Upon entering Christine Ay Tjoe’s exhibition at White Cube Bermondsey, the artist’s first in London, one is struck by the visceral, organic nature of the compositions. On the one hand they are sparse, leaving large areas of empty primed canvas with marks emanating from central points, yet they are anything but sparse in terms of the energy of their mark making.
For this show the artist has chosen to focus on representing the conditions of our global consumer age. She is exploring the mass of people, imagery, ambition, information and energy that is unique to the contemporary condition. In each canvas we see varying examples of the machinic, the organic and the parasitic arrive at a point of near combustion through the raw energy of the paint. In the piece ‘Demonic Possession’ there are, what looks like parts of a machine drawn loosely in oil stick, reminiscent of some sci-fi flying ship, yet when we see the same form again on the canvas it seems to have become a sting ray, all dead eyes and razor teeth. These forms hover above sticky, oily, blood-red shapes lying like flayed bats.
The work at large contains a strong sense of the artist’s exploration of this most intangible condition, ‘the contemporary’. The compositions that ensue are imbued with figurative, animalistic elements but these are something that arise from the process itself as opposed to being planned interventions. In the diptych ‘Concealer Player’ you get a strong sense of spirituality as well as material exploration. Here the marks have not manifested into a nightmare but a locus from which information is leached or drawn, again hovered over by half animate forms. As in this diptych, the second on display, ‘Greed and Greed 2’, uses the split of the two canvases to manifest some sense of progressive, time-based narrative. In this pair of paintings we see two forms – the red, seething mass on the left hand panel reaching out towards the form on the right-hand plane, which is reminiscent of a blowfish, moving rapidly away. There is a tension and an urgency in this chase and yet the ability to split the two canvases in one’s mind, freezing each part separately, allows us to just stop, stare and consider.
Floating, meditating, hunting, running – these are the actions and senses we experience, together or separately, through the canvases on display. They haunt and sooth in equal measure. The forms that appear through the process of painting are all escaping, or attempting to, from the heaving, churning, combusting worlds that are present at the heart of the marks. Yet if this is our contemporary state then one thing is certain, it is not without pain and it is not without trauma. One leaves this show with a much heightened sense of the combustion that is all around us.