Kent Chan’s video installation HEAT WAVES is a potpourri of strung together video sequences that in different ways draw connections to policies and aesthetics of heat. The sequences are shown on two screens and in fast transition. The resulting sensory overload can be compared to a social media feed mixed together with MTV music videos, documentary material, comic strips, and science fiction.
Inspired by social media and the fact that these are often accused of being superficial, the video installation examines imagined images and narratives concerning heat and ›the tropics‹. The viewer seems to look over the researcherʼs shoulder. The research necessarily faces the images, which are often homogenizing clichés, and briefly gives in to the pull exercised by the images. Clichés are addressed: We see, for instance, a scene taken from a beauty tutorial, which deals with imitating a ›tropical look‹. In doing so, the piece focuses on the dissemination of heat-related aesthetics and raises questions concerning their (pop-cultural) appropriation — which includes references to US-American pop songs, which draw from ›tropical aesthetics‹ without any concern for their heritage. This begs the question of how many layers need to be excavated and understood in order to look beyond collectively created images and clichés that homogenize ›the tropics‹.
The video installation approaches the subject of heat the trope of tropics from a decidedly de-colonial perspective, which also plays a role in other works by Kent Chan. Heat functions as a bridge in order to talk about appropriation and colonization, not least because a majority of tropical areas was colonized: The remark that they are unable to think in tropical or hot areas pervades the travelogues of European colonial rulers. Supported by Aristotle, who centuries earlier claimed that tropical areas are close to the sun and therefore uninhabitable — this is briefly addressed in the video —, these colonial rulers laid the groundwork for dehumanizing indigenous communities and for legitimizing the colonization of the areas in which they live(d). One of the threads that run throughout the video is the emphasis on the connection between contemporary and historical aspects of heat and the construction of ›race‹.
The video mentions the titles of two further works by Kent Chan, Warm Front and Future Tropics, almost like teasers for his other artistic work. However, there are also other ways in which HEAT WAVES points to the future: ›The tropics‹ are always described by referring to the past, and in terms of how their development was hampered by colonization. In HEAT WAVES, Chan finds a way to talk about ›the tropical‹ in the future tense — and not without kindness. (Sophie Wickel)
Supported by National Arts Council Singapore
Images: Kent Chan, Heat Waves, 2021 © Kent Chan