or mediaheyhey notes, August 27, 2013

In November 2011 I had the opportunity to visit New York for two and a half weeks. I enjoyed taking long walks, without a particular destination. I was intrigued by all the visual stimuli in the streets, encountering abundant traffic signage and well known corporate logos, discovering hidden, weathered murals high up on blind walls next to tacky billboard ads, and at night, walking into a sea of bright glaring, continuously changing lights.
I made up my mind to find out why this plethora of images, in all its absurdity, is appealing to me. When I was young I lived in Indonesia. The signs and billboards in New York somehow reminded me of the ones in Jakarta and travelling around Java. These signs were landmarks; looking at them I could tell where I was and how much time it would take to get to my destination.

I have always loved to look at signs and ads in every city, maybe still trying to pinpoint my current location the same way I used to do as a child. Lately I’m more fascinated by the strategies signage designers and advertising companies use to construct these images. Most of them are visual information, guiding us to find our way or warning of potential dangers, or urging us to buy an object. These images assume of me, as a viewer, a few conditions so obvious that I never stopped to think about them: 1. I can read, 2. I understand the English language (not only in NY), 3. I know how to combine image and/or text in relation to where I am to distill the intended meaning.

In this jungle of images, city life demands that you incorporate certain skills and tools to scan all the visual information. One needs to differentiate the useful from the insignificant images, in an instant. New York is full of clever and eye catching advertisements, telling you in an instant what they want to say. They’re designed to mean one thing avoiding any waste of your time and effort, whoever you are and wherever you’re coming from.

We’re so used to ‘fast and easy reading’ that we’re not aware that we’re not looking anymore. Do you read a work of art, or look at it? When there’s so much to read in the streets and we’re constantly showered by visual information everywhere, are we conditioned in just one way of seeing? These concerns form the main reason why I’d decided to work with letters and text-images. Language as a lure works not only for commercial or utility purposes, it also makes all kinds of images more accessible, even when you’re only reading gibberish, even when they’re on paintings. My recent paintings deal with the space in between the letters. Some are images similar to compact logo designs, challenging the concept of negative space. Painting is about perception, its urgency to relate to time and space is now stronger than ever. If we only see through words, we won’t really see much of the world, even though we think we do.


Gracia Khouw
with thanks to Debray Ramsay