In Conversation: Long Gao
An evolving installation for the BAF Garage, “a meditation” saw the artist adopt a regular ritual of pinning fresh flower petals to the exhibition walls. Vibrant on each day of installation, the assemblages withered in the summer heat, cumulatively filling the garage space with dried remnants over the course of the exhibition. The work was an ongoing meditation on nature and natural elements, on fleeting beauty and ephemerality. Its performance extended beyond the garage space, with each bundle of flowers sourced or donated from local gardens or vendors, requiring unseen negotiation or exchange.
Read on to learn more about Gao’s process and inspiration for his installation.
a meditation is an installation that uses fresh flowers from donated or local sources. Can you tell me more about your process of collecting them?LG
I wanted the flowers to be an implicit reflection of the place, time and set of circumstances for which the piece was made, so I tried to source them from many different places. Most of the flowers were given to me by my mother from her garden, while others were bought at local markets and flower shops. Many were donated by the community gardens in New Westminster and Coquitlam. Perhaps most interestingly, many were also donated by members of the Mount Pleasant and Strathcona communities, from their own gardens, who passed by while was I installing and took an interest in the piece.
In creating this project, you’ve pinned flower petals to the gallery wall to make various patterns. What was the thought process behind making each arrangement? Did you have particular elements in mind each day, or was it a spontaneous process?LG
Each arrangement was meant to be a meditation created through a purely spontaneous process. This ethos is derived from Buddha’s silent sermon during which he gazed at a flower in silence. To me it illustrates the importance of mindfulness in daily life and the poetry found in the simple act of seeing beauty.
Artists have long used decaying flowers and natural elements as a way to express fleeting beauty and the idea of mortality. Have you thought of ways of preserving your arrangements to challenge this ephemerality? Is the decaying process important to you?LG
This process of making began purely as a way for me to reconcile feelings when faced with the fleeting nature of beauty within my own life. In creating these pieces, the process of decay is important in expressing those ideas and the experience they create within the viewer’s mind. The other part of this project is rooted in exploring the power that an experience of beauty and pleasure can have on the human psyche. As people, I think it is in our nature to want control and fight against mortality. The act, want, or need to preserve and create beauty may represent our need to preserve ourselves or to reconcile feelings of loss. Like how the Taj Mahal was built as a result of the death of the emperor’s wife.Beauty comes from how close it is to death but perhaps also how powerfully it can defy it. When I’ve thought about preserving my pieces, a list of 1000 different ways come to mind, from drying them in a special way, to using cloth or paper to re-create them, or resin, or hairspray… etc. etc. But none are appropriate because all of them are so obviously fake. Even if they were 90% close, some part of our visual subconscious still could see they were fake and like falling into the uncanny valley, something about the integrity and the desired effect would be lost. But this poses an interesting challenge as the need to preserve beauty and address mortality is something very important to us as homo sapiens. At this point, I have considered 2-3 means of re-creating these pieces that I think could be appropriate or reach the level of exact realism/aesthetic quality needed.
The exhibition text mentions that “the work is an ongoing meditation on our relationship with nature and natural elements…” What did you learn from your daily process? Did it feel meditative in the end? Did it meet your expectations? How did it surprise you?LG
I think like any meditation, the process doesn’t always feel meditative. The daily process of travelling, setting up, documentation, and creating the actual piece was a challenge but also like meditation, I was surprised by how joyful the experience became once I had gotten to the location and how important daily art making is for me on a personal level. The process of making this piece also answered a lot of questions for me about the larger project it belongs to, specifically about what elements to focus on, how to expand the project, and the reaction to the project from the general public.In terms of the piece itself, it went very according to plan… apart from a mouse sneaking into my installation, me breaking out into hives as an allergic reaction to the pollen, the back wall cracking off, and the toilet flooding a couple of times. In the end, the little sketch in my proposal matched almost perfectly with the final result. The project’s intent was to communicate a quality of beauty that could transcend barriers of race, culture and personal identity. I’m happy to say that perhaps a part of it was successful in doing so. I noticed that people who passed by and stopped to comment or talk to me were very diverse. Even demographics who some might think rarely engage with contemporary art (I’m speaking specifically about the group of elderly Chinese women who passed by the space to line up for free vegetables at the space next door), stopped to comment on the work. Perhaps mostly surprisingly, no matter who it was, they all used the word “beautiful” to describe it.
You have created extensive documentation of your process of pinning petals. Can you tell me how you plan to use this documentation? Will you incorporate this documentation into your future projects?LG
Every day when I came to work on the installation, I would begin by documenting the garage space as it was before I began that day’s installation. I would then record a time-lapse video that captured the process of me creating that day’s addition as well as the people who stopped to comment or look. The piece that was created that day would then be documented in it’s “fresh” state and the entirety of the garage space was then photographed as well. On the last day of the installation, each piece in its wilted state was also documented. With this content, I plan to create a publication showing the different days and the pieces made, a time-lapse video of the entire process, and perhaps a few prints.
What is next for you? Any exciting upcoming projects you’d like to share about?LG
This project has lead to a few interesting realizations about the larger body of work it belongs to. This line of investigation is about the beauty we see in flowers and its effect on the human psyche. From here, I will create further pieces that focus on expanding 3 particular elements from this project which are: how to re-create these pieces in a material that will not decay while also looking alive, time lapses and video documentation highlighting the dichotomy between the ephemerality of physical existence and the permanence of digital media, and large scale installations that focus on creating immersive experiences.My next show is called “ Poetry” and is confirmed for March at Slice of Life Gallery and Studios. Poetry is the third and final part of 3 exhibitions, all exploring different themes and ways people connect on a subconscious level with natural elements. I view poetry as a mini retrospective of how I have explored this process of working with flowers and the pieces that have manifested from it. The work at BAF represents a new chapter where I will be focusing on creating larger, more immersive installations. Poetry will feature past works as well as an immersive installation with fresh flowers that will continue the line of exploration I began at BAF.
Long Gao’s installation, titled “a meditation,” was on view at BAF from August 18 to October 22, 2022.