By Danial Fuad
Adaptability has always been an important trait to ensure our survival as a species. This adaptability trait is also evident in art, such as when a painter adopts realism on canvas to emulate photography. Now, with a global pandemic on our hands, we again see adaptability with the emergence of online art exhibitions as a means of working within the restrictions and constraints of The New Normal.
Meat on a Chopping Block by Chang Yoong Chia shows me how the artist adapts to the changes in his surroundings. Inspired by the economic and political uncertainty of 2015, Chang completed the works but put them on the back-burner, never really finding the right time or place to showcase them. The works resurfaced recently when Chang and his wife were packing to move house. He realised they had reappeared at the perfect time, with the lingering uncertainty around the pandemic, the cluelessness of the MCO and our helplessness as we place our livelihoods in the hands of the government.
Although not as gruesome as Damien Hirst’s God Alone Knows (2007), there is a sense of macabre and a sombreness that radiates from a piece hanging proudly in the centre of the massive space that is KongsiKL, which was formerly a warehouse. The piece is a chopping block resembling a person being crucified, and the empty surrounding space enhances the sense of loneliness. Getting closer, I can see a human figure intricately painted with watercolour on the chopping block, evoking feelings of empathy. Painting on unconventional surfaces is not something new to Chang, as previously seen in some of his works. For Maiden of the Ba Tree (2007), he paints on a ceramic spoon, As the Crows Cry (2008) was painted on eggshells, and he even paints on dried leaves for Botany of Desire (2012).
The selection of medium is vital in conveying the strength of a message, and in Chang’s case, the soft watercolour juxtaposed with a hard chopping block strengthens the piece as the contrast between each medium depicts a feeling of struggle.
Being a highly mobile artist moving around from residency to residency, the pandemic has particularly affected Chang’s mobility and he conveys this sense of helplessness and uncertainty through the figure stuck on a meat hook surrounded by vast emptiness. It seemed like helpless livestock awaiting its fate on the chopping block.
What makes the piece even more interesting is that KongsiKL live-streamed the work for 48 hours. Online viewing is the new norm these days and the feeling of uncertainty and mystery is further extended in the live stream. Will anything interesting happen or will nothing happen? That was the question on my mind during the live stream and it somehow relates to the uncertainty of these pandemic times. And indeed, something interesting did happen! At one point, a few people played music and danced around it, and that somehow created a sense of togetherness.
The duality of meaning that can be interpreted from this work is what makes it wonderful. If viewed in person, there is a sense of solemnity and loneliness as it is sitting in the middle of a vast space. Viewing it online via the live stream brings a whole lot more meaning when you see people getting together and interacting with the work, bringing a sense of unity. For me, it somehow carries the message that in these uncertain times, people need to get together to overcome the hardships.
Meat on a Chopping Block was exhibited from Oct 23 – Nov 15 at KongsiKL, Jalan Klang Lama.
Danial Fuad is a participant of the CENDANA-ASWARA Arts Writing Mentorship Programme 2020-2021