Seeing is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees

Two years ago, I dedicated my art practice in making abstract photographs, videos and and sound of my bathroom for over a year long. There was something about that particular space that I found intriguing and initially set off my urge for an answer.

I began my experiment by spending an hour in my dimly-lit windowless bathroom with a Mamiya 7II medium format film camera. During the first 20 minutes, I stared at the familiar room that I know exactly where everything is situated without any drive to pick up my camera. As time progressed, my perception came into focus on details that was otherwise meaningless — one of the two rectangular lights above the sink was slightly tilted, the reflection of the room in the mirror was lightly tinted and what mesmerized me the most were the marble walls. I looked at the marble wall on the further edge of the shower through a plexiglass door. It had the same pattern as the other three walls in the bathroom I saw everyday. However, that was my first time observing the water spots, dust particles, human hair and light reflections on this translucent layer in relation to the wall behind. The two objects formed a new experience for the space in between. Fascinated by this phenomena, I took a picture of the wall and plexiglass with a flash right in the center that created a peculiar green tint effect on the image. I repeated the same routine the next few weeks and eventually developed a series named Prototypes.

Prototype I, 2015, C-print, 18 x 20 inches
Prototype II, 2015, C-print, 18 x 20 inches
Prototype III, 2015, C-print, 18 x 20 inches

Four selected prints, including the one of the wall and plexiglass, were shown in my thesis group exhibition. They were printed borderless in 18 by 20 inches on glossy film paper, aligned horizontally with equal space in between and adhered directly to two white walls next to each other. I was delighted with the minimalistic aesthetic of the images that enabled the viewers to slow down and observe the subtleties as well as the presentation that emphasized the close relationship between the subject of the work and its immediate environment; however, responses from the critics suggested otherwise. They were furious about how underexposed those images were and that they were weak and inappropriate to be placed right at the entrance of the exhibition. They did not see the space in between nor did they experienced what I had experienced. Frustrated yet defenseless due to the lack of vocabulary in explaining my intention, I remained silent throughout the critique.

Seeing is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees gave me the answer to what I contemplated these past few years — the physicality of a space. Like Irwin’s encounter with the anechoic chamber, the bathroom began as a void yet later on a rich collective of sensory experience. Duration of time heightened our senses and made us became aware of details such as sharp corners of a room and the shadow casted by seams between walls that we often find meaningless and hence eliminated them from our visual range. However, I find Irwin’s approach to art captivating as he stated “All art is experience, yet all experience is not art. The artists choses from experience that which he defines out as art, possibly because it has not been experienced enough, or it needs to be experienced more” (131). There were so much energy happening between different objects in my bathroom that gave the empty room its essence that I wanted to speak with others about via a medium I am comfortable with and that medium was not necessary language. I began my ongoing exploration with photography and recently switched to sound and video. I see art-making as an intuitive process and therefore I believe that all art is to some degree autobiographical. We devote time in pursuing experience that we value and are eager to share them in forms that we are passionate about with an ultimate goal of creating an evolving discourse in the contemporary society.

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