THE MONSTER WITHIN
We all feel a sense of isolation at times, wandering crowded streets full of people disconnected from their surroundings, plugged into their electronics, eyes glued to screens glowing with a cold light. Sammy Chong captures the isolation
of people in their everyday lives, in both his series of “Asterion” graphite drawings and layered Plexiglas scenes in which we are separated from those around us either by society or by our own minds. Both are on display this fall.
“Asterion,” at the Milton Art Museum from September 15 through October 15, depicts detailed graphite drawings of people going through life cast out by those around them in the monstrous form of the Minotaur from the ancient Greek myth of Theseus. Each 22-by-30- inch drawing is almost photographic in its realism, down to the strands of fur on the Minotaur’s face. Loneliness emanates from the form of the beast as Chong follows it through different stages of life — from when it is a baby, abandoned on the steps of a firehouse, until its last days, sitting on the edge of its bed, contemplating the end of its life.
Chong earned this exhibition as a result of his winning the Milton Art Museum’s Third Annual Juried Competi- tion; artscope magazine publisher Kaveh Mojtabai judged this year’s entries.
Inspired nearly 10 years ago by “House of Asterion,” a short story by Argentine author Jorge Luis Borges, Chong only recently sketched out the thoughts he had been cultivating from the story. “House of Asterion” is a monologue by the mythological Minotaur, who lives in his own universe, not realizing that he’s been placed into it by society because he is different. Lonely within its walls, he’s unaware that his house is actually a labyrinth. In the end, he wonders about the afterlife, allowing himself to finally be killed by Theseus in order to escape and find his freedom.
“I have always been interested in the idea of monsters and how (they) reflect society and culture,” Chong said. “I wanted to use black and white because I felt that graphite on paper was almost like something that we’d read in the news. I want to reflect the idea of identity in the modern world. Many of us feel like the Minotaur; we feel sometimes that a sense of belonging is not completely there. This character repre- sents outsiders that don’t quite fit into society. They’ve been deemed as different and therefore isolated in their own spaces.”
Each image shows the Minotaur in the form of a person that’s been set apart by society. It begins with an abandoned baby in “Nativity,” and moves to the Minotaur as a child trying to get into his locker while being bullied and jeered at by his peers in “Friends Forever.” It continues to follow the Minotaur through young adulthood and midlife, until “Epilogue,” in which he sits on quietly on his bed. A metal walker can be seen in the background, as well as photographs and tokens of a life passed above the headboard. He is looking out a window, and light from outside playing against his fur in the dark room hints at something beyond — whether it’s beyond the room or beyond this lifetime.
The pieces are easily connected to Chong’s academic background in philosophy and theology. He spent a lot of time reading Nietzsche and delving into existentialist thought, while combining it with the idea of divinity as a force that takes form in the environment and individuals around us.
ALONE IN A CROWD
Chong’s work with Plexiglas, which will be featured in his “[in]terim” exhibition at Regis College’s Carney Gallery from September 3 through October 31, also relates to these thoughts about our connections to the world and others. He explores the way people could be packed in a stadium, mall or subway, and yet still be alone. This is a concern that is uniquely modern as technology increasingly absorbs our attention and pulls us away from the world around us.
This series features several panes of acrylic glass set parallel to each other, each painted as a different plane of the scene it captures. Modern consumerism surfaces as a common theme, as well as a sense of individuals passing each other without interacting. The planes play on each other with contrasting and complementary warm and cold colors that give it depth. “Checked” is a haunting image of an airport security checkpoint, bags and luggage strewn everywhere that’s missing any sign of people. It’s as though in the drudgery of commuting, as we get lost into ourselves, ignoring and forgetting the people passing us, we ourselves become absent from the scene.
“My work is in the end about identity and who we are as human beings in this postmodern society,” Chong said, connecting the two bodies of work with a simple statement. “The postmodern world is mediated — by gadgets, technology, politics, gender — and how we compartmen- talize with these filters is an obstacle to understanding each other and reaching out.”
Through his work, Chong seeks to create a human connection that we may be missing in this compartmentalized world. He believes that there’s a certain enlightenment in leaving your own body and seeing from another’s perception. With his art, he takes the viewer through this journey into the lives of others, simultaneously creating a conscious- ness of isolation and a desire to bridge those gaps.