Due to the million blacked-out business cards that cover the floor in Heman Chong’s exhibition, the South London Gallery has enforced a new rule: no knee-sliding. (Walking across them without skidding over was enough for me.) A scary sign reading ‘This Pavilion is Strictly for Community Bonding Activities Only’ turns out to be an artwork, fortunately. Its silliness, made all the sillier by the fact it’s a replica of a genuine sign that the artist encountered in his native Singapore, typifies a quiet undercurrent of humour that runs throughout the show.
Most visually striking are the 66 paintings on display. The majority of these feature book titles and their authors – ‘Mrs Dalloway’ by Virginia Woolf; ‘Ulysses’ by James Joyce – set over the sort of slick, inoffensive abstraction that you’ll find on EDM album covers and the walls of Frieze Art Fair alike. Chong has a point to make. The titles are all of the highbrow literature we like to display on our bookshelves to show how cultured and sophisticated we are; art does just the same, right?
The other paintings, which feature spam emails of the internet-bride variety, provide more outright lols: ‘My name is miss vivian, and I pray this massage finds you in a perfect health condition [sic].’ Alongside the business cards, they neatly reflect the artist’s interest in types of exchange: corporate, digital, public, private. It’s a shame, then, that it all figures into such a cautious and tasteful hang. It neuters the mischief in Chong’s work – and this is where its substance lies.