Essay published in the catalogue of Kim Ng’s solo exhibition Fact or Fiction.
There’s something intriguing about how bookstores arrange their shelves: fiction and non-fiction. It implies two separate worlds operating along different sets of rules and values – one rational, objective and factual in nature, the other based on make-belief, fantasy and escape. Combined, they make up a catalogue of the infinite ways we understand and experience our world.
This second solo exhibition of Kim Ng’s works brings to mind such a catalogue. On the one hand, it is a catalogue of what we may loosely call ‘facts’ (I prefer ‘non-fictions’) – photographic images of his surroundings, the landscape and his young son; as well as found objects like plants and plastic bags. But other than this, it is also a catalogue of visual treatments, a cornucopia of techniques including collage, woodcut, monoprinting, painting, drawing, silkscreen, photography, ceramics, embossing and etching. Together, a visual vocabulary emerges that is neither fact nor fiction, but something that tries to walk the line between.
Many of the works recall a pop-art aesthetic, particularly ones which feature silk-screened repetitions of images, such as Police.Polis, Scene (Nature and Urban) and Plot IV. But whereas pop-art deals with images as surface signs and commodities, Kim treats his images with a lot more tactility, often juxtaposing them with a print taken directly from a found object such as a plastic bag. The plastic bag, once a tactile thing full of volume, texture and even sound, becomes flattened onto the picture surface. This seems to suggest that images and impressions are more than flickers on the surface of the eye – that they can have odor, shape and depth.
Printmaking is essentially about taking an impression of something and transferring it onto another surface. It is a practice with a long tradition. The lithographic stone, copperplate and woodblock have a history in ink of several centuries. Silk-screening is modern in comparison – probably about 30 to 40 years old. Even the potato block projects you did as a child, or rubber stamps used by government servants to date their documents, these are all in the language of printmaking.
It is interesting that Kim is often associated as a printmaker, although his works clearly demonstrate a vibrant and fluid traveling between many mediums. One is seldom privileged over the other. This then could be because he engages with the language of printmaking, which is that of taking impressions. His Filling The Void series is a case in point. These intimate, delicate works are made by tracing the holes left in dead leaves by insects, then filling the shapes in with pencil and bitumen. The impression he has taken is not so much of the leaf object, but of the action of caterpillars’ jaws slowly munching through foliage. Likewise, the image that results is not a record, but a trace – very much like traces left on the mind by memories.
In the end, memories (like dreams) are a strange cocktail of fact and fiction. What we felt to be so real – like the laughter of a friend, or the way the light fell on a particularly sunny morning, or the smell of blood and sweat during a political rally – might exist only imperfectly and incompletely in our minds. Imagine, that in all the world, these memory are recorded in only one person – you. Does that make them less precious, less potent?
The wonderful thing about Kim’s works is that they are more than representations of his memories. They also talk about the way memory works. The range of his craft and diversity of visual vocabulary indicate that for every fact, there is an accompanying fiction; impressions are not solid or fixed, but fluid agents that need to be engaged with a constantly changing set of interfaces.
Kim Ng’s solo exhibition “Fact or Fiction“, 4 – 28 Dec 2006 at Wei-Ling Gallery.