by Rahul KumarMar 22, 2023
The abject art even before receiving formal terminology was practised frequently across the globe. Standing apart from appealing and decorative arts, the object of abjection removes the lid from the hidden subjectivity. In doing so, the visual artist nudges the viewer to share a close encounter with emotion to experience the abyss of repression. To unmask the spectrum of abject value systems, the leading contemporary art centre and one of the oldest and most active independent art institutions in Asia, Para Site presented Poop Me to the Moon by multimedia artist IV Chan at Art Basel Hong Kong at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre. The newly commissioned project falls between the brackets of the Para Site’s commitment, chalked since its inception to support and promote novel ways of art practices led by emerging artists based in Hong Kong.
The psychoanalysis has traced the dynamics of abjection to the early childhood memories that oversee the sites of abhorrence to play with the idea of desire, fun and anxiety. For the theatrical presentation of the exhibition, the two assistant curators—Kobe Ko and Cusson Cheng in dialogue with the artist dive into the psychoanalytic concept of 'abjection' to revisit childhood memories. The formative age plays a crucial role to set the parallel between abjections and representation in the current newly commissioned work by Chan. The highly immersive environment of the exhibition looks back at the childhood memories of the artist: the paraphernalia such as the childhood bunk bed she shared with her younger sister, the act of seeking the attention of the mother and her absence—all translate to give a form to the soft sculptures. The art installation sculptures occupying the display walls and grounds break the formal environmental structure of the exhibition to let the viewer draw a relationship rooted in intimacy.
The artist’s practices run across anthropomorphic sculpture installations, poetry and performances only to be inspired by the bodily experience formed by an array of personal memories. Unlike the aesthetic beauty of the visible body, Chan addresses the themes of psychoanalysis folklore and mythology to talk about the “alternative” take on the physical body. In an interview with STIR, Chan walks us through the making of the soft and performative sculptures only to lead an immersive experience, “The Art Basel exhibition that I am collaborating with Para Site is an installation that consists of a wood structure that simulates my childhood bedroom, back when I shared a bunk bed with my sister. The brown fabric forms resembling human excrement oozing out from the bed can be imagined as an enlarged soft toy or a poop monster that appears in the child’s nightmare.”
During Art Basel Hong Kong, the artist also staged the two performances at the Para Site booth. In the setup of the performance, she turned into a Fly, which inhabits the bedroom. Through the buzzing of the Fly, in the form of poetry and actions, the audience discovers the child’s trauma of soiling her pants and accompanying the hopeless grief of her mother’s absence. To give a physical and tactile quality to these conceptual ideas, Chan works with the textile. The inherent malleable quality of the fabric allows her to sew, puncture and stuff in all its shapes and sizes. The “corporeal” existence and experience are not a long-standing pillar of homogeneity; rather they undergo a swing of transformations and changes. The textile allows her to facilitate this turmoil of relationship swaying between “tragic and ludicrous” and “sordid and pure.”
“I prefer soft sculptures as they somehow appear less intimidating and statuesque. Encountering soft materials is very comforting, from the sense of touch to resonating the tenderness of parental care or intimacy of self-love,” recounts Chan. Having that said, her works are at the same time threatening, as their physicality resembles her corporeal being and are imbued with personal traumas and anxieties. With all the loose threads, ruptures and openings in the sculptures, it is obvious that they are suggestions of open wounds, mutilation, body fluids etc. “They remind me of my own materiality and such experiences of abjection are what I am trying to bring out through recent art practice,” the artist states.
Since she works with soft sculpture art, in terms of execution, it comes with its own set of challenges and advantages. Chan confides, “The malleability of soft materials, be it fabrics or wax, works quite well for me in processing and translating bodily conditions and emotions that I am unable to articulate in words and writing.” However, she finds it challenging when combining the softness with other materials such as wood structures, metal hooks, marble etc., especially when conveying a complex scenario. On the other hand, the beauty of fragility and fluidity of various elements could therefore be amplified through juxtapositions.
Chan is watchful of the fact that our lived body is problematic. In order to remain civilised, we seize to control or disguise the “unclean”. No matter how immaculate we desire ourselves to be it is hard for the one to escape completely from preconditions. “Basic hygiene (both physical and mental) is an eternal warning that ideals and dignity can easily be ruined. Despite all denials, no matter how hard we attempt to cleanse, to purify, to elevate, it (the original sin) can never be done away with,” declares Chan when asked about the final takeaway after watching this exhibition.