Embracing Traces and Scratches
It is peculiar that tracings of photographs can have such a tremendous effect on you as you stare at the walls filled with them. They are overwhelmingly sad, perhaps because of the mood the work seems to convey, not unlike a columbarium with rows upon rows of tiny portraits staring at you. I counted 80 (15 x 4 rows) such delicate ‘tracings’ and ‘prints’ of children’s portraits, on each of the two walls, flapping ever so slightly, flanking a large tracing paper. This centre piece consists of piercings, almost making the image of a man invisible. At a certain angle, it resembles an unknown constellation, with light peering through the pin holes, eager to surprise, eager to form something. The overwhelming white light from the window, contrasts greatly against the yellow incandescent light bulbs that hang precariously.
The works by Susie Wong reflect a continuation from her Master Degree Show piece at LASALLE College of the Arts, exploring the practice of ‘tracing’ in both sense of the word – distilling the act of drawing to an act of tracing, following the mind’s imaginary track with a pencil in hand; leaving a mark or stain, by any means on paper. In the context of the exhibition, a third meaning could be extracted from the title ‘trace’, that of tracking with the intention of investigating these portraits.
The second meaning of ‘leaving a mark’ is particularly relevant here, seen in the dichotomies drawing can offer. Additive, leaving a mark seen in the pieces in the front gallery, and reductive, scratching photographs seen in the back of the gallery.
While there is a certain semblance to the ethically controversial works of Christian Boltanski, which are enigmatic and haunted by the problems of death, memory and loss, Wong’s work seems less contrived. The subjects of the photographs and ‘tracing’ prints are most certainly related to the artist. For example, the exhibition text reveals that the girl, Anmari, in the piece where the artist repeated ‘traces’ the image several times over is actually the artist’s daughter. It reminded me of a mother’s constant additive attention to her child, much like the act of tracing something repeatedly, giving over and over again, selflessly.
The title of the tracing and scratched photographs are named uncannily 42. It happens to be a numeric solution to the “Answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything” in Douglas Adams’ book, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. While the use of numerology eludes me here, it is almost equally baffling why it needs to mean something. These reductive photographs are more haunting, and lingering, revealing only hollowed eyes and mouth, while the rest are erased by reductive, destructive scratches.
The installation is perhaps a record of a process of remembering, tracing repeatedly one’s thoughts and feelings of people close to the artist. The scratches then, perhaps are the fallible memories we have with age. It feels like a doomed exercise, with each new tracing, something is lost, new smudges appear and something is altered. We can never copy an image perfectly, but with each imperfection introduced, we are reminded that we are but human, and there are more things in life then trying to copy something blindly.
7.0 of 10 stars
An installation art project by Susie Wong
9 – 19 January, 11am to 8pm daily, closed on public holidays
The Substation Gallery