Heman Chong on Linking Painting and Literature

Heman Chong has been working on Cover (Versions) since 2009, a series of paintings of imaginary book covers and to date, he has 335 paintings, and is still adding to the series.

Chong will be showcasing 66 of these paintings next month as part of an exhibition, “Of Indeterminate Time Or Occurrence”, at FOST Gallery, running Mar 7 through May 4.

To what does the title refer?

“Of Indeterminate Time Or Occurrence” refers to a situation where you can't quite place your finger on something that has happened; whether it's a figment of your imagination or an actual event, the boundaries between the two completely overlap. It's a reference to how stories are ways in which we construct our idea of the world, and in turn, our own identity. Things remains very ambiguous for most people most of the time, but we often elect to live our lives regardless of these confusions. In a way, the point is not to gain clarity about life, but to learn to deal with its many layers of contradictions, and to find a way to make do.

What can you tell me about the new book covers?

So far I have utilized that same size (18 by 24 inches) and the same typeface (DIN) throughout the entire series. I am interested in creating an object that relies solely on the language of painting, but at the same time could be something else altogether; that finally, it becomes both a journey into the language of painting, graphic design, and literature. I envision the works to be likened to book recommendations, not unlike how you would pick a book based on a cover you're attracted to. So in a way, there is also a relationship to advertising and propaganda. As with most of my work, it compresses different things into one plane enticing the viewer to unravel the complexities behind it layer by layer. I enjoy this conversation with my audience. They have to be active in looking at my work, rather than remain a passive spoon-fed zombie. There's a lot to see, but there's also a lot of work required to access the pieces.

The exhibition will also present Never (Again) (2013), a neon sign artwork. Had you worked with neon before?

This neon sign states NEVER / AGAIN, flickering between red and yellow in an endless loop. The work uses two diagrammatically opposing terms to feed off each other to suggest the ambivalence of the state of artistic production where everything attempts to be new, but the fact remains that nothing can come from nothing. I have previously made a permanent neon work that is installed at the facade of Art In General in New York City. It's a flickering sign that reads 'SAM BECKETT COME HOME'.

What are you reading now?

I'm constantly re-reading '2666' by Roberto BolaƱo and am in my fourth re-read right now. Along with that massive tome, I am reading 'Ministry of Moral Panic' by Amanda Lee Koe, 'The Sound and the Mountain' by Yasunari Kawabata and 'Your Republic is calling you' by Young-Ha Kim.

When are you going to finish your own book?

I have absolutely no idea. It's really a f**king big mess right now. Maybe another five years or so.

As first published on BlouinArtinfo.com