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  • Writer's pictureNg Su Yin


Updated: Dec 30, 2023

Art notes:

A few days ago, I was at the ‘Altar-native’ Exhibition at the Courage Yard in London.

Entering the space, I had a moment, a kind of emotion that one normally gets in deep thoughts, yet my mind was also somewhere else. My eyes wandered around the room, trying to ‘hold on’ to something ... I realised that I couldn’t. I could not stop looking around… at everything; they appeared unconsciously familiar, yet intentionally foreign. I felt strangely comforted.

The performer began to set up her space. I’ve always enjoyed this part of the show. I watched silently, waiting. Soil fell from her hands … the sound of something weighty hitting the ground, gradually and steadily… the sound of grounded-ness, that I miss. Movement of soil across the surface of the white paper … soil accumulating to form impermanent shapes, as they were spread alongside finger traces. She stirred the soil, tapping on it rhythmically with her hands and feet in tandem with the sound of drums; the soil settled and unsettled. Red threads began to meander over the soil, crossing over each other … something I failed again and again to trace even though they were anchored by four rocks.

A long table filled with oranges stacked upon small plates in fours; they seemed so wrong but also so right. So clever. Words written all over the fruit making them look like odd ‘packaging’ not unlike those found on cartons of milk, except that these were round. I recalled the days when my mother would discourage us to touch them when they were on the altar, and only to eat them after our ancestors had their fill. I’ve always wondered how it worked... never saw anything, but we ate everything.

Elegant white paper scrolls hung from the ceiling … the familiar calligraphic words written in black ink. Red labels streaming down from what appeared like an intricately folded paper lotus … perhaps a lantern? Many more of them 'floated' below, reminiscent of their journeys on waterbodies into the afterlife… Words hidden within layers of whiteness, exuding a sense of purity and respectful remembrance. So many recollections … as I delved into my distant memories of vague affiliations, similar and dissimilar practices, yet all anchored upon the human need to belong.

There were so many other works that I wish I had the time to indulge in, all of which play such important roles in weaving this exhibition into a beautiful tapestry of personal, cultural, geographical time and histories. I shall look forward to more of such renditions.


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