Borders are a human construct
2018, Hong Kong
Shortlisted for the Sovereign Asian Art Prize, 2018
20 vessels contain 20 stories of migrant workers in Asia.
These stories are so rarely told, but each is a precious thing to be treasured as much as any life.
Glass vessels, gold leaf, clock mechanisms, texts, mixed media. 130 x 30 x 50 cm (variable).
In this kinetic sculpture, text sentences are suspended within gold vessels. Words are cut out and strung like strands of lace made of blue pigment and gold leaf. Each is suspended on a clock mechanism. This work is part of a body of connected artworks called Human Archive Project, featuring stories from hundreds of individuals, focusing on the disenfranchised or those unable to voice their stories.
Whilst researching Borders are a human construct, I partnered with HOME (Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics) who empower and provide support for migrants suffering abuse and exploitation. Migrant workers are an ever present but often invisible layer of society. Borders, unspoken rules, unfair treatment and visa restrictions present incredible barriers which separate them from their loved ones and isolate them from society.
The sculptures measure time: the text rotates once per second, never static. As with other sculptures in this series, the words are partly hidden (just like many of the migrant workers in society), the stories are not fully readable due to the twists and turns and complexities (much like the stories of every human being).
The vessels were inspired by the alchemistic and olfactory world of Arabic perfumes, minyak attar (or 'essential oil' in Malay language), which are used in the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca - another kind of migration. Minyak attar was significant in the trade heritage of Singapore, Malaysia, and many ports around the world which were stops on the Hajj journey. Current migrants often follow the trade routes looking for work, and describe this as a pilgrimage of sorts which they make for their family, a journey away from misfortune and towards hope.
Exhibition installation views of 'Human Archive Project'. Photographs courtesy of Singapore Art Museum, 2017.