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1. The Work

Yun-Ling Chen, Not Really Really(17-SS-4), 2017, eggyolk and monocle

In 1965, when Hesse found herself in a difficult creative place after a year in Germany, LeWitt wrote his friend a long letter of encouragement: Just stop thinking, worrying, looking over your shoulder wondering, doubting, fearing, hurting, hoping for some easy way out, struggling, grasping, confusing, itching, scratching, mumbling, bumbling, grumbling…grinding, grinding, grinding away at yourself. Stop it and just DO.[1]

Not Really Really (17-SS-4) is a piece of work that I made in 2017. For this work, I placed a series of real egg yolks on a monocle plate that was mounted on the wall. Egg yolk is extremely fragile, in order to keep it fresh it needs to be changed every 30 minutes. Failing to do so results in the size of the yolk shrinking and the surface becoming dry. One of the aims in the series of Not Really Really is to erase temporality in the organic material (egg yolk). Through this methodology, I aim to deploy the egg yolk in Not Really Really (17-SS-4) to reiterate - with a difference - the anthropocentric activity of treating potential lives as manipulatable material. Chickens are reared by humans to create eggs that are cracked, whisked and fried towards different human ends. This often erases the meaning and life of both the chicken and the egg by treating them as expendable materials. Not Really Really (17-SS-4) raises a concern with this treatment by framing the egg yolk with the possibility of becoming an extraordinary and uncanny form.

Henri Bergson wrote in Creative Evolution (1911) ‘Every moment, in as much as it is a passage from rest to rest, is absolutely indivisible.’[2] Bergson states that duration is indivisible, as it is similar to a stream which is always changing and becoming other; undergoing metamorphosis at every moment. Therefore, the stream (as a metaphor for time) includes the past, present and future within the ebbs and flows of its current. Although each entity lives within its self-duration, everything is inter-durational because entities and their durations act on each other. In my practice, I treat time as inherent in everything on the planet and claim that things have independent durations that are different to human durations. When narrowed down to a particular entity, the different lengths, or timespans, rely on the temporality of the thing’s medium and this can affect a thing’s lifespan.[3]We can understand Bergson’s duration to be a narrative without a chronological order, in which the cause cannot be tied neatly with the effect. Bergson’s author writes with an overlapping tense, one actor and another are all intertwined with each other. As an author of art when I encounter a thing, there is a very sensitive moment in which both thing and I share an overlapping and active duration. In this moment, in which the thing and I enter, I feel the past, present and future between me and the object has expanded or frozen. In my practice, I want to freeze or distil a specific set of durations to assess the becoming of this specific temporality in the artwork.

My practice aims to question whether freezing or decreasing time in relation to a thing’s medium (in a sense, to make a chronological or ordered time withdraw from view in relation to the thing) will entail that the real thing becomes unreal? What frames things as authentic or fake? Will a conscious illusion occur, for example, as a real apple transforms into a plastic apple? Or when, what appears to be a manufactured metal gate perceptually turns into a mixed organic material due to time’s effect on its chemical makeup (rusting, lichen, or structural breakdown)?

When an organic object has a Platonic form will it evoke a mistrust of the perfect form in front of us? [4] Will the viewer doubt their perception of the object so that the natural organic perfect object becomes unnatural, fake and unreal? Will this ultimately entail that the viewer will lose confidence in their perceptual field that is forged through anthropocentric thinking?

In Not Really Really (17-SS-4), during the process of silently changing the egg yolks, viewers can often reject the assertion that the egg yolk is real and deem it to be fake because it looks too perfect. This is similar to the psychological experience of the ‘Uncanny’ in Sigmund Freud’s theory.[5] Freud describes the experience as follows, ‘an uncanny effect often arises when the boundary between fantasy and reality is blurred, when we are faced with the reality of something that we have until now considered imaginary.'[6] Freud claims that the uncanny is a class of frightening things, which are counter-intuitively connected to what is known and familiar. In correlation with Freudian thinking, the familiarity of the egg yolk when placed on a monocle and framed by a white wall, straddles the border of recognizability and strangeness. The ramification of which means that the work and the viewer can hover between the familiar and unfamiliar.

However, in Not Really Really (17-SS-4) the egg yolk is in the present moment, but its authenticity is doubted, and this disrupts the eggs natural temporality. It is similar to a reality that exists in fiction and, simultaneously, a fiction that exists in reality.

We are living in a kind of continuum of past, present and future, where anything is possible.
The whole distinction between fiction and reality is turned on its head. The external environment now is the greatest provider of fiction. We are living inside an enormous novel, written by the external world,
by the worlds of advertising, and so on and so forth. The one node of reality left us is inside our own book.[7]

In a series of interviews, Extreme Metaphors (2014), J. G. Ballard highlights that fiction is tied to reality and can also inform reality by producing new narratives that reflect upon and are taken up in the real world. Therefore, fiction has real effects, much like the virtual realm of the Internet has real-life effects. If we consider Not Really Really (17-SS-4) in terms of Ballard’s theory of the novel, then we realise that fact and fiction are hard to distinguish. Therefore, we can reflect on the construction of both reality and fiction. Through disrupting the above distinction, I aim to reflect on and present the object’s situation between a destabilized reality and fiction to the viewer. This situates both the subject and object as unstable entities that lack an internal consistency (space) and external constancy (time), as they are subverted and exchanged. In Not Really Really (17-SS-4), I am claiming that the subject will not always be a subject as they can be inverted into an object. This has historically had traumatic effects, such as the male and colonial gaze turning women and ethnic minorities into ‘othered’ objects. However, in Not Really Really (17-SS-4) I explore this in relation to all subjects having the potential to become objects and all objects to become subjects through their thing-hood. For example, as the artist I become the object and facilitator of the artwork. Through this I present to the viewer a change in the relationship between artwork and artist. The artwork becomes the subject, controlling the object (artist) and the artist in turn becomes an object serving the subject (artwork). In this sense, any object can claim a subject-hood but this relies on the system of relations changing to facilitate this transformation.

In Edward Said’s book Orientalism (1978), ‘The relationship between Occident and Orient is a relationship of power, of domination, of varying degrees of a complex hegemony.’[8] Therefore, he claims that Orientalism is the discourse through which the West constructs the otherness, in which colonized bodies are reduced to stigmatizing stereotypes, and creates its own superior identity in relation and opposition to them. This thereby artificially produces one subject as having the right to dominate the other, which becomes its correlative object. I am interested not only in the result of when a subject and object are subverted but also the process of them overturning each other. I aim to explore whether this can produce a counter-methodology that can activate different subjectivities and things.

[1]  Marcie Begleiter, director. 2016 Eva Hesse Documentary Film, bdks productions, In.

[2]  Henri Bergson, Matter and Memory Chapter 3: Of the Survival of Images. Memory and Mind. <> (accessed 10. May. 2019)

[3] Thing - A term that will be used to describe when an object is no longer normalised through its assumed function. An object becomes or is a thing because it is untied from its, or does not have, a relation to the subject. Martin Heidegger describes in The Thing, Poetry, Language, Thought (1971) ‘Things: Thinking in this way, we are called by the thing as the thing. In the strict sense of the German words “bedingt”, we are the be-thinged…’ Heidegger provides us with a distinction between objects and things, which posits that an object becomes a thing when it can no longer serve its common function.

[4] Platonic Form - Plato's Theory of Forms asserts that the physical realm is only a shadow, or image, of the true reality of the Realm of Forms. So, what are these Forms according to Plato? The Forms are abstract, perfect, unchanging concepts or ideals that transcend time and space; they exist in the Realm of Forms. For example, we can say that both the sky and the sea are blue, even though they are different shades. Plato would say that we are able to identify both colours as blue because they remind us of the form of “blueness”. According to Plato it is that distant memory of forms that allows us to identify things for what they are.

[5] Uncanny - In Freudian thinking is the psychological experience of something as strangely familiar, rather than simply mysterious. The term was first used by German psychiatrist Ernst Jentsch in his essay On the Psychology of the Uncanny (1906)

[6] Sigmund Freud, The Uncanny (Penguin Classics: London, 2003), 150.

[7] J. G. Ballard, Extreme Metaphors, Interviews with J. G. Ballard,1967-2008, ed. Simon Sellars, (London: Fourth Estate, 2012), 6.

[8] Edward Said, Orientalism (London: Penguin Books, 2003), 5.


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