‘Unreal Reality’ is Wong Ming Hao’s debut solo exhibition. It unveils a new direction undertaken by the artist in terms of the methods of image making while continuing his interest in exploring and uncovering the hidden motivations and complexities of human behavior behind the charades of everyday life. This series of work was inspired by the numerous events that took place in the last 2 years which had left an indelible mark on the thinking and emotions of the artist. Given the turmoil and great uncertainty that we are currently facing today in all fronts of life, ‘Unreal Reality’ offers a timely reflection and a hard look at the state of human affairs that were brought about due to fear, greed, ignorance and deep seated insecurities.
By: Tan Sei Hon
WONG MING HAO: FIRST SOLO EXHIBITION
“No one reveals himself as he is; we all wear a mask and play a role.”
Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860)
It was a disturbing feeling when one first encountered Ming Hao’s works, especially the series of paintings produced from his 6 month stint at HOM’s art residency program back in 2018. It was an abrupt departure from his early portraits which were imbued with an ambience of thoughtfulness and quietude. In that following series, the sheer violence inflicted with such ferocity upon the portraits of his sitters, most who seemed to be in a pensive mood, was shocking to say the least. Their mangled and broken faces looked as though they were viciously torned, hacked, hammered or shot at close range by some maniac possessed by pure rage. The only other Malaysian artist that one can recall who had done similar but with less brutality to the human form or faces in his paintings was E H Chee (b.1963). His reasons for doing so has been explained elsewhere. However, what was Ming Hao’s motivation or reason behind the atrocity visited upon the serene countenances of those people in his works? More importantly, how is his 1st solo debut at HOM differs from his previous output?
“The media represents a world that is more real than reality that we can experience. People lose the ability to distinguish between reality and fantasy. They also begin to engage with the fantasy without
realizing what it really is. They seek happiness and fulfilment through the simulacra of reality,
e.g. media and avoid the contact/interaction
with the real world.”
Jean Baudrillard (1929-2007)
The previous series was Ming Hao making a personal statement; that his blinkers are off. Ming Hao now adopts a more critical approach towards information and the images presented by the media and those engaged in social media with the understanding that whether we like it or not, we are lost deep inside an information jungle looking for directions for a way out only to be sucked deeper into the wilderness of disinformation. The social media landscape is overpopulated by competing self proclaimed gurus, pundits and experts on a variety of subject matters presented in entertaining and convincing ways. However, what many of the information spouted off by these so called experts are opinions, hearsays and biases presented as facts. Indeed, this is the era of post truth, where feelings matter more than facts and perception/ image is everything. Everytime we watch, like, comment and subscribe to the numerous personas online, who are mostly useful idiots/ mini puppet masters intentionally or unknowingly serving the interests of media conglomerates, transnational corporations, cults, ideologues, the military industrial complex etc we are being slowly swayed to a specific way of thinking and looking at the world that benefits these powerful bodies and institutions. Those shattered faces in his previous paintings are metaphors for these social media influencers. By attacking them, he was actually destroying the idea of a carefully crafted persona that was aimed more for mass deception. You see, to profit socially and materially from our interactions with society we learned to adopt personas from a very young age. This persona, a set of stable characteristics is a shield that protects our vulnerabilities and a front to conceal our private motives. It is the mask (s) that we don daily to face the world. For some, the persona assumed is dependent on a situation, a temporary expediency while in others it had gradually fossilized into a personality. It is this persona that is being highlighted in a painting or photo, as in a person’s portrait. In an age where practically everyone has access to social media, the persona they project online is solely to gain eyeballs, likes (dopamine rush) and revenue (advertisements etc) regardless of the truthfulness of their content or their personal beliefs. Between boiling our blood and pulling our heart strings, with a bit of mindless entertainment and pop spirituality thrown into the mix, these social media talking heads are driven to keep us addicted to their carefully curated contents. Of course, there is nothing wrong with that. However, it becomes a problem when we, lulled into this world of make believe, become identified with their views and are thus emotionally invested. We forfeit our common sense and criticality and end up being tools and extensions of these talking heads, useful idiots and mini puppet masters that serve a corporate, political and other agendas that are actually against our best interests and well being.
‘Politics will eventually be replaced by imagery.
The politician will be only too happy to abdicate in favor of his image,
image will be much more powerful than he could ever be.’
Marshall Mcluhan (1911-1980)
In the last 2 years we have seen nothing but ceaseless upheavals and downturns on all fronts. Currently, there are large scale protests in countries near and far, the steep decline of the world economy and its impact on the local industries, the ongoing power struggles among the political elites and the emerging geopolitical conflicts between the world’s superpowers and their allies. There is also the 2nd and 3rd wave Covid 19 infections hitting numerous countries around the world including Malaysia which will undoubtedly lead to lockdowns of large areas and restrictions placed on public life again. How our political leaders and heads of states deal with these situations reveal their capability to govern and lead a country. Sadly, though it shouldn’t be surprising, most leaders from either side of the aisle, whether democratically elected or otherwise, are more concerned with their own political survival than the welfare of the population. The wise, responsible and caring image that politicians and heads of states in general had cultivated and promoted incessantly by the media mouthpieces and social media influencers are slowly coming apart, revealing the true colors of these putrid opportunistic, manipulative narcissists for who they really are. What is surprising though is the fervent support that borders on the idolatrous these politicians still enjoy. Oblivious to their leaders’ flaws and faults (real or perceived) these supporters, who are from all walks of life, seems to be under the spell of their leader’s persona. Why?
real world changes into simple images, the simple images become real beings and
effective motivations of hypnotic behavior.”
Guy Debord (1931-1994)
In this exhibition entitled ‘Unreal Reality’, Ming Hao continues his observations of human behaviour and the undercurrents beneath the charades they act out in everyday life. Here he presents his personal take on the personas of two classes of people, those who unscrupulously seek power and authority over others and the everyday people (including you and I) who are trying their best albeit impetuously, to find their place in the world. What is different from his previous outputs are how these images, mostly faces, are composed. Ming Hao’s approach is a mix of painting, collaging and layering (of dried acrylic paints) on his canvases. According to the artist, the whole process of making these works was more akin to sculpting than painting. Indeed, it has produced some fantastic effects resulting in all the works in this new series being very tactile in nature. On the gridded pieces, the effects mimicked the look of flesh and skin falling apart or decaying while in others they looked like paints peeling off walls that had been badly weathered. This suggests the gradual coming undone of something that has been systematically constructed in the past due to the changes brought about by time. In the case of a politician’s personable persona, the facade that was propped up is no longer able to support the weight behind its deception and are counting the days before crumbling on its own volition. A few monochrome pieces which were given the ala impasto treatment (though they were created using the same layering method) are according to the artist, with a hint of empathy, the countenances of the common people who unlike the politicians etc are ill at ease with the personas they had adopted. The effects are unsettling, mirroring the turmoil and disequilibrium taking place within. However, instead of unmasking and discarding a persona/ image that was ill fitting in the first place and had now become burdensome, the common people proceeded to plaster and pile on the layers for the fear of being discovered and exposed for who and what they really are. While politicians hide behind their masks to gain acceptance from the common people, the individual hides behind masks to distinguish themselves from the common people. Both however, are unwilling to accept the reality that we are all just eating, shitting and f**king automatons looking for meaning, significance and pleasure before our time on earth expires.
dangerous to unmask images, since they dissimulate the fact that there is
nothing behind them.”