Friday, September 4, 2009 to Saturday, October 10, 2009

    • Friday, September 4, 2009 to Saturday, September 5, 2009
    Between Emptiness and Form: The Imaging Spaces of Yam Lau Images of the real, produced at the speed of light, are made to play with their own reality as images. -Trinh T. Minh-Ha, The Digital Film Event As the quintessential raw material of choice in the making of digital narrative, recorded images are imprinted with memories about places and spaces, objects, and time. Steeped with elements of the real yet mutable in form, this material can be reframed, recomposed, and repeated in a proliferation of narrative possibilities. Much of this hyper quality is shaped, and enhanced by the tools of digital technology inside its imaging field. For there, in the precarious space and time of the multiple dimensions lays the groundwork for a new hybrid form of expression. It is from such dynamic site of pictorial spaces weaving with real places that Yam Lau engages with in the making of Room: an Extension (2008) and Hutong House (2009). Composed of video footages and materialized by digital animation, Room: an Extension, and Hutong House are silent narratives that are sited within the pictorial spaces of the unreal. As stylized documentaries, these works reflect in volumes about the poetics of the mundane and the vernacular of dwelling within the discourse of technology, identity and culture. Traversed the expanse between the personal and tradition, and between the immaterial and the material or emptiness and form, the works weave together narratives that are simultaneously fractured and whole¬. Spasmodic in its pacing and fused with multiple viewing perspectives, the hybrid assemblages are representations of the private moments of artist’s being. In Room: an Extension, the work sources its material from the artist’s daily routine in his Toronto home. Lau’s preoccupation with the poetics of the mundane is prevalent here: “I am drawn to the mysterious of everyday activities...everyday forms of life that ground our existence. I don’t want to add ‘ideas’ or big statement onto art. Just to show the mystery of ‘what is’ and how we live is enough.”1 Room’s narrative unfolds within a stage-like setting where fragments of the recorded footage are played on the virtual walls of a cube-shaped dwelling. Lit from the inside, the continuously rotating cube simultaneously displays, unfolds, and nests various moving translucent images, which clarity of sight is inverted from within. In this hyperspace of sighting, one becomes a reluctant voyeur in witnessing the spectacle of Lau’s daily act of living: of waking and dressing, and of leaving and entering. These acts of ordinariness elevated to that of the almost extraordinary as the hyper-cubed dwelling shifts and un/folds itself. From this virtual site of the personal, one is led to the enlarge space and distant place in the work of Hutong House. In Hutong House, Lau’ s subject of documentation expands to that of historicity. Hutong refers specifically to the small lane or alleyway dated from the Yuan dynasty in 14th century in Beijing, China. Numbered in the hundreds, these hutongs crisscrossed the city centre. As a creative form of documentary Hutong House also serves as an image archive of such traditional Chinese courtyard house. For in present day Beijing, these ancient alleyways and its houses have been disappearing at an alarming rate with the rapid processes of urban development. As an image archive, Hutong House also holds in its memories the immaterial quality of the real. For in this hybrid narrative, the volumes and shapes of the Chinese courtyard house become mere algorithm coordinates in the elastic space, and time of quantum imaging technology. Mirroring many aspects of the real architectural layout, the dwelling in Hutong House is a reflexive site shifting between darkness and light. Here tradition is inspirited within and outside of the space of the personal. In this silent ultra-hyper narrative, the image of the artist, and that of his friend seem to take on the role of the present-day protagonists whose contemporary cultural lives are juxtaposed with the built environment as artifact of historical past. Here the artist’s recorded experience becomes abstract and ritualized as the tools of virtual technology redefines, and reshapes the dwelling’s spatial features and also of the viewer’s cinematic experience. As Trinh T. Minh-ha has aptly observed, “Dwelling is both material and immaterial; it invites volume and shape as well as it reflects a cosmology and a way of living creativity. In other words, to deal with architecture is to deal with the notion of light in space. To deal with the notion of light in space is to deal with colour and to deal with colour is to deal with music, because the question of light in film is also, among others, a question of timing and rhythm. Such mutual accord of daily existence is particularly striking in the built environments filmed and the way these materialize the multiple oneness of life.”2 As fragments of documentary mixed with fiction, Room: an Extension and Hutong House reveal a highly poetic yet disconcerting imagining about the manifold presence-ness of the past within Lau’s vernacular architecture. To view these hybrid narratives is to assume the state of an observer floating in space whose sight of interest is guided by the artist. There is an Eastern philosophical undercurrent in these works that mirrors the very subatomic world of the quantum technology which shapes it. For in the conception of space and matter or emptiness and form, material objects are inseparably linked to their environment. Their properties can only be understood in the context with the rest of the world. This is basic unity of the cosmos. It is a reality that embraced by both Eastern mysticism and science. And it is also a reality that is embraced by Yam Lau through the vernacular of his work. In asserting, “The purpose of my work is to subtract weight from the world,”3 it is in part the “material matter” in his subject and media that Lau physically and metaphorically removes. This absence of form or emptiness is not to be taken for mere nothingness in eastern worldview. On the contrary, it is the essence of all forms and the source of all life, not unlike the phenomenal manifestations of images of the real produced within the digital environment. Imprinted with memories about all that made of matters, the recorded images are after all, made to play with their own reality as images. -Minh Nguyen
    1.Quotation from the artist correspondence, August 2009. 2.Trinh T. Minh-ha, Framer Framed. New York, London: Routledge, 1992, pp. 120. 3.Quotation from the artist’s statement.