objects that chronicle the complex political and cultural landscape of our present moment.
In 2020, the United Kingdom government released the Brexit fifty-pence coin to commemorate the UK leaving the European Union on 31 January 2020. To Chong, Brexit not only marks a global turn to ultranationalism but also a real end to the British Empire as the nation turned away from the multilateral internationalism that the European Union represented.
The title of the exhibition, which is both the text on the Brexit coin and an artwork in the exhibition, points to the commemorative coin as a byproduct of a significant historical turn in the capitalist world system. A method of decolonialising systems of power, this deadpan gesture of pointing to an everyday object that is a vehicle and representation of global power defines the artworks in this exhibition.
Call for the Dead (2020), a monumental new work produced in residency at STPI represents the labour and agency inherent in the act of redaction. Expanded across an entire room with 86 silkscreen prints on linen, the work represents Chong's redaction of John le Carré's first spy novel Call for the Dead (2020). The novel was published in 1961 when Le Carré was a spy for British Intelligence.
Chong's blots of ink across the pages of the novel remove all but the verbs of the story, writing out the secrets that Le Carré could have leaked out in his fiction. For an artist in Singapore, a former regional headquarters for MI6, to redact a text about British Cold War espionage is an act of redaction as much as it is an act of post-colonial reclamation.
Accelerating Brexit's historical trajectory of de-globalisation, COVID-19 has called into question the primacy of a West-centered world system. The Circuit Breaker Paintings (2020), a series of 56 paintings, is as much art as it is an artefact of our times. History collects as layers upon the objects that Chong makes. The series of paintings mark every day of the 2020 Singapore circuit breaker (7 April 2020 – 1 June 2020).
The paintings, which collectively are a retrospective of Chong's painting practice dating back to 2009, are deliberately painted over with an 'X' that recalls the social-distancing measures cordoning off Singapore's public spaces. The 'X's mark both the circuit breaker as a hard stop in the daily flows of life and capital, and the reach of the state onto the surface of the painting.
Chong's latest works made in light of COVID-19 do not declare a world gone array, rather they resound with the quiet anxiety of a world turning slightly off-kilter. In Safe Entry (Version 2.0-2.7) (2020), an iteration of a public artwork made for the Singapore Art Museum, the QR Code – a small incidental phone-mediated encounter of everyday life – is enlarged to life-sized proportions.
Press release courtesy STPI - Creative Workshop & Gallery.