Exhibition: Materia Medica
The systematic, institutionalised ambience of a hospital may not be the most inspiring setting an artist could find herself in. But that is what has fuelled Wendy Tai Wun-ting’s continuous contemplation about the human and the clinical, since she spent over a year in a ward with her mother, who eventually died from cancer.
“I became very interested in my personal experience of encountering death within a clinical setting,” says Tai, who is a fine arts graduate from the University of Pennsylvania in the US.
“In a hospital, it’s always very organised, clean and tidy. It doesn’t feel real or even human. There seems to be a strange contradiction between the start and end of a human life within the dehumanised and sterile setting,” says Tai, who works as an art teacher by day.
The result is The Measurement of Mourning (2011), one of the pieces she created as part of her thesis work at the Rinehart School of Sculpture, in Baltimore, US. Backed by a light panel, the work features small glass vials on a sheet of blue plexiglass melted onto a wall like a shelf.
The realisation that she was able to create something beautiful out of such cold material encouraged her to explore this theme further. “My feelings are translated through the use of material. For example, I use light panels in some of my pieces which immediately make me think of X-rays, My mother had a lot of those. The whole aesthetic is influenced by the clinical setting,” says Tai.
Tai created five more mixed-media pieces to be featured in her exhibition, which is titled “Materia Medica”, a Latin term used to describe knowledge about healing. To further highlight the universal theme of death and the transience of life, she has juxtaposed cold materials such as glass and stainless steel, with others that are associated with warmth.
Probe (2014), an installation featuring a yellow liquid-filled PVC tube which flows from the wall and spreads on the floor, and the inkon- acetate work She (2014), show her clever use of materials.
The piece that Tai focuses on most is a free-standing sculpture called Meridians (2014), which features a thick layer of gloopy Vaseline sitting on sheets of steel and glass, punctured with acupuncture needles. “The sculpture summarises that experience quite vividly,” she says.
“I’ve this image of needles piercing the skin that again goes back to my experience with my mum.
“The piece changes over time as the Vaseline starts losing its stability,” Tai continues. “The needles will shift. It have an element of time and decay to it which I think is very important.”
A•lift Gallery, 804, Block A, Wah Luen Industrial Centre, 15-21 Wong Chuk Yeung Street, Fo Tan. Ends June 14, Wednesday- Saturday, noon-6pm. Inquiries: 2690 3038