Review of Paul Chan

Presently on exhibit at the Stedelijk Museum, Paul Chan’s installation entitled “Lights and Drawings” delivers a clever commentary on consumerist society via the manipulation of shadows on planes of projected color. His work in a sense redefines what art can be. Using light rather then paint and the floor rather then a canvas, the methodology and medium he employs to communicate his vision is far from usual. Furthermore, there is an ephemeral nature to his work.  His projections elegantly shift from one color to the next in a manner so mesmerizing that it spellbounds one at the sight of it.  Typically triangular in shape, the series’ aim in not so much to present the presence of light, but rather the absence of it.  Through investigating negative space, he challenges the assumption that shadows are innately homogenous by demonstrating the infinite shades of gray possible. The forms are as literal as they are figurative.  The hypnotic floor projections are pierced by silhouettes of men falling, birds flying and chairs floating effortlessly through space.  The ceaseless change of pace at which the charcoal figures move renders sense of uncertainty and urgency.   As the shadows collide and shift directions sporadically, any perception of gravity one might have harnessed is denied and redefined.  Void on any palpable beginning or end, it is as if the nature of time disintegrates with the unstable definition of what is up and what is down.  The descending figure is now rising, the flying bird is now falling and the chair has faded into nothingness.  Shadows overlap creating fleeting images that, although indistinguishable, form varying shades of gray.  All the while, the light shifts in color, from an intense yellow to a blood red, from a deep maroon to a velvety blue.  Chan’s work simultaneously evokes chaos and unity. Although rooted in a critique of the consumerist culture that has permeated society, the installation is versatile in that there are countless angles of interpretations that different realities and perspectives can bring to it.  It is for this reason that I believe Chan strives to separate his politics from his art, thus freeing his work from the constraints of a fixed analysis.


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