Grief in waves: Au Hoi-lam's moving eulogy to her father

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 14 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 14 May, 2013, 11:43am

My Father is Over the Ocean

Au Hoi-lam

Osage Open

Tinged with melancholia, Au Hoi-lam's current exhibition is much gutsier than what you initially expect. In fact, it is the most compelling art confessional - of guilt, regret, gratitude and love - in years. It is ostensibly about the recent death of her father, but the layers are murkier.

In Bunk Beds & Boat, memories are carefully typed, consciously exposing text, while other sections are deliberately erased. Truths are revealed, as is the suggestion of lies.

For example: "My parents met their granddaughter for the first time. [Text erased.] A few days later, my father dismantled my old bed and put it away. He bought a new set of bunk beds which could sleep three persons. He said that we could use the beds whenever we came home for visits. [Text erased.]"

In her previous exhibition, "Elsewhere", in 2011, Au quietly revealed the inspiration of much of her art over the last decade: her daughter, who was born secretly and was unknown to her friends, and who was cared for in those intervening years by Au's parents.

This public "coming out", and the turmoil and truths of her father's sickness makes "My Father is Over the Ocean" a compelling bridge between the artist's past and often opaque work, and her future.

Her father's bunk beds dominate the exhibition in the installation Sixty Questions for My Father (or For Myself). The disassembled bed references both where her father rested and slept before he passed away and a peripatetic home life for Au's daughter. On the bed's wooden panels and support slats are scrawled 60 mundane but poignant questions - or recollections - for a father who is missed: "How big are Dad's hands?", "Dad, what was I like when I was a baby?" and so on.

His mattress, with the words "bring back" etched in arranged pearl-headed sewing pins, sits alongside brown (overtly male) tartan sheets.

Au's father was a customs officer and spent time at sea. Dates have been significant in Au's recent work - to obliquely locate the truth when "lies" needed to be maintained.

The exhibition's leitmotif is embodied in the artist's slow-sung dirge, faint child's lullaby and mournful rendition of My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean, recorded next to a stream near her Tai Po home.

This innocent song, not party to any deception, was recorded exactly nine months after Au's father's death. Its repeat echoes a daughter's longing for the return of her kind and understanding father.

The exhibition runs until May 30.