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.
“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.