Living to Say Goodbye
By Chak Man Lei
I once told a story that I would remember my late father whenever I encountered something that made me feel happy. The wonders that I find in living often remind me of him—because he now couldn’t and perhaps never had experienced each of the singular joys that I experience in my life. Such joys are exclusive and cannot be fully shared. The fragrant smell of this unique rose, the intense sense of camaraderie at this specific hour, the stepping on this footpath that goes around the hill, and seeing death, and the sun rise – such wonders remind me of him. Happiness, as experienced in the uniqueness of each and every day, is—as if—a part of a larger whisper of saying goodbye. This is not a goodbye that is to part, to separate from what is whole, but a goodbye that agrees to accept—and actively choose to get involved with—life’s ephemerality; to witness the myriad transformations in life, from growth to disintegration, and perhaps to renewal. Mortality, change, NOW, carpe diem…these subjects enframe the exhibition, Living to Say Goodbye.
#1275-1008147 is a simple image of a rose. It is also an image that is made up of one million, eight thousand, one hundred and forty-seven (1008147) dots, stippled with a red Staedtler marker pen. This number corresponds to the number of seconds the original flower had lived when it was under my care. An estimated time of death was given, but the exact moment of death is in fact a gradual, transitional one; life tends to fade out like the end of a burning candle, and when the flame goes out, the last puff of white smoke seems to carry its spirit into the air. The original rose has now perished; but for the black and white monochromatic work #1267-596436, the corpse of the orchid is still lying there, resting at the foot of its portrait.
Both #1279-December and #1278-January are composed of thirty-one (31) pieces of marker pen drawing. Each drawing—composed and mediated through a set of software and hardware—is dotted with eighty-six thousand, four hundred (86400) points, marked with a black Staedtler marker pen. These drawings translate the different phases of each day during those months.
#1273-Nor All, That Glisters, Gold is made with 86400 gold foil stickers glued to canvas. The title—and perhaps the inspiration as well—comes from the poem Ode on the Death of a Favourite Cat Drowned in a Tub of Goldfishes by Thomas Gray:
’Twas on a lofty vase’s side,
Where China’s gayest art had dyed
The azure flowers that blow;
Demurest of the tabby kind,
The pensive Selima, reclined,
Gazed on the lake below.
Her conscious tail her joy declared;
The fair round face, the snowy beard,
The velvet of her paws,
Her coat, that with the tortoise vies,
Her ears of jet, and emerald eyes,
She saw; and purred applause.
Still had she gazed; but ’midst the tide
Two angel forms were seen to glide,
The genii of the stream;
Their scaly armour’s Tyrian hue
Through richest purple to the view
Betrayed a golden gleam.
The hapless nymph with wonder saw;
A whisker first and then a claw,
With many an ardent wish,
She stretched in vain to reach the prize.
What female heart can gold despise?
What cat’s averse to fish?
Presumptuous maid! with looks intent
Again she stretch’d, again she bent,
Nor knew the gulf between.
(Malignant Fate sat by, and smiled)
The slippery verge her feet beguiled,
She tumbled headlong in.
Eight times emerging from the flood
She mewed to every watery god,
Some speedy aid to send.
No dolphin came, no Nereid stirred;
Nor cruel Tom, nor Susan heard;
A Favourite has no friend!
From hence, ye beauties, undeceived,
Know, one false step is ne’er retrieved,
And be with caution bold.
Not all that tempts your wandering eyes
And heedless hearts, is lawful prize;
Nor all, that glisters, gold.
#1265 is a plethora of chosen objects (including exhibition demos) that were once mailed out to people and have now been gathered back to showcase them in this exhibition for the first time. These objects include: a used bar of soap; a forever-burning electric candle; clock movements that show different times; a message from the poem Four Quartets by T.S. Eliot; a poker table mat and chips; a used stick of red lipstick with a golden rose printed on the cap; a bleached-out white stone that has existed for thousands of years; machine-made disposable paper ingots; an image of dust; a burnt matchstick; a half-used ballpoint pen refill; a bottle of oxygen dehydrating powder; an emptied battery; a dead rose; a red dice; a stack of playing cards…; this collection of divergent items are small proposals to call upon us to consider our transitory notions of time.
Let us take a moment to consider a used soap bar, or perhaps the ebb and flow of the gambling chips—
About the exhibition
Date: April 16 — May 21, 2016
Venue: Jiali Gallery
Address: 4 Beijixiang hutong, Dongchen, Beijing
Director: Daphne Mallet
Courtesy of the artist and Jiali Gallery, for further information please visit www.jialigallery.com.