Review on Moving Average: Media Art Exhibition by Kenny Wong
at 3:20pm on 27th January 2019
1. dist.duo相距・倆. The work is inspired from the moment of intimacy in eye contact and the indefinite variables in relationships.
2. Undermine.interim_1傾覆・暫_1. A broken TV panel which has lost its original functionality. Instead, the TV display shows fragments of glitches that cannot be reproduced.
3. The Canvas of Resonance 聲幻共振. The Canvas of Resonance is a sound and visual
installation inspired by the use of simple metal sheets to produce sound effects for cinema, TV and radio by Foley artists in the pre-digital age.
4. Undermine傾覆. Undermine – to weaken or cause to collapse by removing underlying support, as by digging away or eroding the foundation.
Photo courtesy of the artist and ifva.
So familiar with palm-sized, prosthetic, personalized digital devices is the urban dweller today that domestic machines other than those promising portability seem alien. Recently, a student of mine spoke of those having watched television in black and white as ‘ancients’. ‘Do they also dream in black and white?’ he asked. Alien still, though in a different form, in different contexts.
In Kenny Wong’s art making, the technological is relevant but in a much more complex way. In Moving Average, Wong addresses contemporary techno-culture by re-conceptualising the human relation with static, dated, and standardized machines. He regulates his body of works against forcing spectacle out of skills and craftsmanship, while not losing touch with the qualities of life that elucidate how the artist works – instinct, trust, and ardour in his/ her labour. To perceive all these, Moving Average requires reading beyond and between the lines – literally (of lines as geometrical ‘things’) and metaphorically (of lines that the artist orchestrates in the air, invisible but perceptible).
Moving Average presents seven new and old works, most of which kinetic sculptures incorporating digital and computational elements. While the curatorial intent is to show processes of Wong’s artistic production to give his body of work a certain closure and completeness, I find engaging with four particular works as two pairs of ideas that contextualize each other revealing of his artistic concerns.
The first pair is dist.duo (2018) and Undermine (2016). dist.duo is an installation of two videos, each showing a close-up of a human eye. The two video screens are suspended from the ceiling as pendulums. Motorized discs act as flywheels that store rotational energy at the top of the pendulum arms, thrusting them into motion as they accelerate and decelerate. They are set up to on the same vertical plane, swinging towards each other. Tension mounts as they close in onto each other, as if they might crash. The reason they do not is that the artist has programmed the screens to turn when they reach a particular height as informed by real-time data from computerized sensors.
Considering how Wong regards this work as “offering him a complete answer to sculpture”  after three years of hard work, one could come up with yet another interpretation – an intersection of triangles as geometrical figures and the planes they conceive in motion, hence the sculpting of both space and time. Imagine each pendulum swing drawing trajectories of triangles in mid-air; two sets of them configure independently while also overlapping.
There is yet another plane the kinetic sculpture produces – as viewers stand or sit to experience the work, another plane between their bodies and the moving pendulums is formed. This plane is horizontal, flat or slanted, and varying in shape and volume depending on how the viewer chooses to be with the work. No matter, the vertical and horizontal planes wedge into each other. It is interesting to me that one needs to explore this spatial relation before settling with the personal-best distance to experience the work – too close presents danger; too far flattens the experience. Wong says dist-duo is a commentary on the alienating human condition where eye contact is hard to come by in everyday experience. I find it also challenging the one-sided prominence given to the eye by social conventions, hierarchized to be the holder and knower of truth, only now mutilated and deflated by Wong’s gestures.
Perhaps it is this unfulfilled state of being (with oneself and others as living beings, and with otherness in general) that opens a gate for Undermine to set in, to both counter and contain dist-duo in concept and in form. Undermine – completely handmade by the artist – is a rotating mix-media sculpture, mounted on the wall facing dist.duo. With one end being pointed and circumscribed as hollow in the shape of an arrow, and the other end being rectilineal as an open circuit board, Undermine looks lopsided in weight. At the centre is a LED TV screen, which, in relation to its two ends, seems oversized, but in fact, fragile as a thin glass pane. A video of a person’s spinning long hair seen from top-down is playing. The screen itself also spins, but in the opposite direction. The sculpture is driven into motion by a small propeller at its pointed end.
Undermine and dist.duo share geometrical elements – the figures of rectangle, circle, and triangle. But they are driven to move in different ways. Undermine rotates, hence drawing trajectories of a circle with an uneven thickness of invisible strokes. One is reminded of the roly-poly – heavy and light on two ends, accommodating in its motion a tinge of light-heartedness, but also as if powered by some willed tenacity to not fall or fail. Read as dist.duo’s counterpoint, the circular motion of Undermine resolves the tension in dist.duo, or, it finds anchorage in one focal point of self-absorbed contentment; in comparison, dist.duo seems not interested in anchorage altogether. It is not clear if wall-mounting Undermine might have created more barriers for its embodiment than conditions for its liberation, but the artist’s pursuit towards reconciliation of the conflicting conditions is evident.
The other pair of works I find symbiotic of each other are Undermine-interim_1 and The Canvas of Resonances – again, both completely hand-made by the artist. They are placed at the two extreme ends of the gallery – one at a corner at the entrance, the other at the last room. Undermine-interim_1 is a disassembled LED TV screen tilted to one side on the ground, as if crash-landed at a corner of no consequence. The power button turns it on and off at the sound of a click. When on, the broken display shows glitches from within its own pre-set parameters. As if opaque monochrome drawings stacked upon each other, the glitches seem to be shying away from light in the gallery, humbly breathing in and breathing out. The Canvas of Resonances is an installation of four metal sheets of varying thickness rattling in its own unique resonant frequencies under a horizontal beam of white, slowly flickering light.
I find Undermine-interim_1 and The Canvas of Resonances the inside and outside of each other for several reasons. If Undermine-interim_1 has come out of The Canvas of Resonances, the latter is a sonic and tactile translation of lines of grey I the former, with a subdued but restless visual quality. If, on the other hand, The Canvas of Resonances has come out of Undermine-interim_1, the former can be read as a sonic refraction bounced out of the unruly sculpture, accentuating its persistent stutters. Together, they compel the imagination of nocturnal objects whispering to each other at a distance, as if with the provident power of a cosmic shelter.
By way of closing, I would like to revisit Wong’s love of the triangle – to him, still a mystery. I wonder if Wong has been thinking like Euclid. Euclid’s attempt to articulate elements of a certain order of nature that the human mind can only imagine but not substitute for with actual things in the sensory world comes through in Wong’s gestures. The two worlds nevertheless come into an ever-unfolding dialogue. In Euclid’s Elements, the definition of a triangle is a series of rigorous mental steps. One might begin from Definition 1, to recognize a point as “that which has no part”. Then, in the case of Wong’s sculptures that draw lines in space and time, one could move onto Definition 4: “A straight line is a line which lies evenly with the points on itself.” In the way Wong’s works primarily deal with surfaces as planes, one could then move on to Definition 7, which says “a plane surface is a surface which lies evenly with the straight lines on itself.” One could imagine the form of dist.duo stretched out as one plane upon the other, taking into account viewers’ bodies in relation to it. With these, a “figure” gradually takes shape. Its lines are not just length (Definition 2), but “boundaries”: “A boundary is that which is an extremity of anything.” (Definition 13) It is the outer-most edge of anything the one wants to consider within the boundary – the “figure”. (Definition 14) Finally, the triangle is mentally conceived: one begins from the right angles of the rectilineal to the obtuse and acute angles of the triangle.
I find Euclid relevant because Moving Average aligns geometry, objecthood, motion, and universal physical laws of nature. Wong’s works are simultaneously prying into containment of figures by boundaries and challenging them by undermining their stability that containment promises. He is interested in setting up lines to make angles, while also making an expanse out of them. This is the kind of abstraction Wong challenges us to accomplish in our thinking, to see beyond what’s readily available, defined and named by social conventions. Where figures do not come by in the sensible world, Wong describes and prescribes by referring to a different order. It is perhaps this incommensurability between the two that appeals to the artist.
The expanse Wong creates as the human-machine interface is multifaceted. His ambition reminds me of the title of a book of letters to children on why human beings read: “The Velocity of Being”. In Moving Average, velocity underlies the dispensation of energy of objects. But the artist is also after the velocity of being, how it is fully immersed in and questions the world of techno-mania – Moving Average seems like a teaser for more to come. Iris Murdoch says “How far reshaping involves offences against truth is a problem any artist must face. A deep motive for making literature or art of any sort is the desire to defeat the formlessness of the world and cheer oneself up by constructing forms out of what might otherwise seem a mass of senseless rubble.” (Existentialists and Mystics: Writings on Philosophy and Literature , 1997) Perhaps the objects Wong lends attention and curiosity to are his compass and straightedge working together to measure the universe as much as the mystery and truth of art in one stroke.
 from the artist’s Instagram, accessed December 31, 2018
This article was first published in CoBo Social, Jan 2019.