This had to be a show I’d been looking forward to for years. I’ve seen Minam Apang’s art since her very first show (Peel, back in 2007) and while she hadn’t quite figured things out in those early works, it was plain to see there was something intriguing and distinctive in the way she conceived her paintings. War With the Stars was simply breathtaking. It was delicate, powerful and poetic. The swirling, go-with-the-flow chaos of Peel had teetered towards looking like a mess in parts. War With the Stars harnessed the energy of the dripping paint seen in Peel but the inky black lines were sharp, powerful and bold. The moved on her paper with a fluid decisiveness. Plus, Apang’s handiwork — whether in the drawings or in the little hanging bridges she crafted so meticulously — was impressive. Bottom line: War With the Stars was beautiful. Which is why Death in a Rainforest was a show that I’d been waiting for. After three years, what would Apang show? This (and I must say, they look much sharper on the computer than they did in real life. Yet another bit of evidence for my theory that artwork that compresses well — into a photo or for digital view — doesn’t work when you see it before you. But that’s just a working hypothesis of mine. Returning to Death in a Rainforest…):
These are not all the works but the selection is enough, as far as I’m concerned. There’s all sorts of techniques and cleverness at play in these works. Manual drawings are seamlessly meshed with digital prints. There must have been many stories in the drawings and prints that played upon the kind of illusions that can be created using the shapes and lines of things like a dissected bark, the shape of a skull, the form of a root, and so on. What you’re left asking are questions like, is that a puppy or a piece of ginger?
Unfortunately, there’s something about Death in a Rainforest that makes the works feel mechanical, which may have worked if the illusions that Apang created struck one as wonderfully clever. No such luck. They’re meticulously wrought but they’re not particularly intriguing. You could walk past them without casting a second glance.
At best, the carefully-done scribbles look like something you might just spot at a sight like Design Boom. A few of the works reminded me of the doodles that we;d lazily spawn during boring lectures in school. There were a multitude of fine lines in each piece but none of them felt delicate or evocative in the way that War With the Stars did. Not a single work drew me, and I’d wanted to fall in love with this show almost desperately. Instead, Death in a Rainforest was easily forgettable. It lacked drama, energy and the works seemed to be almost swallowed up by the gallery. Nothing stood out, which is saying something because some of the works are a mesh of lines drawn in pop-happy shades of pink, green and blue.
When I walked out of Death in a Rainforest, I didn’t want to go back (I did eventually; same response) and nor did I feel that I needed to spend more time with the works. I wasn’t curious about what might be hidden in the neat, precise lines. I wasn’t moved by it at all, which is, perhaps, much worse than hating a show because at least that’s a decisive reaction. It’s the kind of show that I see and wonder if I’m a step closer to turning into that old biddy who looks at a contemporary work and asks the gallerist if they show any ‘real art’ (i.e. paintings). Because I’m so underwhelmed and, given how interesting Apang’s work has been in the past, it feels almost wrong to find her show, well, boring.
But there you go. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for her next solo.