This was my final project for Sculpture last semester. The theme was ‘Self-Portrait’, and we could use wood, plexiglass, found objects, etc. I decided to make full use of the digital lasercutting privileges that I had, so I sent in an Illustrator file of my Chinese name to the… people who manage the lasercutting machine.
My initial idea was based on the concept of my “Chinese-ness” being an artificial identity. I find that when I’m in New York, I try to use elements from my own “Chinese” culture, even though I wasn’t brought up in a very traditional Chinese family. Yet, as with the long-standing debate about what a Singaporean identity truly is, it seemed like being Chinese was the only thing that I could latch onto culturally. A friend also brought up the fact that it was easier for an American to understand the Chinese culture than a Singaporean one. This was a very introspective concept that was bound up in post-colonial Singapore history, my own struggles in defining the self, an almost-self-hatred for presenting something that isn’t truly representative of me…
I wanted to put this all into the imagery of a Chinese signboard, an empty declaration of the self. I wanted the object to seem at first very simple – my name within a frame – but upon closer inspection, the viewer would realise the amount of effort taken to ensure that all the parts of the characters would even be in the right order. I drilled small holes in the wood pieces, and tied many lengths of fishing line from each wood piece to the frame so that all the pieces would be suspended in the middle.
As I went on making this, and with some input from my instructor, it was clear that the concept was too much weight for the object to take on. In the end, this became more of an aesthetic experiment than anything else, perhaps best summed up in the shadows that appear on the wall when the object is well lit – pretty, interesting, but ultimately meaning nothing. It’s much too decorative to represent the angst of the original idea. Here are some other shots:
Lastly, I want to end off this post with my other experiment with plexiglass. Everyone actually thought this was much more interesting. I spent 3 hours tying and balancing the different pieces between two acrylic rods (all while sitting in the closet to avoid my sister’s cat, whom I was catsitting). Unfortunately, due to a lack of foresight, most of the pieces got tangled up and I could only get my surname up in time for critique. This version speaks more about a failure of communication, or indeed the ethereal nature of my name/culture, than it does about the artificiality of identity. You can barely see it against the wall in the image, and the shadows make it even more difficult to discern. Its minimalist and elusive aesthetic is tied to my work for PLACE. I’m not sure where I can take this, but I have a feeling it will resurface one day.