Heart of Darkness


Heart of Darkness

The title refers to the book by Joseph Conrad in which the motif of darkness reflects the unknown, ‘primal darkness’ contrasted with the ‘light of civilization’ and the ambiguity of both - the dark motives of civilisation and the freedom of the primal. It is the book that inspired the film Apocalypse Now by Francis Ford Coppola where an assassin undertakes an odyssey in the epic tradition of Homer and the Orpheus myth journey’s into the darkness of the human soul up a river to find a rogue commander to terminate with ‘extreme prejudice’. It’s also about the way how the commander (played by Marlon Brando) has over-identified with the horrific military system to such an extent that he is able to truly understand and oppose its horrors.

Gordon Cheung’s exhibition of paintings has conceived his first solo show in Brazil as a retranslation of this archetypal story converging it with our contemporary life at the dawn of the new millenium.
The communications and digital revolutions have collapsed notions of time and distance into the instant reconfiguring our perceptions of time and space into a state of flux. The 90s Utopic euphoria of the digital frontiers, information superhighways, cyberspace and global villages gave way to technophobic hysteria of apocalypse from the Millenium Bug along with the technology stock and dot com bubble crash. We entered the new millenia with one threatening wave of apocalypse after another such as Enron and Worldcom corrupting and collapsing along with the 911 attacks and the world’s only superpower announcing a global War on Terror while the world also grappled with it’s fragile relationship to nature itself.

In Gordon Cheung’s paintings the Financial Times stock listings are used as a metaphor for a globalised virtual space that literally saturates and affects our lives. Essentially the paintings can be understood as a hyper-paint-by-number depicting a virtual landscape oscillating between Utopia and Dystopia, Heaven and the Underworld. His use of collage, oils, arcylics, Chinese ink, sprays, gels and computers collide to blast sepia images with technicolour voids and thermal visions that hover between being a flourecent dream and a delirious hallucination. The paintings fragmentary multi-layered nature seeks to provide deconstructive pathways to reveal the fractures in the glossy surfaces of modern life so that we might slip beyond to the emergent patterns of what shapes our world. Cheung invites us to undertake a journey through his paintings that reflect the techno-sublime where information overwhelms the individual causing a flickering perception of realities blurring between the virtual and actual.

First Room – Earth
This represents the start of the journey on the universal theme of Earth. This room is surrounded by modern day hunters who represent our contemporary moment in this era where advanced civilisation has virtually eliminated the need to hunt and where in this primal vacuum it has created in it’s place a touristic hunter who can pay to kill for entertainment. They represent a personification of our times in which our dominant economic ideology encourages us to hunt for prestige, power and status. Moreover as our relationship to nature becomes more urgent with the dawn of our new millenia, these images found via hunting websites symbolise a juncture where we are in the process of grasping a respect for nature by fully embracing the distortions of our relationship to the very foundations of our life otherwise sliding our future closer to the end of the world.

Second Room – Spectral Threshold
This room represents the blurred dimension of one world to the next. The riders here are ghost like entities, one on a bull and the other on a horse. The bull is a reference to the Bull market and the cowboy on the horse an icon of America.

Main Room – The Trilogy
This is the final room containing the epic large scale paintings dealing with the themes of Earth, Paradise and the Underworld. Drawing upon multiple references and iconography it taps into the archetypal space of our collective unconscious and ambiguosly blurs the post apocalyptic and hope.
Neon Shadows deals with the notion of paradise but appears more like a toxic psychedaelic version. It is as though the 4 horsemen (of the apocalypse?) have managed to take over.
Decisive Moment works with the idea of Earth and is based on the introductory section of Stanley Kubrick’s film 2001, a metaphor in itself of our new dawn at the beginning of a new millenium. It is the specific moment in which at the dawn of man he realises that by using a weapon (a bone) as a means of conquest would allow him to territorially take over the oasis of life. The moment he touches the pool is when he has crossed the threshold into becoming a consciously violent creature. The next cinematic moment sees this ape-man throw the bone into the air and Kubrick edits into a floating space ship. A fantastic cinematic iconic moment where the impication is that advanced civilisation is developed and fused with aggression and violence.

Hollow Sunsets is about the universal theme of the Underworld and although was the earliest painting to be made for this solo show comes full circle to represent the last. As with all the paintings they all leave the viewer to decide at which point they wish to take this journey and perhaps fittingly with this painting we are offered a mesmerising melancholic vista to contemplate at the end.

Charlie G. Hare