[Exhibition Review #1]
Animal Farm Video Series
By Ching-Hui Chou
Art Stage Singapore 2017
I chanced upon the ‘Animal Farm’ by Chou Ching-hui, a Taiwanese artist, at Art Stage Singapore 2017. Videos works are rare in art fairs hence, making it hard to miss especially with its three-channel video set-up.
While this snapshot shows the three screens simultaneously playing the same scene, there are selected parts where only one screen plays a different scene and some other parts where all screens play different scenes.
Due to time constraint, I could only watch one (out of 9 films). The film started with a pristine setting where a myriad of beauty tools laid across a counter. Someone then picks up one of the tool and starts ‘beautifying’ a toy doll. Then we see a teenage girl applying makeup while looking intently into the mirror, as if almost unaware to her surroundings and the camera. There is almost no dialogue for these scenes yet a lot is conveyed through the well-curated setting and careful choice of props. The pristine setting, the deliberate placement of props and the controlled movements of the actress reiterates the notion of order throughout the film.
This ties well with the theme of the work regarding the ‘inescapable yet gradually numbing human condition in the contemporary social and cultural environment (we) lived in’. The title ‘Animal Farm’ is not an allegory for the English literature book but a rather a metaphor of the modern contemporary society. ‘Farm’ here refers to a caged environment where the living is confined within and onlookers could watch them from the outside (and past judgment). This draws parallel to our modern day society where we tend to create ‘cages’ for ourselves such as keeping up with beauty standards. (I don’t think I explain this well but s’okay)
What I really love about this work is that every single aspect of the film is carefully curate, likening every single frame to a well-composed painting. The details of the setting are all constructed, the props are carefully selected and placed and the actress has an almost perfect elegance to her movements. Mastery of light control is definitely reflected in the film and the thoughtful (slow) camera panning allows viewers to study the finer details of the work. (It’s like the technical aspect of Wes Anderson films but a totally different style!)
The artist had also created a series of photography works under the similar title – ‘Animal Farm’. The photography works are just as great as the video works in its narrative through details. I could stand there for a whole 5-10 minutes studying the 108cmx148cm photographs. To shoot the photographs in a zoo definitely adds value to the work and its meaning.
While the videos ‘can be viewed as extensions or variations of the photographic works of the series’, I personally think it is an extension as it introduces the dimension of time and creates a more immersive environment. The videos were more effect in conveying the monotony of contemporary lives.
Nevertheless, both works has its own merits.