2012 Nov 13
I had trouble replicating the drawing stroke I developed in the studio at the live session. I was a little worried and told my father that it wasn't going on as planned. The sitter assured the artist, telling him that everything would turn out all right.
A 5-day travel to Xiamen (that took months of scheduling) and a visit to grandpa's childhood village, is culminating into a series of drawings. Time and energy translating into matter. Conversely the massive boulders I witnessed in Fujian turns into movement: thick, chunky graphite tracks skidding around the paper surface, friction resisted the traveling body, making marks in the process.
I learnt that my father had wanted to bring grandpa to visit his childhood home but was unable to do so because of the Chinese cultural revolution in the 70s. Grandpa left his parents as a child, adopted by his aunt, travelled to Nanyang seeking a better life. If history lives in our blood, then I must've experienced some of his comfort when I was there.
Back at YRAC S-base my father and I discussed the difference between drawing from a photograph and a live sitting. My father taught me everything I knew about drawing as a child. He pointed out that if one seeks 'more' of the subject, the photograph is unable to provide. I mumbled something about live drawing taking place between 2 personal universes, a kind of negotiation between 2 living beings and the space they share at that moment. He must've understood for have I not inherited everything?
2012 Nov 16
I am getting the hang of looking at the face of my father for a sustained period of time. This is a fairly new experience for me, naturally since I left home as a child to study in a foreign city. A story titled 爸爸的背影 that I read as a child came to mind. The story described a scene of a father saying goodbye to his child at the railway station. Just minutes before the carriage was bound to go, the father remembered his child's favourite food and ran quite a distance to buy it. He came back just in time, panting and sweating, to pass it to the child. He then walked away without saying much, leaving his child to observe the back of his person as the train started to move.
I grew up in a traditional chinese family where the father's deep love is usually presented in formal, measured and silent ways. The back of my father's person is a familiar image to me, his head bowed low as he left us in the care of the foreign families we stayed with. It was always a scene where my tears flowed freely and I couldn't see his.
We spoke about many things during the drawing session. My father loves trees and books and incidentally, the YRAC S-base offers much of these. Walking among the mature trees during breaks, we talked about his growing up years. Not for one moment my gaze left him.
2012 Nov 19
My father and I discussed the completed portraits quite extensively today. It was a magical time as we walked about the drawings on the floor, stepping back and forth while marvelling at how physical distance affected our perceptions of them. We talked about facial expression, realism v.s abstraction, position of his gaze, fighting back sleepiness while sitting, sense of his age in the drawing, the artist's and sitter's moods coalescing in every picture amongst many other points. All in all, he was enthusiastic even as I was concerned that I did not draw the subject as well as I could have.
There was one particular drawing he liked, one that he perceived to portray him in a calm state of mind. My father's life story is an arduous one, filled with bitter experiences with social oppression and poor health as a child due to malnourishment and fatigue. It is suffice to say that it is a miracle he is alive and well today. I marvel at how despite all he went through, he tries to keep resentment and cynicism at bay to embrace gentleness till this day.
Looking at these photographs make me feel like I was conversing with the boy in him; I am glad that the work seems to have a nourishing effect on him as much as me. But is this art? If art is a set of criteria then I do not know if what I do check all the boxes. In any case, it is a highly contested term. For now, I will simply trust in my craft and enjoy the quiet yet powerfully charged space between me and the paper plane.
2012 Nov 21
YRAC's curator Liqing saw a snake near the S-base yesterday. While it is a rare sight in Singapore, it isn't so in Surakarta. My father grew up in a rural area where seeing a snake indoors was commonplace. As recent as a few months ago when I visited my childhood home there did I see the shed skin of a little serpent near the unused well that I grew up drinking from. It reminds me that city or no city, I am making my home in the romanticised yet often unpredictable tropical rainforest.
Path is an episodic live art project to facilitate, through artistic means, a deeper connection I desire to have with the city. The city in this case being a place which projects a metropolitan character. To build a home in a Southeast Asian global city is a complex undertaking. I now focus on the task of complicating my memory/identity as 'the other' who was from outside the city by migrating 'memories of separation' - a distinctive feature of my feeling of not-being-at-home, here. My childhood home, my grandpa's childhood village and the close relatives I never met, time away from my father being examples of these memories of absence. Path seeks to embody them in their positive manifestations, mainly through the act of drawing, recording, returning (hence traveling) and socially connecting that takes place corporeally in an architectural space.
Upon learning about the snake, my father quickly warned me (and Liqing) not to place our bags on the floor lest we find for ourselves an unpleasant surprise the moment we reach in with our hands. He shared with us, vividly as how he usually tells of his experiences, his various encounters with those slithering creatures back home. There was a recent hooha at my apartment tower as somebody found a huge python in his washing machine and the police was involved in its safe disposal. Perhaps there are many more similarities between the metropolis and its outside than I am aware of.