The Archaeology Library at NUS Museum, Singapore is currently showing a solo exhibition by artist Wei Leng Tay.
“Crossings” is a four-part iteration of Wei Leng Tay’s ongoing research and photographic project from 2014-2018. Art Radar looks at the artist’s practice, and chats to her about the exhibition, which will be on view until the end of November 2018.
Wei Leng Tay is an artist based in Hong Kong and Singapore, working with photography, audio and video, which are made into installations and prints. Her process begins with conversations and interactions with people she meets, which inform the images and forms the projects take. She says:
As I work with people through my projects, I wonder about the significance of this interaction for both myself and them, and how this relationship, however transient and brief, can be articulated in the work. My works are usually based on how desires, personal relationships and histories are tied to family, society, and the state, and migration. They also reflect on the politics of perception and relation: Who is looking and how is one looking? What is being heard? Why does one, as viewer, maker, participant, feel certain ways about the work? In this way, the works also consider the impossibility of representation and knowing, adding another dimension to the complexities of identity and sense of place or displacement they deal with.
From these initial conversations and photographic documentation, Tay uses formal strategies in the installations to build relationships between audio and the visual, and bodily experiences in encounters with the works to bring out cognitive and affective ways to experience the themes explored.
A recipient of the prestigious Poynter Fellowship at the Yale School of Art, Tay has exhibited with spaces such as ARTER Space for Art, Istanbul, Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography, the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre, Cemeti Art House in Yogyakarta, Selasar Sunaryo Art Space in Bandung, and Center for Contemporary Art Prishtina, and her works are part of the permanent collections of the Fukuoka Asian Art Museum, NUS Museum Singapore, Hong Kong Heritage Museum, National Taiwan Museum of Fine Art and the Kiyosato Museum of Photographic Arts, Japan.
Tay works on an ongoing collective collaborative project called Sightlines, and in the past has worked with organisations such as the Vasl Artists’ Collective in Pakistan, Australian National University School of Art, and Objectifs Centre for Photography and Filmmaking in Singapore, through residencies and workshops.
The NUS Museum in Singapore is currently showing a new collaborative exhibition with Tay, which uses the language of the documentary format in photography, video, audio and interviews. Entitled “Crossings”, the exhibition will evolve over four parts, and takes as its point of departure the stories that have emerged from Tay’s ongoing research and photography projects from the last four years. “Crossings” circuits around circumstances of diaspora and identity that emerged from Wei Leng Tay’s previous exhibition “Discordant Symmetries”, which was held at NUS Baba House in Singapore in 2010.
The exhibition spans histories of migrant individuals from different generations and backgrounds in Pakistan, Hong Kong and Singapore. Through a process that begins with interviews and continues with a formal interrogation of the image and voice as document, ideas of agency, relationships and nation implicit to moving between places of home are elaborated.
Housed in the Archaeology Library at the NUS Museum, these installations are multi-lingual and polyvocal fragments that capture the vagaries in ideas of agency, nation and relationships implicit in moving between places of home. The individuals that the artist resonated with reflect on inherited (im)mobilities that are consequential to particular moments of nation-building.
The first iteration, which was held from 8 March to 29 April 2018, comprises a photographic work entitled you think it over slowly, slowly choose … (2018), which questions immobility imposed through nation-formation and a projection installation, And this is the lady and her pond (2015-2018) that juxtaposes stories of an imagined homeland, lived trauma and family lore.
you think it over slowly, slowly choose… (2018) is a series of inkjet photographs that have been printed on tissue, and are of re-photographs of all the images Tay has found of her great-aunt, who lived an itinerant life looking for love: born in Southern China in 1904, she moved to Malaya and finally to Singapore as a single parent in 1957, before Independence. Despite numerous applications over almost five decades, before her passing in the early 2000s, she was consistently denied citizenship.
And this is the lady and her pond (2015-18) a 3-channel projection installation with sound that is based on the recollections of four people in their twenties in Karachi, Pakistan. The different stories are layered over and under each other, with resonances created in the repetition, pairings and juxtaposition of words, sounds and images.
Running from 7 May until 30 June 2018, the second iteration still includes these two works, and also presents The First Chapter It Begins With The Horses (2017-2018), a video installation with sound that projects a film of waves in the sea through a jute sack, and is accompanied by the voice of an old trader listing the items and commodities that can be imported into Pakistan.
The third iteration runs from 10 July until 1 September, and the fourth from 14 September to 3 November 2018. Art Radar spoke to Wei Leng Tay about this complex and poetic exhibition, her ongoing concern with multivalent representations of ideas of agency and migration, and how these play out across her work.
Could you tell us a little about the genesis of your research and ideas for this show? How have they developed from your previous exhibition at NUS, “Discordant Symmetries”, and how will this presentation expand over its four iterations across the year?
Psychic and emotional displacement is something that I have been very sensitive to for many years. Crossings at NUS Museum is based on research that I had been doing for the last four years that considers this displacement through lived and inherited migration. This research has taken place as I have experienced changes in my life as I have moved through different places and my relationships to places and people have shifted.
The four iterations spanning most of this year bring out different ways this displacement and ways of perception can be articulated, whether they are formally through material fragmentation, through flows of people or items and trade, or through dissonance in information and in visual and auditory cues.
The temporal instability in terms of the works come and going, and changing structure of the iterative exhibition was put in place also to reflect the title and themes of movement and migration addressed in the works. The works are in the archaeology library and are in conversation with the sherds and fragments from regional trade routes that are present.
Could you expand on your interests in ideas of agency, nationhood and migration, and how these play out across your work?
The place one spends time in and grows in affects one’s cultural sensitivities, politics and ways of being. The choices that one thinks one has are always affected by and shaped by place and the histories of the place. I am interested in what macro structures such as those of nationhood can inflict on very personal relationships and choices, and how they can be embodied, and how something that can potentially be seen initially as agency transforms and becomes something very different.
I am interested in your use of particular strategies of installation in order to foreground the body of the viewer and also to fragment the narratives your work is portraying. How does this relate to a more ‘straight’ documentary approach in your practice?
The ‘analogue’ way in which perception is being changed outside of the image in the installation is directly related to and an interrogation of the ways that documentary photography and processes are thought about. Documentary image making and reception are always based on the subjectivities of the maker and perception of the viewers. The spatial interventions open up and create possibilities of perception for the viewer, and make obvious that these perceptions can change with every move.
The works are multi-lingual and take place across different countries – in this instance, Pakistan, Hong Kong and Singapore. In communicating the conversations you have had with various people in these places, do you see this as conveying a kind of universal experience of displacement?
No. I don’t believe in universalising experiences as these flatten and make simplistic the very complex trajectories and individual experiences that people have. The memories and experiences in the different places are brought together almost as a counterpoint point to that universality that has come to plague the simplification that can happen when one thinks about globalisation. Understandably, entry points into the work are created through specific experiences/choices that are made by individuals that I meet. But they are not thought about as universalising representations of any general condition.
Your projects take place over long periods of time; what are you working on at the moment?
I am researching on and beginning a long-term work in Singapore that I can’t publicly articulate yet. My apologies. My work begins with conversations and encounters with people, and it is still in that phase. I am also finalising and making work from the material that I have gathered from the last few years.
“Crossings” by Wei Leng Tay is on view from 8 March to 30 November 2018 at NUS Museum, National University of Singapore, 50 Kent Ridge Cres, Singapore 119279.
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