Tom Hsu’s ‘Here, under our tongue’ takes care in lingering over remnants. Taking photography’s signification as an index, this exhibition tunnels recursively into the frame of the camera to carefully hold and examine that which is left over after the event. Plying gestures, situations that exceed explanation, and other bizarre refuse are the subjects of his work.

The material excess detectable across the images is reminiscent of Jacques Derrida’s obsessive monoprint addressing the cinder. Derrida describes the cinder (cendre) as the thing that remains, tied down to documentation and also erased by it, containing the seed to start a fire, a “trace destined, like everything, to disappear from itself, as much in order to lose the way as to rekindle a memory.” This distinct thought vibrates in the relocated sound work, the visually flattened images of plants, the accoutrements required to provide hospitality. Throughout the work one can feel a sentiment of the care of coming together. References of Hsu’s family history of hospitality and food service are scattered throughout. He ties these communal events to the darkroom in an analogy of balance between what is presented and performed, and the darkness which produces these appearances.

The images and their accompanying elements initially invoke a sort of askance shame, depictions of the inelegant, unnecessary, and unrecognizably perverse. There are things that we do not like to associate with the self, shown clearly and resolutely as inextricable from it. Bodies, food, florals, deflations, vanities and other undignified temporary luxuries that give us pleasure can be found in various forms. They suggest the same cloying gesture that can be found in the repeated images of hands: they all seem to be grasping towards something. What might initially present themselves to us as the ugly surplus tendencies with which we tend to deny association become in Hsu’s framing queer phenomena of an indirect approach to intimacy. The intimacy that the subjects of his work are seeking is queer in that it is irrespective of sexual love, indiscriminate to gender, but immanently physical, and wildly multi-directional. Bodies in their excess become conflated and implicated with other bodies, objects, machines, text, and images.

The term ‘excess’ often carries a derogatory tone in contemporary usage, as it is positioned within the language of capitalism, consumerism, and waste. In this case, Hsu tends to these examples of excess in a manner that is akin to mourning, care, and rediscovery, rather than condemnation. His gentle handling of what some may consider abject is a subtle tell of the intention running through the original event that is photographed. The body or the object is approached from a multiplicity of angles, and what we begin to find as the spine running through the middle of them is a love of connection. Hsu approaches the need in these objects and events sidelong, carrying with his camera an inextricable mixture of criticality and celebration. What makes these instances waste and glut is that we turn away from them, treat them as temporary, denying them their exuberance once the moment has left. Tom Hsu is an artist who is willing to provide the care that they ask from us afterward.

“It is, however, a question of making a withdrawal, in order to let him try his luck on a gift without the least memory of itself, in the final account, through a corpus, a pile of cinders unconcerned about preserving its form, a retreat, a retracing only without any relation with what, now, through love, I just did and I am just about to tell you

— Jacques Derrida, Feu la Cendre, 1987″

Learn more about Hsu’s work:

Here, under our tongue

Tom Hsu

Exhibit Dates

Aug 9 to Sep 22, 2018

Opening Reception

Aug 9, 7-10PM

Artist Talk

Sep 8, 2PM


BAF Gallery
108 E Broadway
Vancouver, BC


Photography, Mixed Media