Arts preview: Artist Angela Su draws on the Victorian age

Edmund Lee

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 04 December, 2013, 11:06pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 04 December, 2013, 11:24pm

Gallery EXIT


Angela Su bursts into laughter as she recalls her adolescent obsession with the diagrams of digestive and reproductive systems in her high-school biology textbooks because she "didn't have access to porn then". She is probably not joking.

A biochemistry graduate from the University of Toronto before eventually turning to visual arts, the Hong Kong-based artist has been steadily earning recognition for her ink drawings on translucent architectural drafting film. Her science-inspired works often blend machine imagery with body parts to give the steampunk aesthetic a decidedly surrealist spin.

"The Victorian aesthetics of the steampunk tradition do interest me, but I don't want my work to resemble that too much - nor be named after it," says Su, whose recurring themes of torture and sadomasochism are both subtly present at "In Berty We Trust!" at Gallery EXIT. "Apart from admiring the beauty of my works, I hope the audience will notice the small elements of fear and distress, too," she says.

Presented with a set of drawings and a video animation of machine-body hybrids at the show is a new illustrated book, titled berty. The collaborative publication includes Su's drawings, an 18,000-word novella by her Asia Art Archive colleague Mary Lee and a postscript by artist Nadim Abbas. The book tells the bizarre story of a factory worker turned serial killer who gets raped by a machine and gives birth to a deformed child.

Su appreciates Lee's meticulous effort in fleshing out the narrative that links up and complements the theme of her new drawings.

The artist's series on fantastical instruments and anatomical components began in 2010 and was first exhibited at a 2011 solo show at Grotto Fine Art. "That show was more about simpler tools, while this group of work takes the natural progression to the subject of machine," she says. "I began with the image of a tool, the scissor, which then evolved to that of more complicated machines and, eventually, an assembly line."

The assembly line concept is realised in an animation that occupies a darkened room at the gallery. Su says the humming, industrial soundtrack of the work is at once a suggestion of "endless torture" and an allusion to one of her favourite films. "I don't expect the audience to watch it from beginning to end, but I do want to create a mood that resembles that of David Lynch's Eraserhead. "

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Gallery EXIT, 3/F, 25 Hing Wo Street, Tin Wan, Aberdeen, Tuesday-Saturday, 11am-6pm. Ends December 21. Inquiries: 2541 1299