True gold: chapter II

LE QUY TONG

27 September - 27 October, 2018

To understand bygone events is to open them up for flexible renegotiations. Le Quy Tong’s solo show, “True Gold: Chapter II”, approaches this open-endedness as a feasible means of remembering and moving forward. His altered images of protest, revolution, rubble and revolt are a way of combating forgetfulness, of prolonging history and highlighting its malleability. For Le, these reminders constitute an absence of certainty and amplify an eternal openness – inviting viewers to reinterpret the past without restraint. The exhibition, thus, does not attempt to re-present specific events, but rather to affirm their permanent, if remodelled, place in history and must be approached, as the theorist Maurice Blanchot puts it, as “the effacement of lines that cannot have been drawn if not by the stroke that now deletes them”. In this vein, Le asks: is it useful, or even possible, to pluck specific moments from the past, reconsider them in the present and offer them up for articulation in the future?

Stemming from his previous series, True Blue – Tong’s first foray into conceptual hybrid painting after a lengthy career break – True Gold reanimates the photographs of revolutionary events. Now in its second chapter, Le’s images are sourced from historical archives and mass media, stripped of their original contexts and appropriated, dissected and redrawn as new, unexpected experiments. He meticulously integrates grids and geometric shapes, overlays golden pigment and obliterates signifying identities. Le explains, “I would like to emphasize that imposing ideology on human beings is to destroy the capacity for freedom of thought and understanding. It is turning people into servants of ideology”. Deliberately obscured and still maintaining an air of True Blue’s sombre tone, it becomes the task of the viewer to decipher between the invented and the genuine, the alternative and evidential.

The artist reminds us that an image’s function in the media only constitutes its first (of many) roles in a fragmented lifespan; there are more iterations, or performances, through which each photograph operates, assuming vastly different identities along this route. There is, however, a unifying theme. Amongst the works selected for “True Gold: Chapter II", several deal with both active and linguistic protest – shown in signs that scream “United we stand for true democracy!” and “Get out of Vietnam!” – and, despite the presence of peace signs and muted colours, the canvases are loud, boisterous and busy.

As such, text plays an undeniably central role, not only because it places the canvases in specific histories, but because it activates their current associations. The piece, No. 4, illustrating the 1989 Alexanderplatz Demonstrations in East Germany, reads “Occupy Everything” in the centre of the hectic, wiry scene. Perhaps a nod to the Occupy Movements circling the globe in 2011, No. 4 depicts not one protest, but the perpetual state of protest. We can still hear their shouts. The words ‘freedom’ and ‘peace’ also emanate throughout the exhibition, encouraging us to define each term, and, in reference to the exhibitions’ title, to ponder their worth – their weight in gold.

In discussing the second chapter of True Gold, Le equates his canvases to cover bands playing resurrected songs. While the original melody remains, the piece is given new character as it reverberates. He states, “I think this is a necessary action to repeat and reinvent and keep going. I like [how] the old songs are recovered and reworked into new versions. This repetitive action is similar to the way I am redrawing the photos”.

Here the artist leaves us with nothing but questions: What happens when ‘old songs’ – those sung in the key of revolution – are used in a place and time other than where and when they were intended? How does this act of displacement modify memories of the original event and what effect does it have on those who witnessed or remember it? Resonating from moments which are quickly fading from the collective psyche, each of Le’s gilded images are impartial reminders of history, its luxuries, its struggles and its enduring call for reinvention.