Don’t leave the dark alone / Gallery Exit / Hong Kong / Aug 14 – Sep 18, 2021 /
Two women and a man with a horned goat’s head sit around a table, bearing frustrated and contemplative expressions, a crucifix affixed on the wall behind looming over them. In this latest ink creation, Not Even God or the Devil Know How to Handle This (2021), artist Oscar Chan Yik-Long puts a reversed anthropomorphic twist on a scene from Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s 1974 film Ali: Fear Eats the Soul. Here, Chan replaces Fassbinder’s head with that of a goat, often used as a demonic symbol, removing the scene from its original context and transforming it into his own phantasmagoric creation. This practice is ubiquitous throughout his most recent exhibition, Don’t leave the dark alone, at Gallery Exit.
“’Fear eats the soul’ is exactly what I’ve been feeling and thinking,” says Chan in an interview, reflecting on the harrowing events engulfing the world over the past few years. “The world has gone through so much trauma, from Covid to climate change, even [neither] God nor the devil knows what to do. How do they respond to this mess that we’ve created?”
A phantasmagoric amalgamation of myth, horror, the fantastical and the occult, the ink murals, drawings and tapestry on view reflect the artist’s attempts to engage with and confront his fears head on. In fact, one of his phobias – horror films, especially from the 70s and 80s – provide rich source material for his work. In an effort to control his fear, the artist forced himself to watch many horror films during endless months in Covid lockdown, which he spent in France, and his fear evolved into fascination.
How do we know if the dead would not regret their efforts to survive? (2020) prompts viewers to physically confront their fears. Chan’s signature ambiguous but eerie black-and-white imagery is embedded in a large, circular, woollen rug placed on the floor, a surface simultaneously inviting and intimidating. Above on the wall, a circular outline of the rug is intended to be a point of meditation, but also functions as a sort of portal, according to Chan, reflecting his attraction to the mystical and mythical.
The portal concept is mirrored in 120 Judge John Aiso Street (2020), which mimic curtains featuring crowds of figures with distorted features and monstrous accessories. Largely inspired by John Carpenter’s films, the imagery also includes carnvial festivities and other rituals. Similar to Not Even God or the Devil Know How to Handle This (2021), the rest of the works, while referring to films, are devoid of contextual background and are constructed intuitively, imbuing them with an almost surrealist quality.
Emblematic of the artist’s subconscious, this quality radiates from 16 new drawings – a medium he began experimenting with during months of lockdown. Most strikingly, the drawings are reminiscent of 19th- and 20th-century German painter Sascha Schneinder’s theatrical paintings, whose aesthetic the artist cites as an influence. Hints of Chan’s own distinctive monochromatic ink aesthetic are still visible, built free from the burden of traditional ink practices. While he never studied ink painting, besides one or two mandatory courses during his BFA, his childhood interest in Japanese manga and comics manifests itself in this set of graphite-on-paper works. His foray into drawing yet again marks the artist’s embrace of internal fears.
Seemingly inward looking, in a larger context the show feels like a reaction against toxic positivity, a cultural trope which sustains the oppression of negative emotions. “Nowadays, I find people force themselves to be positive, or at least that’s how they portray themselves,” observes Chan. “For me, that doesn’t work at all. If I force myself to be happy and ignore the negative emotions, it accumulates to something I cannot handle.”In confronting his fears, essentially choosing not to leave the dark alone, Chan’s work validates our own apprehensions, and provides unexpected reassurance in collectively facing uncertainties.
兩個女人和一個山羊頭的男人坐在一張桌子旁，神情憂鬱苦惱，他們身後的牆上有一個十字架。在最新的水墨作品《Not Even God or the Devil Know How to Handle This》（2021年）中，陳翊朗將法斯賓達 1974年電影《恐懼吞噬心靈》的其中一幕改成以人擬物。他用山羊頭取法斯賓達的頭，而山羊常被視為魔鬼的象徵。陳翊朗把這一幕從其原本的語境抽離，並轉化成自己的鬼怪風格。這種手法在陳翊朗於安全口畫廊舉辦的展覽「不要讓黑暗獨自留下」中處處可見。
《120 Judge John Aiso Street》（2020年）中也有出現過入口這個概念。作品彷似窗簾，繪有一群面目扭曲鬼魅的人。這件作品的靈感來自於尊卡本達的電影，也滲入了嘉年華和其他禮教儀式的元素。與《Not Even God or the Devil Know How to Handle This》（2021年）一樣，其他作品雖然參考了電影埸景，但畫作的內容卻與電影原本的語境無關，是陳翊朗隨心創作的超現實主義作品。