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
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
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