There is a special kind of fragility in a mannequin stripped bare, fused with a pillow filled with all the sadness in the world. Or a chair slumped in a corner, defeated and deflated, with its legs like blue tentacles sprawled over the floor.
A nearby mirror reads: “Bet You Will Break Before I Do”, the words stare back at you in hysterical neon. It is the most passive aggressive mirror you will ever meet, but you are numb to its taunts and everything else around you.
Joshua Kane Gomes’ solo debut These Things We Do at KL’s Richard Koh Fine Art is all hard rain beating against window panes and listening to how the beating of your heart drowns out the noise of the world.
But it is also feels like the only familiar face in an ever-surging crowd because melancholy and solitude are what bind us.
Gomes, 25, is convinced of that, and who are we to disagree.
“Sad feelings and experiences truly have an impact on us. They have more of an influence on shaping who we are, than happy feelings do,” says Gomes in a recent interview at the Bangsar-based gallery.
“It is human nature to cling on to them, that’s just a unique attribute that these ‘negative’ emotions tend to have. We numb ourselves to deal with the pain, but you know in the back of your head that it is there, just waiting for the day you let it in again. We all know these feelings, this is what connects us all.”
In person, the Selangor-born artist looks contemplative, but in the conversation, he is animated and lively as they come.
He paints vivid pictures with familiar phrases: “in a slump”, “lost in my own thoughts”, “staring at the ceiling, lying on the floor after a hard day … too tired to even get into bed”. He keeps it simple, unpretentious.
Gomes is not looking for pity or sympathy, he is looking for a connection.
“Each work stems from a different sort of pain,” says Gomes about the 11 works in These Things We Do.
It’s the sort of pain that has simmered for ages, ideas that have been brewing for a long time, says Gomes. But he just did not know what to do with them. Now that they have materialised into something concrete, he finds that it feels good, even liberating.
“I wanted to put as much of myself into this show as I can. It can be simple but profound, and I think some people will find unexpected surprises here. It comes from a sad and melancholic place, but it is a very self-aware space too. Despite this exhibition being about personal pain, I wanted it to have some levity as well. Hopefully, people will enjoy the quirky elements I have included,” he says.
One of the more eye-catching pieces here is surely Gap Space, a monster of a bear trap that comes complete with chain and … detachable teeth. It is inspired by the people who walk into our lives, and then take a part of you with them when they leave. These are gaps in life with jagged edges, an emptiness that grows, but cannot be filled.
“When you invest in someone emotionally, you end up giving away a part of yourself. When they walk out of your life, they take that part with them. You save a seat for them, even if you know they will never return. You hope – but it is a dangerous thing to do, waiting for them like this. And it is equally dangerous for new people to step into those spaces,” he explains.
In the These Things We Do exhibit, Gomes works with multiple objects and ideas that have all been turned into wall-bound, ceiling hung and free-standing assemblages.
His Carapace series, for example, started as hermit crabs connected with rope. The incorporation of mannequins came later, lending a quiet and eerie feeling to the work.
“I deviated from the hermit crab shells because I didn’t want something recognisable, but still wanted to keep the oceanic element in the work. I think there is something quite lonely about the sea, but it also has this feeling of being very connected at the same time,” he says.
Gomes is a graduate of the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts in Singapore, where he studied under the Tuition Grant For Art Institutions, awarded by the ministry of education in Singapore. He is also the recipient of the Cheong Kam Hee Art Prize in 2017.
In his artist statement for These Things We Do, he states, “Here I present to you, moments I hope we have shared, moments of introspection, of tenderness, of melancholy, and these things we do.”
So it is through isolation that we find ourselves? Maybe, the answer is yes.
These Things We Do runs at Richard Koh Fine Art, 229, Jalan Maarof, Bangsar in KL till March 30. Open: 10am to 7pm (Tuesday to Saturday). For more info, call 03-2095 3300 or visit www.rkfineart.com.