Art Review: Gordon Cheung, Wreck of Hope

25 Apr

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Cheung paints the images of destruction–as we can see in his work Wreck of Hope.  It’s interesting really, thinking about such things, in the past we’ve been worried about the bomb, global warming, terrorism for sure, but really one big contender for the end of civilization as we know it might just be economics.   Meditating on these images of destruction, with stock numbers in the background (the wall behind the front images show stock quotes) and a big rip as if the sky tore open, and ghosts of buildings.  I can see the end looking like this.

It’s sort of like going into a really bad section of a city where half the buildings are empty, and you sort of stand and wonder why on earth would such a thing be, who owns these buidings?  Who lets them just sit and rot?  Are they abandoned or just unused?  I suppose somebody (or some bank) must own them, but wouldn’t it be better for these places to have something going on, however little, rather than nothing?

That’s the problem with economics.  Somehow, in our development as a people, we came to the place where we have learned to abstract things into money, and then to abstract things further, into simple numbers.  The thing I see happen though as we turn more and more things into numbers, is that turning things into abstractions is only useful if you can turn them back into concrete objects.

There’s a dark side of capitalism–one that we don’t talk about so much because capitalism has gotten so deep into American culture that it’s easy to forget that democracy and capitalism aren’t the same things at all.  Capitalism is all about production, but it produces things like sweat-shops, pollution, neglect, illness, addiction.   In fact for some reason once things get turned into columns of numbers stored in some computer a lot of things we would never dream of doing in real life suddenly become tenable.  I mean would you pay somebody across the world, in terrible conditions, not nearly enough money to live off of, to have them make you a shirt?  Of course not.  But we don’t mind paying corporations to do just that.

The other part of the dark side is that there are no stock values in capitalism.  If you think about your life, as an individual, you have a series of subjective worth for things that remain reasonably consistent.  You always like chicken, you always hate broccoli, that sort of thing.  Capitalism can get all excited about something that is unnecessary (Like an iphone) and spend a good amount of money developing that, while ignoring necessities (like affordable medication) because they’re less lucrative.

That’s what I see in these paintings, where everything just kind of rots into rubbish filled with random cultural markers that have lost all meaning.

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