Ling Ang

Ling Ang’s 'Souvenirs of Sleep' moves between the perceptive modes of wakefulness and dreaming. Across photographs and fragments of text, Ang asks us to consider that reality which might only be understood through the dreamlike frames of science fiction or fantasy, tracking eeriness wherever it appears from the personal to the political.

Ang’s new photobook will be released as part of Melbourne Art Book Fair and Melbourne Design Week, in partnership with the National Gallery of Victoria. The project emerges from a three-year incubation period, during which Ang collected photographic images of the uncanny, eerie, and weird as she came across their fields. Over this period, she also wrote short entries describing her lucid dreams. Over 700 entries were produced. While many of these fragments look like prose, really they stretch into the poetic. Words shift and waft across the page with attentiveness to rhythm, arresting imagery, and shape — even the shape of the square paragraph. These pieces of text feel pulsing with life: plots hurtle into cul-de-sacs and take unexpected about-turns, and characters work with unclear, and often subtly sinister, motives.

Many of Ang’s prose poems, as they might be considered, deal with the familiar material of surrealist tradition, and the psychoanalytic thinking which underpins it. There are reflections on childhood, family structures, and recollected histories of trauma. Scenes of sexual power-brokerage and vulnerability proliferate in Ang’s somnolent, somatic landscape: ‘…Damon walks in and puts his arms around me. He tries to explain why he left but I wriggle free and walk out. I’m crossing the road and on the island in between is a crib. Luke is naked inside with a pile of plastic multi-coloured balls. He looks defeated and pushing the balls around. I try to tell him that Damon and I didn’t even end up going home with each other. He lightens up for a split second and then goes back to his slouched position.’ 

However, the intense personality of these textual passages is contravened by the outward gaze of the photographs; that is, Ang records the weird, threatening otherness not just of her internal, subjective landscape, but of the social, political, and material structures outside of her self as well. In these outward-looking moments, dreamlike eeriness bursts the banks of the individual subject and her psyche, and can be understood equally as a quality adhering to our socio-political lives. In these images, animals turn their heads away from us, their necks bent at unnatural angles. The strange artificial no-places of hotel suits and lobbies are frequently pictured, their colours and patterning vibrant but their sense of really being in or of the human domain — of sense-making, of logical order, of clear controllability — somehow lost. Staircases wind endlessly around themselves, as if to taunt us. People, like animals, turn away from the lens, absorbed in the little objects in their hands: suitcases, phones. 

Agency is dissolved, here, as the world beyond the observing subject evades her, and our, attempts to make order of it. This, the book seems to propose, is the dreamlike quality of the real: nonhuman agency, the workings of capital, the determining power of data collection and the unintelligibility of bureaucratic processes knit us vulnerably into the world not as its determining masters, but as subjects of its weird will. Science-fiction and fantasy have long been equipped to deal with this condition as an essential part of the reality that more overtly ‘realist’ work denies; in this way, Ang’s photobook is an original interdisciplinary foray into these genres usually reserved for fiction, or film. 

The release of the book will be celebrated at an artist talk with the Melbourne’s Centre for Contemporary Photography, on March 27, which is followed by an immersive 3D experience at the Alex Theatre.

Ling Ang: Souvenirs of Sleep
27 March 2021
Centre for Contemporary Photography & Alex Theatre, Melbourne.


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