“Life goes on” may be the best way to describe the photographic and filmic works of Sherman Ong. During a residency in Hanoi, Vietnam, the artist found himself inside a van during a terrible storm and was struck by the debilitating force of hail and rain. He watched, through the torrential downpour, and was inspired by what he saw: the instinctive human response to crisis. In two series of photographs, “Monsoon” and “Spurious Landscapes”—on view now at Singapore’s Art Plural Gallery—Ong explores the intersections and interventions that occur between man and nature; of particular interest are the coping mechanisms that humans develop in order to thrive.
“I have always been interested in telling stories about the human condition—living, dying, loving, hoping, forgetting and longing—and how we organize and regulate our lives and our environment,” Ong explains. In search of universal imagery and borderless issues, he travels the world to photograph natural interventions and catastrophes and the resulting human responses. “I wanted to capture the mood of the monsoon and how it affects human mobility and the surrounding urban environment,” he says of his “Monsoon” works, a particularly meaningful subject in Southeast Asia, where many regions revolve around storm cycles. “For me, the intervention of the monsoon on the landscape and the body underscores the relationship between nature and man within a constructed urban setting.” The series includes blurred photographs of people on motorbikes that capture a sense of urgency, as well as the natural tendency to seek escape.
Alternatively, “Spurious Landscapes” presents constructed narratives based on experiences the artist encountered in Spain, Vietnam, Singapore, and Brazil. Challenging photography’s documentary quality, these works express, in Ong’s words, “the in-betweeness of things, the uncertainty, the hybridity of situations and the intersection between real and surreal.” A boy runs a lawn mower over a concrete court; bare legs peek out from endless fields of tall grass; a naked person hangs from the roof of a desolate shack: these are just some of Ong’s mysterious tableaux. Each work is framed in ambiguity—and Ong prefers to leave them that way.
“Sherman Ong: Spurious Stories from the Land and Water” is on view at Art Plural Gallery, Singapore, April 24th–May 31st, 2014.