A tectonic shift is as much a process of movement as it is about growth.
But rather than a shift deep in the Earth’s core, contemporary artist Choy Chun Wei sees massive tectonic change in the visual language of society around us.
“Tectonics has three implications for me as an artist: the shifting of spaces we live in, the advertising that surrounds us constantly and Tectons, people who want to create new things out of existing materials,” he explains.
In the studio, Choy seeks to transcend the (collage art) process beyond simple cut and pasting. He intends to build more complex structures and ideas using found material. In his latest solo exhibition Tectonic Traces, Choy ventures from canvas to wood panel as a base for his works.
The show is currently on at Wei-Ling Contemporary, The Gardens Mall in KL.
“I want to evolve and push even further, and for that the wood base is a more robust, sturdy platform. I can apply so many cuttings, layer upon layer, then paint over or sand it down. It helps trigger my imagination,” says Choy, who is also a lecturer.
Tectonic Traces, his sixth solo exhibition to date, also marks a return to the Wei-Ling gallery, which also hosted his solo shows Kaleidoscopic Landscapes (2007) and Here And Now (2011).
During a recent interview at the gallery, Choy walks through the space, showing how his 12 new pieces look more like vibrant impressionist landscapes from a distance. But they reveal a complex cityscape of wood squares, rectangles and advertising slogans, cut from pamphlets and magazines.
“As you move forward or backwards, you’ll see it differently based on how you’re limited by the cone of vision. It’s like being in your own movie in how you can choose to see it,” he suggests.
In the past, some observers have accused Choy of of repeating his collage works. These days, the artist says he is exploring a more focused path.
“When I was doing my postgraduate last year, I thought about the concept of subtracting. When something is subtracted, what is left (behind) is more prominent. So the ‘blocking out’ process is as important as addition,” he says.
Born in Kuala Lumpur, Choy has made a name for himself with his unmistakable collage works.
Since graduating in 1998 with a Graphic Design Degree (Honours) from the world-renowned Central Saint Martin’s School of Art, London, Choy has kept pushing and evolving his art. His early works were denser and more monochromatic.
A decade after his significantly expansive and colourful Kaleidoscopic Landscapes show, Choy has not looked back when it comes to building and assembling (with new materials).
He also completed his Master of Arts (Visual Arts) from Universiti Malaya last year. It was something he dragged on, somewhat, over the last four years, the 44-year-old admits.
Today, Choy’s use of subtraction is most evident on the business cards scattered throughout the Tectonic Traces works. They’re covered in grey sand, obscuring most of the individual’s personal information except for each card’s stated occupation.
Choy says this “decontextualisation” is necessary when repurposing found objects, where viewers can apply their own narratives to the works.
Another curious mis-usage of people’s identity comes from the artefacts on Forgotten Facts, taken from his previous project The Human Landscape, which showed at Art Basel Hong Kong 2014.
The Human Landscape featured a single gargantuan painting on canvas, which was done live on-site in HK. For this work, he collected business cards and had viewers in HK share random bits of personal information – like their names, shoe size or nationality – on scrap paper that he later pasted on the canvas. He “reharvested” these scraps of paper for this show.
In work called Rambling, a newspaper collage, you will find extracts of actual headlines that are cut and placed on canvas following nothing but Choy’s intuition, forming new meanings often absurd. Overlaying these linear arrangements of words, the artist drops paint and sand in an intense manner – giving birth to robust and burnt effects – so as to break the flow of messages.
This idea of repurposing continues in Choy’s Future Stars, one of his more cynical pieces.
The work discusses the crass nature of modern sport and how something like football has lost its soul.
Choy, who was a footballer when he was young, now feels that the professional game is all about mindless hype and noise.
In reflecting that, the Future Stars piece is covered with headlines about superstar footballers, their success, lavish lives and obscene transfer fees. Everything is made indistinguishable with advertising blurbs added to the work, promising greatness in equal measure.
Choy warns that viewers shouldn’t be so naive with images and graphic design.
“I want to build subtle provocations about what they (the collage elements) are. I don’t want the effect on a painting to just be an effect, I want them to engage that and see what it means in the world around us,” he sums up.
Tectonic Traces is on at Wei-Ling Contemporary gallery, The Gardens Mall in Kuala Lumpur till Nov 30. The gallery is open Tuesday to Sunday, from 11am to 7pm. Call 03-2282 8323. Visit: weiling-gallery.com.