Confusion Illusion

Artificial Moons III, Kane Phang, shown at ICAS, LASALLE

BY DIANA THAM

The sign outside the glass door covered with black drapery warns viewers of what was to be expected: a video installation, some glass panels, and be confusion. In Psychology, we learn that once you tell people something that they should expect, they increase their defense mechanisms so as not to fall into what’s expected of them. Thus, I was determined not to let the installation confuse me, which seemed to be what the artist expected

The installation was placed at the corner of the space, so that visitors would be faced with an L-shaped wall upon entering. Two video projections played simultaneously and it was hard to focus on one while trying not to avert one’s gaze towards the other. Glass panels were placed in front of the videos in an apparently haphazard way, with no guidance as to how to approach them or what we should do to them. Placed within arm’s length, it was tempting to touch them and move them in some manner, not something which we normally expect to do. There were also arrows and crosses marked on the floor, I followed the arrows, which led me in a zig-zag manner across the various glass panels.

Side view of the reflective glass panels, swirling mirrors and video installation on the wall

The first video seemed to be exactly what the artist, Kane Phang, wanted to achieve: a re-enactment of the disoriented mindscape of a person that showed detachment from the spirit and the body caused by urbanization. This was easily achieved through the constant readjustment of the lens, focusing and re-focusing on blurred images moving at an extremely fast speed, switching back and forth images of escalators and city lights, forest images and city scenes as if the person was unable to distinguish between the two. The setup of the room, completely covered in black and containing those glass panels and swirling mirrors (more on them later), with switching sounds coming from the projector above, created a setting that was devoid of emotions and contextual cues. It was easy for the visitor to forget that they are actually in the basement of an arts school, and to respond instead to environmental cues from the videos, constantly switching between the city and the forest. Disorientation was passed onto the viewer.

Through the second video, Phang used ambiguous photographic images that forced visitors to impose their own emotions onto them. There did not seem to be a link between all the images, most of them were familiar scenes portrayed from different perspectives. It was difficult to try to find any similar patterns between them, but if the viewer just focused on each image as it came up on the screen, there’s a certain sense of creepiness that was engulfing and overwhelming. Most of the photos were taken late at night, empty roads and orange streetlights created a somber atmosphere. Underground tunnels,or big open spaces suggested the irational presence of ghosts. These suspicions were enhanced by one particular image of a dark figure with long hair seen at the end of a tunnel. As the space we occupy is also very dark and empty, it reinforces the feeling of isolation and fear. The emptiness of the images provoked the question – where did the people go? A lone bench or an empty escalator, an “Out” sign, or staircases lit by bright fluorescent lights. However, some people did appear but they were not in a conventional way. A person being constantly and repeatedly jolted awake; another red-lit figure with hands all over his body, the suggestion of sexual activity. Then, when an image of a conventional happy couple appeared, instead of giving reassurance, it’s disjuncture reinforced the sinister atmosphere. Phang cleverly conjures a sense of creepiness, frightening the viewer with their own thoughts imposed on these ambiguous images. The glass panels then show the viewer’s reflection, reinforcing the disturbance. One possible reading of these strange, urban images is to make a statement about our discomfort with the city.

Confusion was important to Phang. This is clearly demonstrated through the video installation whereby at first glance it seems that the sequences don’t make sense, and only after watching repeatedly does the viewer get a glimpse as to what it might be revealed. The glass panels also add to the confusion. Initially, it looks as though the glass panels are merely reflecting the videos. However, the marked crosses were where visitors had to stand, and these led to different reflections of the two videos, creating a juxtaposition of each image from one video onto the second video. As though the video installation itself is not enough to confuse the viewers, the combination of both videos together makes viewers even more disorientated. The occasional city was superimposed onto a natural landscape, but other than that it was pretty hard to guess Phang’s intentions.

Viewers can twirl the string of the mirrors that have images from the videos projected onto it.

Lastly, there were two circular mirrors hanging from the ceilings, which served as “artificial moons”. The dark shadows of these “moons” appeared on every image of both videos, constantly reminding viewers of the transience of time and life. The mirrors were held to the ceiling by a string, constantly turning and reflecting a fragmented image of the video projection. This created a dizzying image as the mirror projection moved across the room depending on how fast the string unwound, and sometimes it cut across the glass panels creating a sudden blinding light at the corner of our eyes. If you read a very small almost unnoticeable sign, you would know that visitors were allowed to move the mirror ourselves by winding up the screen or simply moving the mirror back and forth, to vary the speed and direction of the projection across the room. Perhaps this re-emphasized the idea of transience, but it also added some interaction between visitors and the installation, which was fun, but didn’t enhance the experience of confusion and disorientation that is consistent with the rest of the piece.

So, I failed to go against expectations, this was a confusing and frustrating experience. Nevertheless, Artificial Moons III worked emotionally and artistically. Concepts of urbanization and disorientation were explored in a creative manner. I think.

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