the move, Matthew Ngui, like many artists working in new media,
interrogates meaning ‘within
different cultural and socio-political spaces which shape society’ .
The journeys on which Ngui embarks, however, enter other dimensions
beyond the conventional safety of elegant installation and theoretical
text. Ngui’s flying carpet rides plunge through jostling
cultures and strange spatialities; they enter decidedly dangerous
terrain, where space itself is warped and perceptions bent.
In the hands of this artist, video, performance
and installation become slippery devices, conjuring up dark magic
domains, where reality and illusion dissolve into remarkable
worlds of ‘elsewhere’. Through a surveillance camera,
anamorphic markings on wall and floor are transformed - via a
video monitor - into the convincing illusion of a chair. But
just try and sit down on this piece of ‘furniture’!
To render this ‘real’ the ‘sitter’ (on-screen)
is required to perform strange gyrations, creating a skewed and
perplexing perspective which raises the question: ‘what
is wrong with this picture?’
Next, fighting our way through a forest
of randomly-marked plumbing pipes, we find on the wall next door
that the pipes have disappeared into a piece of coherent text.
Meanwhile, other visitors walking through the pipes have also
disappeared into disembodied fragments, moving amongst this text.
Dumbfounded, we check again: as if by magic, and to our relief,
the human bodies are reconstituted and warm. How can this be?
Such technological virtuosity, however,
also engages at a much deeper level than sleight of hand or trompe
l’oeil tricksiness. Under Ngui’s spell we are confronted
with contingency, the frailty of human perception and the fertile
cultural possibilities inherent in mis-matches and mis-communications,
conditions from which even the artist has no escape.
While regularly participating in global
events like Documenta and the Venice Biennale, Ngui also engages
with humbler – and larger – locations. In searching
out ‘the very particular smaller but interesting bits of
culture which are often overlooked ... but are major players’ ,
the specifics of each new site present intimate possibilities
for Ngui to test ‘little experiments’. One of these ‘players’ is
cooking, which, while fundamental to life itself, represents
a mundane activity. Food is also culturally specific, offering
enormous potential for anxiety, as well as connectivity and comfort.
In interactive, time-based installations at Singapore’s
Goethe Institute, MCA (Sydney) and PICA (Perth) , Ngui transformed
raw foodstuffs into performative cuisine, suspending spatial
and social expectations of the formal gallery, to create, for
a time, an enchanted Chinese take-away.
Ironically, Ngui is a reluctant and modest
conjurer, constantly ‘trying to find the right blend of
social relevance and "beauty" for art to be meaningful’.
Recently, in striving to connect his practice with broader communities,
the artist has activated more expansive public spaces in Graz
and Singapore, where he plans to modify anamorphically the city’s
skyline using the text ‘Home’. On the other side
of the globe, he’s working with Swiss scientists to roll
800,000 balls through an avalanche-prone medieval town.
In creating ever-widening spaces for creative ‘thinking
and doing’, the dynamics of disruption nevertheless still
lurk within Matthew Ngui’s technological and performative
bag of tricks; things are not necessarily as they seem, so tread
carefully; you may be stepping into a parallel universe.
Pamela Zeplin is an Adelaide-based writer and Senior Lecturer
at the South Australian School of Art, University of South Australia.