Gordon Cheung Captures the Beginning and End of Civilization at London’s Edel Assanti
Currently featured in the critically acclaimed Azerbaijani pavilion at the Venice Biennial, The Abyss Stares Back,” the London-based, Royal College of Art alum meditates on the tensions between civilization and conquest in the digital age. His new paintings, imagined landscapes and still lifes that are richly layered both physically and conceptually, manifest the familiar adage, “history repeats itself,” while picturing an apocalyptic world punctuated by political issues of the present.
Cheung’s works could be understood as a sci-fi spin on
Inspired by current political conflicts, the works specifically target issues pertaining to world powers. In one painting, Cheung conjures a maze-like arrangement by mixing paint and sand, recalling the ancient Nazca lines in Peru and recalling sci-fi’s fascination with the dawn of ancient civilizations. However, the lines map out an aerial view of the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, perhaps offering up the notorious, disreputable prison as the premise for an end-of-the-world scenario. Other works make references to Chinese land and residential disputes and arms manufacturing.
Cheung’s geopolitical dystopia is meant to denounce the neoliberal West and foreshadow its demise. He pictures a skewed political system that has conquered and ingrained itself so fully into life that it forms the very bedrock for cities, deserts, mountains, and civilizations. Perversely haunting the scenes are loaded motifs like American cowboys and ghosts appropriated from Scooby-Doo cartoons— symbols meant to invoke paranoia and politics.
What “stares back” in Cheung’s works, more than anything, is a reflection of our collective anxieties. While these scenes are grounded in salient political issues, it is Cheung’s ability to realize masterful, lucid visions of a sci-fi dystopia that resonate most with the viewer.
“The Abyss Stares Back” is on view at Edel Assanti, London, Oct. 9–Nov. 21, 2015.