Within the logic of Choon Lin’s practice, which entangles bodily systems and organs with seemingly disparate materials, biology is a form of technology. This is especially since the human body is, as she describes, the most sophisticated machine. Whether an echo of her father’s work as a carpenter, or propelled forward by her sister swallowing a rusty screw (it emerged in her stool, clean, shiny, brand new), her body of work is ultimately driven by an innate interest in materials and what they have to say.
In The Hot Purity of Mathematic Love /Trust Equations=, the fourth iteration of her series titled Intestinology, this interest manifests as clay sculptures and mark-making. Screws, nuts, and bolts are pressed in symmetrical arrangements into blocks, mounds, and spheres of clay. While the clay blocks and mounds retain these metal implements, stabilizing in presentation as sculptures, the spheres are emptied of theirs, becoming fresh fossil. Negative space, which with its absence recalls presence, conjures the object through the empty space left behind. The binary is overtaken by a continuity from which new object relations might arise. This sensibility is articulated by clay, which Choon Lin points out is vulnerable and fragile, yet indestructible since it can be reconstructed.
The clay contains metal particles. When the spheres are rolled across a surface, the memory is transferred as a trailing, glittering mark—a performance that parallels the digital storage of memory, in which an entity can be essentialized, compressed, transferred in crystallized form. Beyond the shapes of screws, nuts, and bolts that are imprinted, the marks also capture the movement and labour behind their creation. They remember the pressure placed by your hands; they remember the curl and unfurl of your wrists. They reveal anatomy, hesitation, energy, dexterity. The body is thus extended through its hands into clay, into technological and material marks that articulate the nature of co-existence.
The process is one of re-fleshing, as the ex vivo is revealed as organism, as living memory, as bodily extension that breathes and breathes. And these technological appendages of the body in turn reflect the soft technology that shapes our bodies, whether as systems, algorithms, or formulas. They reveal the clay-like quality of flesh.
When prompted to discuss the philosophical slant expressed in her bio, Choon Lin turns away from it, says she now sees it all as “life”. Perhaps that is a truer way into her work, which excites me with its mixture of hot, cold, soft, hard materials. While it doesn’t give in easily to cognitive meaning, it makes immediate sense to my body. I want to touch it. I want to play.
(But something about this setup, this writer meeting artist, makes me nervous to act on these impulses. So I angle the voice recorder a little more toward her and focus on our conversation. She tells me about her past works, and taking things apart as a child. The snakes she’s seen in the vicinity of her studio. Our encounter is open, but also contained, like a song that progresses certainly toward an end. Verse, verse, chorus, verse, verse, chorus, chorus, bridge, chorus, chorus, chorus… I am thankful to have been let into her world for a little bit.)
The impulse to play is matched by a sense that The Hot Purity of Mathematic Love /Trust Equations= is also a meditation. The soft stillness of clay feels slow. The turquoise and gold feel regal, reverent. The work may, as Choon Lin said, be set up to confuse the viewer, to resist easy interpretation. But the work is patient. It makes me slow down. It makes me give in.
(She tells me at one point that she loves music, enough that she wonders if visual art is, in comparison, an affair. But she has no talent in music, she says. She lets me hear some of the sounds she has made, like a track for the first iteration of her Intestinology series: We Have The Most Beautiful Intestine. She gestures to (what I’m guessing from memory was) a sequencer and sampler system, stored in its box under her work table. This thing saved my life, she laughs.)
The tactile nature and malleability of the work renders a sensual, romantic undercurrent. Even with this distance, or maybe because of it, I am enamoured. I am shaped to remember it just as it is shaped to remember us. I belong to it as much as it belongs to us.
(Choon Lin shows me the sound disc she made that accompanies this work, though she’s working to improve it. Back home, I listen to it again, my hands longing the whole time for the touch of clay.)
(The music plays.)