The melancholy of the antique world seems to be more profound than that of the moderns, all of whom more or less implies that beyond the dark void lies immortality. But for the ancients that ‘black hole’ is infinity itself; their dreams loom and vanish against a background of immutable ebony. No crying out, no convulsions—nothing but the fixity of the pensive gaze.
– Gustave Flaubert
Mr. S’s Reflections ruminates on how individuals often find themselves bending towards the norms that society dictates. This human desire to please others leaves us in situations where wearing the proverbial mask becomes a necessity to protect one’s self from being ostracized or perhaps to meet others’ expectations.
The artist anchors this series on the notion of discomfort that comes from a limiting mindset. These are external factors that contribute to beliefs that keep us in check, for example, letting the majority influence our life choices.
He operates on a notion that what is deemed normal encourages individuals to put on masks in order to be accepted in society. He ponders, “There are people who think differently and want to do great things… but their own minds turn on them because of norms. A lot of people fear what others might think of them. They are worried that others might not like them so they act according to what is acceptable. Because relationships are very important to people and they don’t want to look different to others.”
To reflect on this stirs up a sense of guilt or thoughts of “what if’s” that eat at us because of these limiting ideas of ourselves. This way of thinking has been satirized by Gustave Flaubert’s novel Madame Bovary — a tale that underscores the ubiquity of mediocrity. The main character of the story, Charles Bovary, is a boy that grows up being ridiculed by his classmates because can’t fit in his new school. He grows up to be a dull young man and eventually into a second-rate doctor. He seems to be resigned to his own mediocrity through and through but realizes later that this has made his life miserable.
Mr. S’s central imagery revolves around vignettes of a young boy captured in the midst of quiet and intent contemplation or observation. A sense of self-awareness is evident in the pensive gaze of his subject. It is a look that is filled with profound reflection or confrontation within himself. Mr. S uses a variety of Japanese Noh masks to expand this concept — masks that conceal its subject’s emotion opposite the pensive gaze that reveals the true emotions he feels.
These two elements dialogue with each other and appear as a recurring motif in the show. Devices that allow the artist to illustrate an enduring stoic condition that is rooted in one’s desire to conform. Each work is a variation of the artist’s interpretation that includes the viewer in this inquiry into how the proverbial mask becomes a crutch to survive.
In works like “Looking Down At My Demon” and “Face To Face” we see the boy traveling during twilight and comes face to face with a Kitsune (fox) mask and an Oni (devil) mask in another. While in works where these masks aren’t present like in “How Small Am I” or in “Looking at the Waves” the boy is seen in his pensive state of reflection. By placing his subject in solidarity, he creates a setting that is ripe with anxiety.
To place one’s self in this boy’s shoes is like experiencing tensions that could turn hostile. Alternatively, it could be read as a source of grief that can be gathered from the rest of the images in this collection. The artist allows us to experience these tensions that have been brewing in silence over time, it’s through the process of reflection that it is finally addressed — which is like a form of release.
For Reflections, we are permitted to embrace these moments of internal confrontations within ourselves. The works pose an inquiry into the viewer’s own threshold for endurance. How much do we allow the dictates of society to determine what dreams and desires we are allowed to pursue? Whether the tensions of the artist’s subject come from a place of hostility or calm thoughtfulness, remains speculation on the part of the audience.
notes by Marz Aglipay