Art & Photography

Chooc Ly Tan: Suddenly Everything Makes Sense

William Kherbek reviews Chooc Ly Tan’s exhibition at the Carlos-Ishikawa Gallery

It Depends Mostly On the Slant Of Interplanetary Magnetic Field Lines 2012, Chooc Ly Tan
It Depends Mostly On the Slant Of Interplanetary Magnetic Field Lines 2012, Mixed media installation with cassette tape, music stand, video projector, water, Plexiglass, two fluorescent lights (detail). Courtesy of Carlos/Ishikawa, London

No technology ever becomes truly obsolete. Audio cassettes were much maligned in their time, clunky, prone to snapping, prone to tracks going in and out of phase, but now they’ve somehow become a charming, seriously chunky reminder of the ancient regime of analogue. I knew the world had pretty much gone mad when I saw an iPhone encased in a rubber slip-on grip made to look like an audio cassette. That was in Dalston, sometime last year. But, it turns out that it’s not just smartphone users who have uses for the aesthetics of an outdated and under loved audio technology.

In Chooc Ly Tan’s show, Suddenly Everything Wrong Makes Sense, at the Carlos-Ishikawa Gallery, audio cassettes and their ribbon-like innards are put to all kinds of uses.In one sculpture in which a window sits precariously between two strips of tape ribbon, while a projector beams landscape imagery onto a sheet of paper. In another, an all-too-familiar entropic tangle of tape shrouds figurines as they balance on a tiny island immersed in a water tank. The cassette works are engaging in their way and certainly use the space beguilingly, but it was hard to look at them and not feel they teetered on the brink of influence,

dangerously close to tipping over into the ground marked off by another antique-audiophile artist, Haroun Mirza. Mirza’s own work, though often brilliant and accessible in ways few contemporary artists even pretend to be, can sometimes itself veer too far into the territory of the late Fred Sandback, whose tautened wire sculptures are also humming through the art historical hit list of Chooc Ly Tan’s tapes. Beyond the anxieties of influence, Chooc Ly Tan also attempts to balance a dangerous limpidity in her work with varying degrees of success.

“In the work, disembodied voices discuss quantum mechanics, block time, and the notion of eternal return”

Several self-consciously kooky questions are to be found along the walls and floor of Carlos-Ishikawa. For example, Problem 8, which reads:
You feel drowsy, waking up in an unknown and empty city. It is late in the evening, and cold. What happened?
(A): The time-machine has left you here.
(B) Prior to this event, you looked at a hypnotic spiral that makes everything damn disoriented, and out of place.

Depending on your patience of this kind of media-savvy funkiness, the sculptural part of the show will have more or less value, but possibly a more unalloyed enjoyment was available in her video work which was being screened off to the side of the main space. In the work, disembodied voices discuss quantum mechanics, block time, and the notion of eternal return.On screen, calculus equations are written and erased and a hand operates an out of phase mixer on an increasingly split screen.

It’s confusing, hypnotic, and enthralling, and this is a good thing. And it’s a bad thing: the other works come off looking a bit pale in comparison to the video. It’s a bleak unity in a sense, another digital form that encroaches on the prerogatives of the world of objects. Expect Chooc Ly Tan to think her way out of the dilemma, and, ideally document the process with the same panache.

Suddenly Everything Makes Sense is at the Carlos/Ishikawa Gallery from 10th May-June 16th