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

Ahead of ARCOMadrid this week, a guide to the best institutional shows in the city
A report commissioned by the museum claims Raicovich ‘misled’ the board; she disputes the investigation’s claims
In further news: Jef Geys (1934–2018); and Hirshhorn postpones Krzysztof Wodiczko projection after Florida shooting
If the city’s pivot to contemporary art was first realized by landmark construction, then what comes after might not...
Ignoring its faux-dissident title, this year's edition at the New Museum displays a repertoire that is folky, angry,...
An insight into royal aesthetics's double nature: Charles I’s tastes and habits emerge as never before at London’s...
In other news: Artforum responds to #NotSurprised call for boycott of the magazine; Maria Balshaw apologizes for...
At transmediale in Berlin, contesting exclusionary language from the alt-right to offshore finance
From Shanghai to Dubai, a new history charts the frontiers where underground scenes battle big business for electronic...
Hauser & Wirth Somerset, Bruton, UK
Zihan Karim, Various Way of Departure, 2017, video still. Courtesy: Samdani Art Foundation
Can an alternative arts network, unmediated by the West's commercial capitals and burgeoning arts economies of China...
‘That moment, that smile’: collaborators of the filmmaker pay tribute to a force in California's film and music scenes...
In further news: We Are Not Surprised collective calls for boycott of Artforum, accuses it of 'empty politics'; Frida...
We Are Not Surprised group calls for the magazine to remove Knight Landesman as co-owner and withdraw move to dismiss...
Paul Thomas Anderson's latest film is both gorgeous and troubling in equal measure
With Zona Maco opening in the city today, a guide to the best exhibitions across the Mexican capital
The question at the heart of Manchester Art Gallery’s artwork removal: what are the risks when cultural programming...
In further news: Sonia Boyce explains removal of Manchester Art Gallery’s nude nymphs; Creative Scotland responds to...
Ahead of the India Art Fair running this weekend in the capital, a guide to the best shows to see around town
The gallery argues that the funding body is no longer supportive of institutions that maintain a principled refusal of...
The Dutch museum’s decision to remove a bust of its namesake is part of a wider reconsideration of colonial histories,...
At New York’s Metrograph, a diverse film programme addresses a ‘central problem’ of feminist filmmaking
Ronald Jones pays tribute to a rare critic, art historian, teacher and friend who coined the term Post-Minimalism
In further news: curators rally behind Laura Raicovich; Glasgow's Transmission Gallery responds to loss of Creative...
Nottingham Contemporary, UK
‘An artist in a proud and profound sense, whether he liked it or not’ – a tribute by Michael Bracewell
Ahead of a show at Amsterdam’s EYE Filmmuseum, how the documentarian’s wandering gaze takes in China’s landscapes of...
In further news: Stedelijk explains why it cancelled Ettore Sottsass retrospective; US National Gallery of Art cancels...
With 11 of her works on show at the Musée d'Orsay, one of the most underrated artists in modern European history is...
Reopening after a two-year hiatus, London’s brutalist landmark is more than a match for the photographer’s blockbuster...
What the Google Arts & Culture app tells us about our selfie obsession
At a time of #metoo fearlessness, a collection of female critics interrogate their own fandom for music’s most...
A rare, in-depth interview with fashion designer Jil Sander

Latest Magazines

frieze magazine

November - December 2017

frieze magazine

January - February 2018

frieze magazine

March 2018