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Ruyi Wong, Temple, 2013

Singapore, September 2015

Silke Schmickl: Your Temple series, initiated in 2011, occupies a central place in your work and presents variations of transferred photographic images on diverse materials such as granite, soap, wax, eggs... The variety of materials adumbrates that this series is a complex research on materials, their qualities and limits. Some of them are fragile and will change over time. It feels like an empirical research where a lot of experimentation is involved. Can you tell us more about this series and share some of the results of these experimentations? And also explain where the title comes from? And why such diverse objects are classified under one title?

Ruyi Wong, Temple, 2012

Ruyi Wong: I was working on this series from 2011-2014, and you are right about the long experimental nature of the work. The entire body of work made is all titled Temple. “Temple” is taken from the well-known Corinthian scriptures and suggests the contested space of profanity and divinity of the notion of the body. I look at them not as separate works but they are together in the process of finding new ways of making bodily prints. I thrived in the chasm of failure and successes ­of working with transferring the image onto a variety of unorthodox mediums. The ideas are lying on the material surface in this long process of working over and over again in order to get the right amount of ink onto unusual materials like stones, wax or soap. The feelings, the texture and colors – only monochromatic colors are used in Temple –, form the right condition for the subject matter. I did not aim for a pristine, perfected image glossy print, in fact the dirtiness and grime of it all is part of the intended craftsmanship. The medium that the image is resting on is as important as the represented image. Temple as a whole is an installation that fills the space up with material-objects that bear the image of the female nude. Viewers walk around the space swathe with these materials, which only carry the single image of the artist’s body. Photography is an act of defiance against time. Photographing my own nude, I am freezing my own body in time. 30 years from now, my body will be weathered, but the image of my body in Temple is frozen in time, creating permanence. And seeing this strange flesh of mine on unusual materials, creates a stronger detachment from the image of my own flesh. Working also in a collage manner, I put together parts of my body to form strong architectural structures in Temple. The body is versatile. It is the medium. It obeys the mind at every twist and turn of the sinews. This experimental process of work allows me to explore and develop a new aesthetic of identity and representation. At the same time, Temple has a minimalistic aesthetic, it says a lot with the process and craftsmanship but appears very little and stark.

I was also working a lot alone in the darkroom lab to develop experimental prints to find new ways to representing the body. I was intrigued by the idea of the illumination of the silver nitrates on the surface of the photosensitive paper when it turned black during the decomposition process, and this blackness forms the image of the body. The decomposed silver nitrates is something that we do not see while looking at a photograph processed in the darkroom. We see an image when viewing photos in the gallery. As viewers, we do not see the decomposed silver nitrates, but we see blackness, which forms the shadow of the image. I affiliate the subject matter of the human body in a similar notion, in its nudeness and form, stripped and bare, where do we come from? Where are we going? Whatever questions that might arise, I intend Temple to evoke these questions in its strange form.

Ruyi Wong, Temple, 2012

SS: I liked the fact that you painted the edges of each tile in red which created an interesting visual dialogue with Bani Haykal's "The Americans have colonised our subconscious" and Debbie Ding's Rules for the Expression of Architectural Desires, both works referred directly or indirectly to the colours of the Singaporean flag. Did you have this allusion in mind?

RW: I certainly am pleased with this allusion of the red painted edge on Temple and how it  creates a visual dialogue that relates to Bani Haykal's and Debbie Ding’s work. I am glad the works in Singapore mon amour bounce off each other in that manner. I was alluding to literary theorist and filmmaker Trinh T. Minh-ha’s book When The Moon Waxes Red which provides an insightful meditation on film theory and practice, feminism and strategies for radical representation that oppose hegemonic forms of power. The symbol of red according to Trinh T. Minh-ha lies not simply in the image, but in the plurality of meanings. Simply put, seeing red is a matter of reading­. In Asian culture, red is always indicative of happy events such as weddings, but this reading may not apply to other cultures specifically. As such, alluding to Trinh T. Minh-ha’s discourse about expressiveness of red at all intermediate degrees, Temple rides on the theorist’s discourse of looking at the varied interpretation of a subject ­– viewers may see this alluding to Singapore Flag and identity, or not.

Ruyi Wong, Temple, 2012

SS: The title of the exhibition is Politics and Poetics of Space(s). The poetic quality of your work is easily perceptible, do you also see a political dimension in it?

RW: The female body is certainly political in the history of art. I can’t deny Western artists like Ana Mendieta and Helen Chadwick, who used their own bodies as a catalyst for a myriad of social topics including feminist, religious and political concerns. In the process, such works refuels our very own search for origins and this approach in the presentation of the female nude enamors me. Ana Mendieta's work cannot be denied of its feminist poetic aesthetics especially looking at Imagen de Yagul, yet we know that the work alludes to the politics behind the artist’s ethnicity and heritage. By using my own body in my work, I participate in the gesture of my own female form to speak poetically and politically about my identity, ethnicity and religious issues but at the same time the issues I am exploring are inexhaustible and not definitive.

Ruyi Wong, Temple, 2013