Born 1981 in Hong Kong, Joseph Tong lives and work between Berlin, London & Hong Kong. He creates conceptual works through a multidisciplinary approach and a variety of media, which includes the elements of oil painting, sculpture, site-specific installation and media art that explore the concepts of duality and dimensional potentialities. His works feature coincidental and accidental connections that explore core notions of duality that leads to multi-layered, perceptible analogies.
Dr. Onur: How do you emphasize your experience, your feelings and your mental attitude in your works?
J. Tong: Being an artist and a poet, I am fortunate to have the opportunity to channel my conscious processes through a multidisciplinary approach by utilizing a variety of media, which includes the elements of oil painting, sculpture, site-specific installation and media art. This access to different creative vernaculars allows me to assert core concepts that are of importance to me, thereby creating a platform for my own visual idiolect. As reflected throughout my oeuvre, I tend to explore the concepts of duality and dimensional potentialities. Sometimes, juxtaposing various theories, genres and processes within the confines of a single work, utilizing geometric shapes and organic forms as the principal components of abstraction.
Dr. Onur: Is it fair to say that the simplicity of minimal Art, or the Purism of the Twenties (like Malevich) is a precedent for your work?
J. Tong: Yes. At an early age, I discovered – and became influenced by – the doctrines of Suprematism (founded by Malevich, supported by El Lissitzky), as its core principles possessed a visual language that I could identify with. By working with pure geometric forms (as evident in Spiegel im Spiegel, 2014), these components became sufficient tools in allowing me to formulate my thoughts and articulate them compositionally. The strict minimalism and the use of geometry became my (substitute) semantic material.
Dr. Onur: Would you explain to us the aspect of dualism in your work? What is your Philosophy?
J. Tong: Dualism is the idea or belief that everything has two opposite parts or principles; the quality or state of being dual or of having a dual nature. Throughout my work, I explore the concepts of duality by creating situations in which familiar objects are altered or detached from their natural functions, applying specific combinations and certain manipulations of mediums to inspire different contexts – thereby questioning the conditions of appearance of an image. My works feature coincidental and accidental connections that examine core notions of duality that leads to multi-layered, perceptible analogies (as elaborated in the series L’Apparition, 2014).
Dr. Onur: What is the main intention in your work “Spiegel im Spiegel” – what do you want to induce? I think it’s much more than an effective enjoyment.
J. Tong: First and foremost, the intention of Spiegel im Spiegel is to be meditative – as a creative yet therapeutic form of absolution for the artist, but also to be contemplative for the viewer. Inspired by the melodic composition (of the same name) by Arvo Pärt, as well as by the sitespecific works of Mark Rothko (specifically works at the Rothko Chapel, Houston, Texas). This series existed for one purpose: to be a tangible metaphor for the viewer (to look beyond his own reflection) and to invoke an augmented, imaginative state irrelevant to – or beyond – himself. Here, precise geometric shapes drift in a mirrored macrocosm as the reflective composition – and subsequent meditative nature – of each piece act as primary instruments for displacement. The viewer may, at first, accept (or indeed question) the piece’s reflective purpose, but from a different viewpoint perceives to what appears to be apparitions of pure geometric forms. The purpose of the mirror – its essence – is now incidental / nonessential / defunct. The viewer is no longer interested in his reflection but rather with the faint tinted shapes beyond, thus nullifying the works’ existential value as a mirror.
Dr. Onur: Are you trying to create a sensuous or an austere effect? Is this relevant to your surfaces?
J. Tong: The countless points of views (as well as view-points) of the beholder equate to the unique visual and metaphysical interpretation of a work of art. This synergetic engagement of
both the viewer and the work’s conceptual premise are conveyed in the series Eidolon, 2013. Depending on one’s proximity to the work, one can explore the precise balance between play with illusionistic depth and that of a superficial or ‘architectural’ surface that reinforces the picture’s flatness. From a frontal viewpoint, clarity of the image is easily definable and perceptible. Upon shifting one’s viewing angle, however, the image appears to evanesce – only to simultaneously re-emerge again. The inherent nature of each piece, therefore, depends on the variable nature of one’s perception. This extensive exploration probes the boundaries and
potentials of abstraction as a medium – questioning the dualistic efficacy of a work’s illusory and representational state.
Dr. Onur: You are using visually disorientating materials – this performance evokes a multidimensional reception of art. Could you be specific about how your own work reflects an anti-rationalistic point of view?
J. Tong: With the use of visually disorientating materials each ‘canvas’ presents the viewer with limitless opportunities for analysis (Symphonic Duality, 2012), achieving a sense of tension between viewer and the surfaces occupying each work. Using a combination of highly aestheticized industrial materials – such as Latex, radiant foil, structured Plexiglas and mirrors – these layered compositions effectively become interactive works that challenge the traditional notion (and rationalism) of the passive viewer. The optical effects created in the series Spiegel im Spiegel, 2014, allow the viewer to explore the immersive, illusory and metaphorical possibilities of reflection. In L’Apparition, 2014, the series become a visual manifestation of the condition of dimensional potentialities, invoking liminality by creating a dimensionally fluid and malleable context. The plurality of contrasting materials allows the work to metamorphose into different states, changed conditions and varied modalities. The installations are in uninterrupted dialogue with their environs, drawing meaning from their surroundings while simultaneously altering their very parameters depending on the subjective viewer.
Dr. Onur: The big challenge in an artwork is to maintain the sense of the ‘whole thing’ and not to get bogged down in details and compositional effects. How do you reach or maintain this holistic nature?
J. Tong: Core features of my work exhibit perpetual visual change and constant compositional mutation (the result of the choice of materials used). To aim for something holistic is to seek autonomy and clarity in an artwork and the spatial scope created by it. (Ultimately, attaining a potent representation denying any compositional hierarchy or substituting an artworks’ conceptual premise with mere ‘visual effects’.) Throughout my work (distinctly Spiegel im Spiegel, 2014) there is often a subtle nod to post-war artist Donald Judd (he described his work as “the simple expression of a complex thought”). Equivalently, an emphasis of purity of the constructed object themselves became the creative cornerstone to reaching a credible holistic approach to my work.
Dr. Onur: What are the sources of your inspiration?
J. Tong: My artistic inspiration has no separation from my personal inspiration: it belongs to the realm of science, religion, technology, music, and poetry.