In my multidisciplinary practice, I investigate how the sentient body perceives and presents (versus represents) meaning (versus message) through firsthand experience - as seen in the selection of projects below.
I am captivated by parasites – the organisms themselves, “depraved and unprincipled insects with cruel cunning and ingenuity surpassed only by man” (John Brown, 1898) – as well as by the other parasitic relationships upon which our world turns, in the fields of sociology, linguistics, economics, architecture and politics.
My reading list ranges from Robert Desowitz’s New Guinea tapeworms and Jewish Grandmothers to John Brown’s Parasitic wealth or money reform: A manifesto to the people of the US and to the workers of the world, and from Cormac McCarthy’s Language as virus to William S. Burroughs’ The ticket that exploded. And I shall investigate the work of bio-artists such as Suzanne Lee, Rose-Lynn Fisher, Jae Rhim Lee, Eduardo Kac, and Stelarc.
Building upon my relationship with Kings' College London and Science Gallery London, I aim to further connect with the British Society for Parasitology, University of Glasgow’s Wellcome Centre for Molecular Parasitology and Anatomy Museum, Arts Catalyst, and the ArtScience Museum Singapore.
Tantaslized by the Trypanosome parasite – all gossamer fins gliding weightlessly through the bloodstream – I hope to create wearable art / costumes based on parasite aesthetics, and forge a new relationship to gravity through aerial training.
I shall start a blog with which to record my unearthings and reflections, and meet with curator Annie Jael Kwan who will mentor me in my process. Through Annie, I will also receive support from the Asia Art & Activism network that has been set up in partnership with Iniva and LADA.
A durational live performance: 9 days, 2 hours each day
"The Performance Arcade: Counter Narratives"; Wellington Waterfront; Wellington, New Zealand. 2018
When I was commissioned to make a new work for The Performance Arcade, the Harvey Weinstein scandal was just unfolding and women all over the world were breaking their silence on male violence and predation. Where women have often been historically and systematically disbelieved – dismissed as hysterical, manipulative and dishonest – the #MeToo movement signaled the rise of an epic counter-narrative: Women's stories.
Amid the tsunami of #MeToo revelations, I came across this myth of the Tuhoe people of the Maori: Haumapuhia was betrayed and drowned in a spring by her own father. Face-down with her long black hair undulating in the foaming waters, the force of her thrashing formed the arms and inlets of the great Lake Waikaremoana. Spurred by the writings of Lindy West and Tania De Rozario, I decided to create the archetypal image of a wrathful female spirit – wild-haired and white-gowned – floating face-down in the sea for the duration of the festival. And in the spirit of The Furies – the three goddesses of vengeance who hound the wicked to madness – voices of women* roar from the watery depths of Wellington Harbour.
Anchored by my torso to the seabed meant that I bobbed non-stop on the choppy surface (windy Wellington, indeed), often entangled in the wig/costume whilst engulfed in great gelatinous masses of salps for approximately twenty hours in total. The physical experience was so intensely sick-making that it was I – ironically – who was driven nearly to distraction.
*The thrice-layered aural incantation comprised the spellbinding poems of Tania De Rozario, Nic Campeotto, Emily Blewitt, Malika Booker, Allie Kerr, Jodie Ashdown, Kiran Millwood Hargrave, Francoise Harvey, and Devon-Miller Duggan.
Be afraid only of standing still
2-hour live performance
"MAP1: Waterways"; Venice, Italy. 2017
MAP1 was a performance programme curated by Something Human as a response to the Venice Biennale's Diaspora Pavilion. Be afraid only of standing still places alongside each other, text fragments of my grandmothers' dramatic escape from communist China, and of Marco Polo's deadpan narrative of his trek from Beijing through Southeast Asia.
My 98-year-old maternal grandmother recently passed away and reminiscing about her life with my mother, I recalled her harrowing escape from communist China via cargo ship. My paternal grandmother fled China under equally dreadful circumstances, with jewels hidden inside her hair bun and sewn into the hems of her samfu.
A child of the Chinese Diaspora, I wanted to memorialize these personal histories of border-crossing. Thinking about situating these chronicles in Venice, the legendary border-crosser, Marco Polo, of course came to mind. While his descriptions of foreign lands were fascinating, I found the deadpan accounts of his (seemingly endless) journeys from point to point compelling companions for those of my ancestors.
I wend my way from Marco Polo's home through the Diaspora Pavilion to the waterfront near the Arsenale where he would have set sail, adhering text fragments of my grandmothers' escape and of Polo's journeys - using a concoction of human sweat and tears - onto the city's myriad surfaces associated with water. As the moisture evaporates, the slips of texts will flutter off in the breeze creating a new narrative of movement of their own.
For of all sad words of tongue and pen the saddest are these, “it might have been”
Durational one-to-one performance + installation: 2 days
"BLOOD: Life Uncut" for Science Gallery London; Copeland Gallery; London, UK. 2017
Developed in collaboration with Prof Carmine Pariante, this work is a metaphorical blood exchange. It draws from Prof Pariante’s research at King’s College on blood inflammation in patients with depression, Stanford University’s studies that show transfusion of young blood in old mice reversed aging, and Lund University’s proposition that a protein found in beetroot (incidentally an anti-inflammatory food) could substitute human blood.
I invite participants to tell me about a significant personal regret - Prof Pariante has found this to be a theme plaguing depressed patients - as I transcribe it onto sheets of vellum.
I then prick their finger and place a drop of blood in a petri dish. In exchange, I offer them a shot of anti-inflammatory beet juice.
Over the weekend, the petri dishes fill with blood "inflamed" with lament, while vials of detoxifying beetroot empty one by one.
The speakers murmur layered verses of ‘what might have been’ (with text contributions from poet Francis Byrne), and the wall gradually fills with anonymous regrets collected from participants.
The hand that rocks the cradle
Durational participatory performance: 4 days
"Couldn’t Care Less"; Deptford Lounge; London, UK. 2015
Couldn’t Care Less was a week-long live art project curated by Something Human and Vipash Purichanont, that explored the concept of ’care’ in engagement with Deptford’s multicultural community, through a series of lectures, seminars, performances and workshops.
As a new mother struggling with depression, I immediately understood that my baby’s wellbeing had priority over mine - from the perspective of those healthcare professionals who were looking after me. As a result, despite desperately wanting help to recover, I held back revealing my most troubling thoughts and feelings. It is nothing short of a stroke of luck that things did not spiral out of control for me and my family.
Drawing from this experience, I spent part of my residency with Carmine Pariante (Professor of Biological Psychiatry and Head of the Stress, Psychiatry and Immunology Lab & Perinatal Psychiatry at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience) at King’s College London, whose team found clear links between mothers with perinatal depression being unable to adequately nurturing their children, and these children in time becoming young adults who also suffer from depression.
This certainly rings true in my personal history. Hence, Oliver James’ idea of “Love Bombing” as a way to “reset children’s emotional thermostat” struck me as an appropriate approach to metaphorically break this vicious cycle of depression and neglect, by making up for our lost opportunities to be nurtured.
The Hand that Rocks the Cradle was created as a safe space for anyone who needed to be heard and "love bombed". Participants were invited to put in words thoughts and feelings that they had never before dared voice. Their anonymous texts were then sealed in palm-sized clay envelops, and fired for strength / privacy / resilience. Participants were then invited to be cocooned and rocked in a hammock for as long as they wished – as if in the womb, or a rockabye baby. On headphones, they listened to a soothing soundscape created by the layering and manipulation of a full-disclosure conversation between myself and Prof Pariante.
The hearing trumpet
A performance installation diptych in collaboration with Samantha Sweeting
"2 Nights with 2 Gyrlz"; ]performance s p a c e [; Hackney Wick, London. 2011
Night 1: Performance. The audience is invited to think of a childhood experience they have never told anyone. They are then asked to tell it to their neighbour, who passes along what they hear - in a game of Chinese Whispers - until the story reaches Samantha. Samantha murmurs what she hears into a hearing trumpet held against my ear. I breathe on the glass and transcribe what I hear in the condensation. The audience catches glimpses of their secrets spelled out by my fingers. A few moments later, the words evaporate.
Night 2: Sound sculpture. The hearing trumpet is attached to a wall. Putting your ear to the mouthpiece, you hear the stories Samantha had whispered to me the previous night.
An idealized moment when everything is simple and secure
3-hour performance and installation
"PhD thesis exhibition"; GFAL, Musashino Art University; Tokyo, Japan. 2008
The Tibetian Buddhist nun, Pema Chödrön, once spoke of training ourselves to overcome the fear of the groundlessness of life. Since life is - and will always be - uncertain, Pema suggested that we "stop waiting for some idealized moment when everything is simple and secure", and instead try to be fully present in each moment.
A man and a woman stand facing each other, on a mound of freshly sprouting grass, with their heads bound together in white gauze. Holding each other in a loose embrace, their hands - behind the other’s back - attempt the impossible task of sightlessly threading a needle with a single strand of cotton. Over time, an unseen quantity of ice wrapped in the gauze melts and drips from their jointly bound heads. Cold water runs continually down their necks, soaking their clothes and trickling down to their bare feet. The soil is nourished and the grass grows.