Vernon Ah Kee
Not an Animal or a Plant
NAS GALLERY 7th JANUARY-11th MARCH
What is fascinating about this collection of work is the breadth of observation and illustration. Every detail is thought through to create a complex identity that goes beyond just race but what it is to be human.The toilet doors show the idea of social media maybe in its primary form. Social media even though highly complex and ubiquitous shows the ideas of people laid bare. This work is probably the most important of the lot. Aesthetically it isn’t pleasing but it is observant and direct. The reference to social media is the similarity of short direct arguments in a place directed at groups. This formula of crossing out and crossing over ideas is prevalent in a media saturated world vying to dominate through the loudest scrawl.
Reading all of this into the work isn’t even necessary as the process is laid bare in the most direct way imaginable regardless. It is a nice analogy though to think of social media as the back of a toilet door when you are privately publishing your own thoughts that will be seen by others with different views who are also publishing their own views. Well before the technology was applicable to the masses the toilet door was a place to insult and argue while answering the call of nature.
The drawing works have a delicacy and forethought to render the human form in a way that makes the viewer come face to face with their own biases and misreadings. These works give people the chance to see the sitter and themselves together for the first time. It makes you want to know more and in a subtle way the works are almost scientific but there is no mistaking the attention to the human face and its fragility as well as detail. How he manages to get so much into to these pieces is the scale. They almost tower over you but this renders them close to you. They become familiar in that maybe you have seen them somewhere before but never had the chance to look. If you take “Profile ||” from 2006 you see a very familiar face even though you don’t know who it is. It reminds me of someone and I am forced to look for the familiarity and wonder why I think I have seen this person before.
That really is the power of these pieces though a work like “Bad Sign” from 2011 uses that familiarity through a blurred lens and still it becomes a familiar mediated image. You feel like you have seen it somewhere. That could be the power of these works and I feel the surf boards are using the same tactic and it is very jarring. This work makes you think about what you think you know and asks you to remember what is ever so familiar. What is it that you see everyday? On the street and in the media. People are being painted not just literally in the context of the show but in the context of a mediated world. The toilet doors show it didn’t start yesterday and the work “see me” from 2006 references specific dates like 1936 to make you wonder if we need to actually familiarise ourselves with each other rather than scrawl our ideas on a very public toilet door.