Troglodyte See the Light

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 29 January, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 29 January, 2012, 12:00am


Troglodyte See the Light
Osage Kwun Tong Until Feb 12

Reminding us of the power of language and speech, the popular linguist and psychologist Steven Pinker once said: 'As you are reading these words, you are taking part in one of the wonders of the natural world. For you and I belong to a species with a remarkable ability ... That ability is language. Simply by making noises with our mouths, we can reliably cause precise new combinations of ideas to arise in each other's mind.' Adrian Wong's latest outing at Osage Kwun Tong, however, explores an oft-forgotten flipside of this 'remarkable ability': our capacity to also communicate non-verbally.

Inspired by his own periods of isolation - including meditation and acute bouts of agoraphobia and experience in communicating in silence - Wong's expansive exhibition explores emotion, smell, gesture, animal responses and a range of Neanderthal-like grunts. All are examples of, as he explains, 'the rarely attended-to nature of pre-linguistic thought'.

Dominating the exhibition is a series of 'affective portraits', done in collaboration with photographer David Boyce. These impressive photographs depict extremes in emotional communication - anger, sadness, despair, disgust; everything except happiness. They have been stage-directed by the artists, each photograph precisely composed in a portable photographic studio. To elicit these emotions, the subjects were directed to isolate muscles in the face and neck and hold a pose or to visualise actual emotional situations. Or they were exposed to stimuli and props, such as sliced onions or disgusting imagery, to produce a desired facial expression resulting in an 'affective' expression. Highlighting the importance of smell as a stimulus to evoke emotion and non-verbal communication, pot plants placed near the photographs camouflage aerosol-sprayed smells - ranging from pleasant perfumes to unpleasant body odours.

The exhibition title relates to the olfactory sense, as the humanoid Troglodytes in the Dungeons & Dragons fantasy game primarily communicated by using a vocabulary of smells produced by their scent glands.

Complementing the photography is a series of animatronic figures scattered around the gallery. These mixed-media sculptural pieces move and talk. One two-metre-long piece emits primeval sounds; Wong recorded his own speech for one month and then edited out all recognisable language, leaving only guttural and linking sounds.

In another piece, three animatronic figures have a 'conversation', but the dialogue is that of owners speaking to their pets.