The "Night Shift": Alvin Ong in Hong Kong
For Alvin Ong, it’s physical. The Singapore-born artist whose painterly practice presents the human body in all its shame and glory, finds self-isolation and the lockdown setting an opportunity for new exploration. Limitations of the surrounding elements and the complete absence of physical social interaction are some aspects Ong explores in the body of work that comprises Night Shift, his solo exhibition currently on view at the Mine Project in Hong Kong.
"Like everyone else, it’s the human touch and interactions I miss the most during the lockdown, even as I try to convince myself otherwise," Ong tells Juxtapoz about the most difficult aspect of pandemic protocols. "I have noticed that the figures and settings in my recent work have also become much more solitary." This sudden shift towards portraying longing and loneliness in the current exhibition contrasts with his May 2020 solo show in Sydney where characters enjoyed the outdoors in the company of friends and partners. Paralyzed in a space between imminent deadlines and "the rest" of his life put on hold, Ong’s work quickly shifted to introspection and the depiction of a barren, numb and stagnant indoors, condemned to routine. Furniture, potted plants on window sills and floor tiles indicate the interior, while the artist's mind often drifts outward, dreaming of a luminescent moon shining in the sky or wave-lapping ocean. "I experimented with methods of toying with space in my paintings, alongside conscious decisions to subtract and move towards solutions that were much more minimal," the artist relates to us about how surroundings are used to complement the scenes. "The screens and windows have become even more abstracted, and objects began blurring into one another. It’s harder to distinguish between the inside and outside. Perhaps it’s a result of me spending much more time indoors, even as I’m continuously fed images from the external world through my screens and devices."
This entire body of work is a result of the artist's own experience prolonging his stay in Singapore and converting a room in his parents’ house into a home studio. Coffee breaks, trying on outfits, and endless hours spent behind the blue-light screen while searching for connectivity with others, are some personal snapshots Ong. With postures succumbing to boredom, emptiness, contemplation, or restlessness, the subjects are reduced to physical presences reduced to a blurr. Notable in the series are small portraits where the artist chose to alternate and change gears of the presentation. "The small works are like a breath. I would revisit them between bouts of working on the larger pieces. They are like intervals in my studio routine." the artist explains about translating his studio dynamic for the gallery experience. Created as a counterbalance to the larger works, these pieces are prompt introspection about subject and mood. Rendered with expressive brushwork employing a spare spectrum of colors, these portraits movingly depict the body's volume, movement, or time passage, while completely removing the context or the atmosphere. "Sometimes, swapping their positions yields surprising results and they get worked on further. The result is a compression of time and multiple states of being. Time is the key ingredient here I suppose," the artist concludes, suggesting how the weight of time defines our current reality. —Sasha Bogojev