Artist takes up 10 years for a project

When some of your art work takes 10 years - give or take - to complete, you had better be a patient person.

This on top of being able to multitask and manage a few projects going on at the same time.

 Asked if he was the patient sort, artist Heman Chong, 35, prefers to describe himself as a someone with a short attention span. "I work on at least 25 projects at a time... and in different disciplines. That's pretty normal for me. It's kind of similar to my reading habits - because I've a short attention span, I read 10 novels at one time. It's also one way to read a lot," he quips.

 It's befitting then, that Chong also has three exhibitions happening about the same time in three countries - Hong Kong, Singapore and Bangkok - right on the heels of one another. "The Part In The Story Where We Lost Count Of The Days" kicked off in early July in Hong Kong's Rossi & Rossi; the Singapore exhibition starts today at Future Perfect; and in August, the exhibition starts at The Reading room in Bangkok.

These exhibitions look at his practice as both a maker of objects and facilitator of situations, focusing on his ideas and processes that sit at the intersection of multiple genres: visual art, performance, writing, installation and science fiction.

Because besides being able to juggle different projects at a time, Chong is also a multi-disciplinary artist.

The exhibition in Hong Kong features a selection of 50-plus paintings produced between 2009 and 2013; the one in Singapore will be his use of photographs as narratives; while the exhibition in Bangkok will focus on performance.

His projects might take a long time, but he clearly doesn't waste time. Time, in fact, shapes a lot of his work, as well as the idea of collecting - images, objects, knowledge.

The three shows highlight different aspects of where his interests lie, he says, as an artist, curator and writer.

 Chong holds a master's in Communication Art & Design from The Royal College of Art, London.                 

In Singapore, all the works focus on his relationship with photography. "I don't see myself as a photographer (since I don't have fancy cameras or wear that vest); my approach towards photography is that pictures have an intrinsic energy to tell stories. Producing narratives is an important aspect of my work," he explains.

"A Short Story About Singapore (Volume 1)" saw Chong using a pocket-sized camera to take pictures of Singapore sites over a period of 10 years. The large-scale archive contains 100 photos, "which are then contextualised in a bid to produce a narrative," explains Chong. A capsule exhibition of this project was held at 2902 Gallery in April.

"Because the images are open-ended, the viewer also can make their own narratives depending on what catches their eye. So they in turn have a different story of Singapore," he adds.

Chong has no shortage of ideas, he says, it's only how long he takes to complete them. Another seminal "collecting" project done over time was "Calendars 2020-2096" which first premiered at the NUS Museum and later travelled to the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco. "That piece was a by-product of something I enjoy a lot - which is to take long walks in Singapore. I photograph these publicly accessible interior spaces, so that they form a lexicon of interiors which we collectively understand as Singapore."

 "It took me 11 years to complete the piece because I had to photograph the spaces when there wasn't anybody in it. So for some of the shots, I had to wait and wait."

 He's already commenced on his next project - photographing pieces of vacant land in Singapore (which aren't parks), but tend to be empty lots between buildings around town. "I'm just interested in developing this project in relation to our obsession with real estate." He expects it'll take him another 10 years to complete it. "Besides, it is interesting to see the differences in landscape over a period of time," he quips. One of the main reasons he's an artist is that it frees him to study anything he wants. "So today, I can be a novelist and look at hot-air balloons, or photograph vacant spaces in Singapore."

The common thread that runs through his works is that they are pedagogical or instructional.

At the same time as his exhibitions, the galleries will launch a newly published monograph (with the same title as the exhibitions) on Chong, published by ArtAsiaPacific Magazine and edited by Hong Kong's M+ Curator Pauline J Yao.

Through commissioned texts and explanations of selected projects produced between 2003 and 2012, the publication seeks to engage and unravel themes of fiction, futurism, language, representation, performance and circulation in Chong's works, and highlight their overlapping and circuitous nature.

It's a good way to get a helicopter view of what the artist has been doing in the last 10 years.

More so than a retrospective, one imagines that this is a very necessary guidemap into Chong's varied world and how he's used art to comment on life.

"The Part In The Story Where We Lost Count Of The Days (2)" will run from Friday's night until Aug 31, at Future Perfect, 47 Malan Road #01-22. There will be a discussion with the artist and art critic/writer David Teh Saturday, July 27, from 3-4pm at the Gallery.

Gallery hours are 12pm-7pm, Tue-Sat; and 12pm-6pm on Sunday. For more information, please go to

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