Born 1977 in Muar, Malaysia Lives and works in Singapore
Known for his multifaceted practice as an artist, curator and writer, Heman Chong makes works that ‘imagine meaning out of memories in the future’ and, in the process, consider how we conceive of time that is yet to come. He often positions science fiction as a metaphorical device, since the genre encompasses concerns that cross over with contemporary art: the creation of alternative worlds, strategies for dealing with the baggage of time and history, and even expanding definitions of the possible.
With LEM2, 2016, Chong creates an informal bookstore, a roving project that has developed out of a process of accumulation; he has gathered together second-hand copies of books by the famous Polish science-fiction author Stanislaw Lem (in English and Polish) for viewers to peruse. Demonstrating the artist’s interest in repetition, and in creating systems of exchange where the audience is an active participant, the books can be purchased for a token amount – not based on any real sense of demand or value.
Over the course of his life, Lem (1921–2006) published many texts, ranging from satire to philosophy, with the best-known translated into some 41 languages. With a focus on the nature of intelligence, speculation on technology, and the impossibility of mutual communication, among other themes, Lem’s writings are notoriously difficult to translate due to his idiosyncratic use of puns, elaborate word formation and alien poetry. Alongside his actual subject matter, Chong is also interested in how Lem has been read and mis-read across time, in the impossibility of transferring some concepts and ideas from one language to another, and in how this failure of human understanding is present in the texts themselves.
The second part of Chong’s embassy is Common Characters, 2016, which serves a similar function to LEM2 in that this work too, speaks to the circulation of ideas and words. Over a period of 24 hours, eight writers invent a fictional character, and these personae will then be released via Wikipedia, freely available to play roles in the stories of other writers. Like the books in LEM2, these characters exist as vessels in a state of imminence, adrift until activated. The Embassy of Stanislaw Lem has an elusive quality, and perhaps could also be understood as an unconventional portrait of the author after which it is named, which, Chong suggests, ‘I’m not sure he would like, but here we are.’
Heman Chong has held numerous solo exhibitions internationally, including ‘Never, A Dull Moment’, Artsonje Center, Seoul (2015); ‘Overview, Fundamentals, Performance, Transactions’, Wilkinson Gallery, London (2015); and ‘Calendars (2020–2096)’, National University of Singapore Museum, Singapore (2011). Selected group exhibitions include ‘expo zéro’, Tate Modern, London (2015); and ‘Burning Down the House’, 10th Gwangju Biennale (2014)