Monthly Archives: June 2015

Memories (2015) by Chua Chye Teck

An exercise in Wabi-Sabi, finding and un-finding

Memories by Chua Chye Teck

Memories might not be a word many will associate with photos of found rusted metal wires. Displeasing, wretched, forsaken, or strange, might.

Chua is a collector of images as much as a photographer. He finds a mental image of an object or scene, and pursues it relentlessly. He is interested in debris, consumerist items and abstract formal qualities of unwanted objects perhaps as a way of approaching Singapore’s psychogeography (1). He uncovers tensions and dilemmas of the relationship we have with his chosen objects, by portraying them starkly—raw, plain, and time-worn. In this series, Chua photographed insignificant strips of wire discarded or fallen from vehicles along roads and roadsides, against a neutral, flat grey background. The physical act of collecting these numerous wires is a commitment to an artistic vision and meaning. This documentary treatment dignifies the object in the context of an art space. On the other hand, they also resemble evidence photos of a crime scene, where judgement is yet passed.

This series can be seen as an exercise in Wabi-Sabi. Wabi-Sabi refers to a comprehensive Japanese world view or aesthetics centred on the acceptance of transience and imperfection (2). The artist finds this imperfect object, and also finds its transcendental beauty. As lines in space (if we can ignore the object’s provenance for a moment), they have the potential to trigger our imagination for incomplete drawings. A stick figure, a contour of a shoulder, or tresses of hair. There is room for play, if we indulge in our sensual perception rather than our rational minds.

This series seems to collect other lines, which I suspect are unintentional. The cracks on the wall become more obvious because we are on the look out for imperfections. Imperfections are everywhere if we look for them; they become absent if we are not on the look out for them. Traces of scratches and smudges can be seen on the surface of these unprotected photographic prints. Passers-by have ignored the “Do not touch the artwork” floor sign and have carelessly left their mark. They are no doubt evidence of crime against the preservation of art.

The photographs were displayed in a horizontal linear trail, inviting the viewer to see them in a particular sequence from left to right or right to left. Showing these  in a grid might have brought out the shape of the lines depicted in the photographs. The combined scale of the grid may have allowed the photographs to have a larger presence.

Memories (2015) as a whole potentially serves to challenge our perception, and sensitivity towards the formal qualities of lines we might find around us. When we can see beauty in imperfections, we might be more tolerant, and perhaps forgiving, towards our built-up environment.

16 April to 19 July 2015
Esplanade Tunnel

(1) Psychogeography refers to the impact of our geographical environment on our perception, emotions and behaviour.
(2) Wabi-sabi. (2015, May 12). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 01:55, June 6, 2015, from