Interview with editor Ric Bower at START Art Fair 2016, Saatchi Gallery
Singaporean artist WeiXin Chong makes physical and digital works in response to the detritus she collects. She spoke to Ric Bower during her solo presentation titled "Debris" with A.I. Gallery at Start Art Fair 2016 about cross-disciplinary processes and the digital realm.
Chong discusses the elements behind her recent works: Toute La Nuit (series of scanned fragments found whilst on residency in Paris), Suiseki (marble fragment textile print), Screenshots (digital desktop debris) and Dictation (participative performance with audience members to transcribe a text reflecting on the debris in the psychological space).
Excerpts from the interview below:
WXC: I had a residency in Carrara with a group of creatives and had the privilege of being at Laboratori Artistici Nicoli, an historic marble workshop (working with Gabrielle Dini, on a project called Excavata) where I made an archive of discarded marble chips. I had great conversations with people I met in Carrara, discussing attitudes to their own work with marble and marble workers, and views on the history of quarrying... how there is a macho, monumental relationship with the marble object: sculpted, the bigger the better, compared to a traditional Chinese or Japanese philosophy, geared towards finding landscapes within the patterns in stone. Meanwhile, I had been creating scans from the marble fragments and making these into large-scale silk pieces. In a cheeky way, this subverts the monumentality of the material and plays with the different cultural perspectives towards it.
RB: By reconstituting the marble texture with the small fragments, you were undermining both cultural discourses surrounding the material, I guess?
WXC: Yes and, significantly, my marble works are also made from detritus.
RB: You also collect digital debris, I gather...
WXC: The digital realm is an exciting alternative reality to me. Our experience of it begins with activities within our own familiar reality, but it then extrapolates those activities out and beyond what we are humanly capable of or familiar with. The idea of a digital file being both simultaneously concrete and also completely abstract is fascinating to me. It might be the case that it is completely impossible to erase a digital file from existence... This strange kind of existence the digital realm operates in alludes to ideas of reincarnation and mortality.
I’m interested in how the digital, while becoming integrated in our senses, is a ghostly extension of something beyond our
own physicality. I am also jarringly aware that when I’m looking at the icons on a computer screen desktop I’m reading in code rather than just using my natural visual sensibilities. The icons contain so much visual information, but I’ve learnt to process them instantly; my brain is learning to parallel the computer’s processes by overriding my own physical senses.
RB: Are you personally optimistic about the digital realm?
WXC: I’m conflicted about it, because with every utopia there inevitably comes a dystopia. What interests me in particular is the constant flipping between those two perspectives. I see how the digital strategies might offer a possible redemption for our lost connection with materiality. Conversely I can also see how much it replaces and displaces a lot of other things like our general awareness, our memory capacity and our language.
WeiXin Chong. Dictation 2.0 (documentation of transcriptions performed at the booth). Image credit: A.I. Gallery
RB: It seems to me your engagement with the digital is quite subtle, because it’s addressing our mental adaptations to the digital realm rather than the perhaps more obvious physical changes in our behaviour. How do you set out to explore these subtleties as a practitioner?
WXC: Since I began the series of Dictation performances – where collaborators are invited to transcribe as I am reading from a selection of fixed texts – alongside my visual and material work, I have connected with my audience differently. I’m wary of the speed that we become accustomed to looking at things. Through the dictation experience, I can enter a slightly different space where the focus is purely on communication and language. This is so important to me, as the digital space is a reflection of psychological space; equally unknown and vast. As a result, I approach my work not primarily as digital, but as an extension of interior space—CCQ