In Conversation: Resident Artist Tom Hsu
How did your time in the BAF Residency Program impact the creation of this show? In what directions did it lead your practice?TH
My time during the BAF Residency Program allowed me to incubate in my cave of images. It was important for me to sit and let the images linger within my thought process, and see how they dance with each other. I started thinking about my relationship with photography and why is it important to me. How do images on the wall relate to objects on and off the wall? I picked up Camera Lucida by Roland Barthes again, and started drawing connections, learning what it means to dance with photography. “ A labyrinthine man never seeks the truth, but only his Ariadne.” (Barthes, pg.73) This fragment stuck with me, and made me think about truth and photography; by building a labyrinth, maybe the truth becomes less important, but the intention and the root of it all is what matters. Perhaps that is the light we all seek…
The installation portion of ‘Here, under our tongue’ makes use of items, found or salvaged, that hold personal significance to you. What can you tell us about the process of collecting these items, and are there any particular objects whose stories you can tell?TH
The objects laying around are bought, borrowed, and given. I was given the timer from the photo department at Emily Carr for the show, which I like the usage of; I was given time by my university. I connected the timer with an ice shaver machine from my parent’s cafe. My grandfather used to shave ice and sell it on the streets of Taiwan on hot summer days. Give yourself some time, and you can find the light. I went back to my high school and asked my teacher, Sid Ackelrod, if they had any curtains or back drops; they are used to divide the space from light to dark. He then offered, if I wanted, an enlarger to take with me. I then synced it to the timer and ice shaver. In some ways they are all connected through time. The microscope on the shelf makes a camera obscura of what happening in the front, during the day you can see cars driving by which also mimic the sound of the car in the recording. The shelf with the note I wrote along with the pill in the bell jar plays together. The pill is pressed ecstasy that was given to me when I was 21. I was not ready to take it then so I hid it under my tongue and put it away for safe keeping. In some ways photography provided certain thrills when seeing an image appear in complete darkness. The balloons are due to watching two balloons a dear friend blew, and then watching them slowly running out of air. There was something romantic and melancholic about the gesture, so by filling them with plaster and studying its different forms…they linger.
You are known primarily as a photographer, but your shows seem to often include an element of installation. To you, how do these two art forms work together?TH
This element is still new to me. I think I can easily photograph objects and stick with photography as a solid medium, but I am more curious to see the function of objects becoming something else as a whole. In some ways, there are similarities between composing an image in a frame and gathering objects in a space. “The Photograph belongs to that class of laminated objects whose two leaves cannot be separated without destroying them both: the windowpane and the landscape, and why not: Good and Evil, desire and its object: dualities we can conceive but not perceive.” (Barthes, pg.6)
What can you tell us about the lighting and audio components of the show? What do you feel that they add to the experience of the exhibition?TH
The back of the gallery is a hint of what my version and experiences of a darkroom are. The darkroom as a metaphor, where thoughts dance and residue linger. The lighting of the room is made by black and white enlarger filters. Being in the space is a bit comparable to being inside the enlarger itself. The darkroom is familiar for me, in which it feels safe but holds a certain tension. What you put in the machine may not turn out how you want. There a level of uncertainty, but also, there’s something beautiful about being uncertain. In Camera Lucida, Bathes states, “…Photography is an uncertain art, as would be (were one to attempt to establish such a thing) a science of desirable or detestable bodies.” (pg.18) Perhaps photography is an ubiquitous medium that cannot be pinned down. The sound component is a recording I made when my friend Gregory and I walking through Folks Park Fridusstrien in Berlin. I remember the moon was really bright, and the park was known to be a bit cruise-y, thus there’s a certain or uncertain tension while walking by. It felt more calming hearing the bird calls, they sang beautifully that night, and once a while were interrupted by the cars driving by. Maybe this interruption is a reminder to me not to get too comfortable. You can lose track of time if you linger in the dark for too long. The fluorescent light in the middle of the room acts as an interruption, shifting the space and allowing the viewer to wake up. But that component is only obtainable by turning the timer in the front space of the gallery.
Your family history played a large role in ‘Here, under our tongue’. How did your family members feel about being included in your art in this way?TH
I took an image of mother when we went to Japan in 2016. I remember going for long walks, thus she was a bit exhausted. Looking back at the image, it made me think how she has aged and how important it is to hold on to time. This then made me think of my grandfather, who passed away in 2013. It took me back to the feeling where I was holding his hands by his deathbed. Photography has a way to allow a person to grieve again, to go back to the womb and think about where we came from. My grandfather used to visit us every winter when shaved ice was off season. The image of him I made when he came for his last visit in 2010 at the old campus of Emily Carr. I think that was the first time he ever visited me at school, and there was something special about that. What photography has taught me, in some ways brought me to hold on closer to family.
Do you have any new projects coming up that you’d like to share?TH
I am currently working on installing some images at one of the Canada Line stations.