There is an absence that is closer to presence. Have you ever touched a stone so soft that you knew it was human? In De Anima, Aristotle compares the soul to wax, as a malleable material capable of holding the impressions of all that we experience. Paper does something similar, and papermakers refer to this phenomenon as paper’s memory. Like skin or the ridge line of a mountain, paper remembers the way it was born and what happens to it while it lives. Even in death, it stands as a testament to its own demise. The questions that compel me to make paper, are the ones that seem, to me, to be the most fundamentally human.
“As above, so below” is a phrase once used in esoteric alchemy and astrology. It refers to the idea that earth is the mirror image of God, or the astral plane. In numerous cultures, landscape is seen as an extension of a magical being’s body. In Chinese mythology, Pangu is a giant asleep inside an egg. When he wakes up, he swings his axe to create the sky and the earth. He holds up the sky for eighteen thousand years, pushing it away from land a few meters each day. After he dies, his breath becomes the wind and clouds; his voice, thunder; his left eye, the sun. What is, then, the relationship between horizontal movement, which manifests as a single swing of an axe, and vertical ascendance, which symbolizes the axis of spiritual ascendance?
Landscape, in the story of Pangu, is an emerging organism, one that simultaneously lives and dies. In my practice, material and process act as poetic metaphors for – and rigorous exercises in – philosophical concerns surrounding change. I am interested in the formation and dissolution of personal landscapes in contemporary settings. The conditions under which these fluctuations take place are riveting; they include ritual, myth, birth, death, migration, meteorological events, and the temporal parameters of human perception. In my work, I consider the symbolic qualities of land and of the act of navigation.
Recent wall-based compositions hover between body and landscape, in that both are necessary to their becoming. However, they are not illusionistic renderings. Instead, they exist as oblique, abstract monuments. They reference Chinese paintings, where man is depicted minimally, if at all. Scale is about the disappearance of bodies, that of my own, while creating the work, as well as of the viewers’, as they encounter these pieces. The compositions ask us: What is a body? What is a woman’s body and what is a migratory body? Where did we come from, and where do we belong?
However futile these efforts may be, the are are genuine attempts to harness the momentary, such as the passing of a single hour to allude to the eternal, like the dissolve of dusk into night.
-Hong Hong, July 2019, Saratoga Springs, NY