Heman Chong at South London Gallery

An Arm, A Leg and Other Stories

With a community group winning last year's Turner Prize it comes as little surprise to learn Heman Chong fundamentally describes himself as a writer. Having said that, the South London Gallery paints with a broader brush stroke and introduces him as an artist working in the middle ground of performance, image, writing and situations. The last of those more evident here in the form of communal learning experiences - on Wednesdays the gallery is hosting events where registered participants are taught and encouraged to learn a five hundred word short story to recite. In the upstairs galleries, locked on my visit, there are also two writers in residence - only for this stay they are not being asked to do anything more than continue with what they were doing, only afterwards need they disseminate it into a secondary work in acknowledgement and connection of this show. 

The gallery's main space has been used for some awe inspiring single large room installations and although primarily floor based, this is no exception. Near enough there are one million blank black business cards scattered and drifting over and across the floor. The viewer wades in, a slipperiness underfoot quite different to Ai Weiwei's crunching Turbine Hall sunflower seeds. There is nothing printed on the cards, they are as meaningless as so many of the transactional times they are used in the real world, business people going through the motions and conventions of commerce.

Monument to the people we've conveniently forgotten (I hate you), 2008 and Rope, Barrier, Boundary, 2015

Monument to the people we've conveniently forgotten (I hate you), 2008 and Rope, Barrier, Boundary, 2015

Chong questions the narratives of our quotidian lives and the codes of established behaviour. Repetition is key to these themes and here two the most arresting works make use of multiples. The cards on the floor are beyond countless, the stickers on the wall number exactly three thousand but the placing of them has been made following a crude set of instructions. As such, the work Index (Down) from the series Surfacing has had to date twelve very different variations in its realisation. 

Index (Down), 2009

Index (Down), 2009

Sixty-six paintings hang on the east wall comprising largely abstract images as book covers for popular fiction titles from the last half century or more as well as transcribed phishing emails. They come from three different series and are regularly displayed in an array of varying layouts. Here they are a colourful counterbalance to the floor's resounding grey. 

Cover (Versions), Things That Remain Unwritten, Emails From Strangers, 2009 (detail)

Cover (Versions), Things That Remain Unwritten, Emails From Strangers, 2009 (detail)

http://www.southlondongallery.org/page/144/Heman-Chong/1132 until February 28th