Dana Lok

Chewday's, London, UK

In 1902, the British philosopher Bertrand Russell wrote a letter to the German logician Gottlob Frege explaining that he had found a paradox in Frege’s foundations of mathematics. Russell’s paradox refers an object being part of a group (a set) only if it is not part of that group. The title of Dana Lok’s first solo exhibition, ‘The Set of All Sets’, alludes to this contradiction, but here it is the painted surface that is the stage for tensions between what is portrayed and our visual expectations.

Dana Lok, Tilted Bather, 2014, oil on canvas, 1.8 x 2 m. Courtesy: © Dana Lok

Dana Lok, Tilted Bather, 2014, oil on canvas, 1.8 x 2 m. Courtesy: © Dana Lok

Dana Lok, Tilted Bather, 2014, oil on canvas, 1.8 x 2 m. Courtesy: © Dana Lok

Tilted Bather (2014), one of five paintings in the show, is a large work that depicts a cutout of a female figure laid on a circular pool of blue, set against what appears to be a green forest floor, with brown tree trunks in the background. Three vertical bands, which look as though they could be prison bars, are painted at the immediate foreground of the work creating a cage, of sorts – for the woman or for the viewer. The painting takes its bathing figure from Édouard Manet’s Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe (Luncheon on the Grass, 1863). In both works, the woman appears out of proportion: in Manet’s rendering, she is too large for her location behind the other figures in the work, looming, oversized and flat, almost like a painting within a painting. Lok’s bather looks as if she has been excised from Manet’s canvas and placed horizontally, like a coin on a level surface, so that we are able to see the depth of the cutout form. Lok’s skillful use of perspectival shifts – from three dimensions to two dimensions and back – offers us the chance to see the painted surface for what it is: an artificial construction that can stage a multitude of realities; a kind of theatre set.

Dana Lok, Conjurors I, 2016, oil on canvas, 1.8 x 1.7 m. Courtesy: © Dana Lok

Dana Lok, Conjurors I, 2016, oil on canvas, 1.8 x 1.7 m. Courtesy: © Dana Lok

Dana Lok, Conjurors I, 2016, oil on canvas, 1.8 x 1.7 m. Courtesy: © Dana Lok

The many angles that a painting can deliver and the change of compositional outlook that can follow is given further attention in two very similar looking works, Conjurors I and Conjurors II (2016), which hang directly across from one another, like mirror images. Both paintings are a night-sky blue, which slightly darkens toward the top, where there is a pale blue moon and are scattered with small stars, tilted and slanted, like falling confetti. From the bottom edge of each, an angled shadow creeps its way into the picture. Maybe it’s the head of someone looking into a reflecting pool that mirrors a moon-filled night above, but then the water would have to be eerily still. More likely it’s the shadow of an imaginary viewer standing between the paintings, humorously intimating us in the spatial murkiness of the composition. Adding to this disorienting configuration, a ring of red- and blue-lettered text looks as if it is circling in the pictorial plane – a trick of perspective. Conjurors I reads ‘I KNOW YOU KNOW’, assuming you start with the pink-coloured ‘I’ highlighted by the moon’s glow – while Conjurors II might be read as ‘YOU KNOW I KNOW’. The infinite loop of ‘you know’s’ – I know that you know that I know that you know, and so on – is both a nod to the use of recursion in mathematics and logic, and a wink to the audience that painting is a game – one in which we all know the rules, though they may sometimes fool us. Lok’s paintings remind us that the nature of painterly representation, of looking for depth in flatness and of finding flatness in depth, requires ambiguity and perhaps a little bit of paradox.

Main image: Dana Lok, Conjurors II, 2016, oil on canvas, 1.8 x 1.7 m

Most Read

With our increasingly porous objects, ubiquitous networks and ambivalent organisms, why artists are drawing inspiration...
From contemporary ink to counter-cultural histories, what to see across the Taiwanese capital
Nicholas Serota calls for freedom of movement to be protected after Brexit; Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi resigns from DiEM25;...
On the anniversary of the 2016 Orlando massacre, Brendan Fernandes reclaims the dancefloor as a site of resistance
A walk through London gives presence to those the current government would rather render invisible
Who is Françoise Nyssen?
Protests against housing inequality, tourism and a colonialist past have been roiling across the Catalan capital
In a city of maddening contradictions, artists have learned to adapt in manifold ways
The winner of the British Journal of Photography International Photography Award 2017 talks about the ethics of...
Does an automaton-filled future spell the end of work, of life? A report from the future-focused Vienna Biennale 2017
What might the late Mark Fisher have made of the UK’s General Election? Suddenly the end of ‘capitalist realism’ feels...
Highlights from the first edition of Condo New York, a collaborative exhibition by 36 galleries across 16 city-wide...
Reconsidering the ethics and efficacy of ‘strategic essentialism’ via Adrian Piper, ‘We Wanted a Revolution’ and...
In Twin Peaks: The Return, David Lynch’s bone-dry humour rises to the surface, and his lush visuals float free above...
What the Pride flag says about the gentrification of queer politics 
The arrival of the Centro Botín in Santander prompts a reassessment of the ‘Bilbao effect’, and a journey across the...
A guide to the best current shows across the German capital

Latest Magazines

frieze magazine

April 2017

frieze magazine

May 2017

frieze magazine

June – August 2017