Hanna Moon & Joyce Ng: English as a Second Language review

Art
4 out of 5 stars
Hanna Moon & Joyce Ng: English as a Second Language review
Hanna Moon 'Me and Tyrone for A Nice Magazine Issue 2' (2015) © Hanna Moon

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

Learning a language is hard, especially it’s got as many exceptions to the rule as actual rules (hello, English). And when it comes to learning a new culture, ‘language’ means more than irregular verbs. Colours, items, gestures… everything has a ‘meaning’.

This joint exhibition of photographers Hanna Moon and Joyce Ng is partly inspired by the Asian-born Londoners’ feeling of being ‘lost in translation’, in their new home and in the fashion industry.

It starts with Moon’s new pictures of her muses, Heejin and Moffy, in scenes and outfits at odds with the stately-home neoclassicism of Somerset House. Then it moves on to Ng’s pictures of the various people who use the building – be it King’s College students or attendees of the African Art Fair – before ending with a display of their previous projects.

It would be easy to assign words like ‘timely’ to the Central Saint Martins grads’ practice, not least because their work contributes to a long-overdue re-evaluation of the whiter-than-white fashion world, and because the exhibition texts easily toss around phrases like, ‘examine the ways in which people “perform” their identity’.

But the output of both photographers is equally ‘now’ for another reason. Each in their own way explodes reality, playing with the idea of the camera as documentary device. Moon’s new series features pairs of photos, one a glossy fashion shoot – Heejin in her mum’s frou-frou wedding dress for example – and the other a zoomed-out shot revealing the whole set of props, photography equipment and Somerset House security guard surrounding it.

Ng’s portraiture of street-cast models, meanwhile, maintains the tiniest hints of ‘normalness’ despite the designer clothes and stylised poses. The skin, for instance, on chin or forehead subtly hinting at how airbrushed magazine editorial shots routinely are.

This is fashion photography that belongs to an age where everyone’s personal album is a weird blend of artifice and fact: the crumpled My Little Pony pillowcase poking into a selfie of Kardashian contouring or the chip in the crockery blighting an Insta snap of dinner. In other words, a visual language we’re all fluent in.

By: Rosemary Waugh

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