“After a butterfly emerges from its cocoon, it just flutters away. It just leaves its chrysalis behind. I question the butterfly’s ability to feel unsentimental about its old self.” Gillian Chen (1997-2018) Last night I was reacquainted with a work I first saw in 2015. It was by a young artist of 17 years of age. The artist was Gillian Chen The work was a durational work made of fallen hair. Gillian would dutifully thread them to a long scroll of fabric. She used her fallen hair to journal time and its existence. The first time we met, Gillian said she was inspired by Hiroshi Sugimoto’s What Remains to be Seen and how he questioned conventional notions of time through exposing his camera for the duration of the film. She explained that she too, wanted to explore time, but by repurposing discarded materials.
In this work, Gillian added her fallen hair on the calendrical grid she drew on the fabric according to the day and hour the hair was taken. What she didn’t make known until much later was the REASON for the fallen hair. I later learnt that she made the work while undergoing a year of chemotherapy at 15. Through it all, Gillian did not talk about her condition at all. She was determined not to allow her works to be coloured by the lens of sympathy. At such a young age, she understood what it meant to let her works speak for themselves. I so admire that. I only got to know she was ill in the last year of her life. Fallen Hair (2015/16) was also shown with other works where she repurposed cards she had received by turning them into paper pulp and then re-making them into “recycled paper”. There were fabric, paint and even dust. She studiously documented her process. Seeing all the works again yesterday was like meeting an old friend. I wonder what Hiroshi Sugimoto would say if he knew how his work had inspired a young life. These works were first shown a year before her passing at age 20, two years ago. Revisiting Flitter, is now showing at #02-01, 51 Waterloo Street. Closes 14 April. #contemporaryart #art #Singapore #sota #hiroshisugimoto