Much of my work is archival in nature, an individual record of loss and trauma. In my art practice, drawing-by-erasure forms the basis of my working method. I often work with found images (primarily sourced from newspapers and family photo albums) and mark-making (by the acts of drawing and erasure). My works demonstrate on the one hand, an intimate attempt at making sense of bereavement and on the other, a critical breakdown of the indexical properties of the image.
Series such as The Condition (2009) and Deconstructing Urban Development (2009) embody the implicit violence and brutality of being separated from one’s home, while in Corium (2015) and Home (2008) notions of dying and memorial are explored through rituals of collection, erasure and repetition.
Aedis (2016-2017) is the latin word for home, abode, and temple. Painted on full-page Swedish death notices from the national newspapers, these works feature symbols derived from blueprints of ancient Middle Eastern mausoleums as well as floorplans of ancient African homes. My twin fascination with mortality and interior space is thereby articulated through the uneasy juxtaposition of these motifs.
The “Death Notice Suite” comprises of three related artworks:
No, but it could be a Walk-Through Room (2017) is a full-page erasure of all text and imagery on the death notice pages from the Swedish national newspapers. What is left on the page after the erasure are the borders of each now-effaced death notice.
Toh Ah Siew (2009) is a modified drawing of the deceased in their death portraits published in the Singaporean national newspapers. Each portrait is chosen by the family of the deceased, and it is not uncommon for an eighty-year old to have a death notice in which the portrait is of their twenty-year old self. I have erased the eyes of each portrait, and then drawn them shut with a pencil. The person in the portrait may thereafter be perceived as asleep. Nothing else in the notice has been touched.
A Brief Statement of the Main Points (2017) is a spot-erasure of the stock market exchange page from the Singaporean national newspapers. The erasure erodes the already-thin newsprint paper to an even thinner and more fragile layer, thereby allowing what is on the other side of the page to be seen clearly. The result is that the portraits from the death notices are now floating in the same space as the stock market numbers and figures.
Each series in the suite entails the gesture of erasure of the found content of the newspapers. The erasure leaves traces, strong traces indicating an insistent presence. These traces, brought about by the very same gesture of erasure that had eradicated the once-published text and imagery, speak of an absence now made tangible and present. It is this paradox that opens up a space that explores notions of temporality and immortality, of belief and suspended belief, and of loss and altered remembrance.
The newspapers are a politicised platform in which world and local politics, social and environmental concerns are raised and debated. But the death notice pages, lodged as they are between finance, sports, world news, opinion, culture, television, these death notice pages make up a heterotopic space. They are a heterotopia within each newspaper, a space which is slippery and glides in and out of various readings, a space which is hurriedly browsed over and oftentimes even avoided in Singaporean society because they bring ill luck, a space in which those left behind find particular meaning. This suite of drawings-by-erasure seeks to address the heterotopic qualities of these death notice pages.