INTO AIR London
St Cyprian’s Church
Time – how it flows, echoes, slips, is the subject of Dawn Ng’s seminal first solo show in London, located in the living heritage church St Cyprian’s, Marylebone. As the space’s gothic revival arches curve and meet, they equally cocoon the exhibition ‘Into Air’ composed of twelve individual works by the leading Singaporean artist. An ambitious assemblage of photographic, painting, lightboxes, video and a one-off performance, the oeuvres explore time held in the ultimate ephemeral object that is ice. Set in harmonious dialogue with the church’s grandly minimalist interior, ‘Into Air’ marks a thoughtful engagement with space and context, where each work is apprehended as an individual encounter: how it stands, hangs, gravitates. From tonality to form, material to mood, Dawn Ng prompts us to reflect on the properties of cyclical passing, how beyond numerical chronology time is a matter of feeling and moment-making.
As posed by Philip Larkin in his 1953 poem ‘Days’ – “What are days for? Days are where we live.” – Dawn Ng encourages us to revel in the being. Each work, meticulously created with patience, attention, focus and pause, takes as a point of departure a material that in itself is very much living. Ice: something created by nature then humans, scarce in tropics such as Dawn Ng’s Singapore, prevalent in others such as my native Switzerland, a sign of planetary change. An active material, it is at once emotionally charged and vitaly uncontrollable. Yet, Dawn Ng gracefully converses with it, infusing this complex yet simple matter with pigments so that layer upon layer, tone and texture, ‘Time and time over’ is articulated. An ephemeral foundation for a monumental body of work.
A first encounter in Into Air is a photographic work. Larger than human height the portrait presents a melting block of frozen pigments. Layered in luscious tones, the ephemeral object is part of a series called ‘Clocks’, several of which anchor the show in the form of lightboxes and photographs. Captured as they perish, each block is an architecture of acrylics, inks, watercolours and dyes, built over a month at sub zero temperatures by Dawn Ng in her studio. Like actual clocks, the works give momentary physicality to passing time. Embedded within uniquely designed wooden structures by the artist in collaboration with EBBA architects to echo the language of church pews and pulpits. Time here is revered in solitary sanctuaries of colour, texture and form.
TIME LOST FALLING IN LOVE
As each monolithic fragment evolves, the colours bleed into a mélange of tinctures. Filmed as they fracture, the millimetric disintegration is captured in Dawn’s time lapse films, entitled ‘Time Lost Falling In Love.’ The work holds time between one’s self and a moving image through its meditative erosion of colour, mirroring the collapse of avalanches and waterfalls in slow motion. In the context of a global pandemic, the work is deeply empathetic: how more than ever we became aware of time, connection, loss, loneliness; how it’s all a matter of scale and personal perspective; how a blip in time may be an eternity for one and an instant for another; how in the context of the universe, we’re but a speckle in its grandiosity.
Into Air is a moment to explore how time slips and slides and is never forever, just now, like a breath: intimate and life-giving,” says curator Jenn Ellis, who also connected Ng with composer Alex Mills to create a site-specific “breath piece” for the show, based around his meditative scores.
Victoria Woodcock, ELEPHANT
From each block of frozen pigment’s remaining swirl of tones a corresponding set of works are born: Dawn’s ‘Ash’ paintings. The melted pigments receive a form of resurrection through their incarnation as painterly formulae. Each painting is created by the manoeuvred staining, dredging and evaporation of melted pigment through large sheets of canvas-like paper: crisp yet loose, each abstract surface is both intuitive and delicate. The artist’s process of prolonged steeping, gives rise to the soft blooming of colours and frays the paper fibres, allowing parts of its surface to be peeled by hand to reveal the patina of time. Deeply textural, they evoke the beauty of imperfection, how even the smoothest of skins has crevices or the purest of light has shadow. Akin to giant pages of a book written with brushes in a language all can read, they are each part of a story, the culmination of a journey. Presented upright in a totemic manner as well as laying on the ground, the ‘Ash’ works physically invite both upwards wonder and a downwards gaze, a circular motion that welcomes glances to where you are more widely: a contemporary instant in the making, a historical site in the harbouring.
Most of Dawn Ng’s work deals with time and the ephemeral: ‘I am obsessed with materials that embody that quality or state of change and passing. Time is a feeling. For some people, the most visceral feelings are found in music. So time is music or perhaps a song for them. For me, time can be that too, but it also could be a color, a sentence, or a memory.’
-Rita Trindade, Through Objects