Stories: Joo Choon Lin
Choon Lin’s silhouette waves at me from the fourth floor. In the dark, she seems rather sprightly, a night imp still concealed underneath the shadows beckoning at me to come this way. Climbing up the stairs of the Telok Kurau Studios to greet her makes me feel aged, as I linger on each floor wondering if, behind either of these dusty doors is Choon Lin herself, nocturnal and awake. I reach her and she is smoking, with a cup of coffee at the balcony. Up close she seems just like me, slowly aging in retrograde fashion, bogged down behind our young facades. I savour how nice it must be to smoke this way, in pitch black, alone with the night air a few floors up, waiting to meet a stranger.
Then suddenly I don’t think either of us has aged anymore, when we enter her studio. It feels like the remnants of a blind toymaker’s enclave, bits and bobs gathered on the table, prosthetic paper and styrofoam shoved on one side, a shiny metallic almost installation in the centre of the room next to an air bed on the floor. Everything looks recycled, yet they also look newly refurbished. There is a sense of possibility, like if I wanted to make new toys myself, I could. Perhaps this is where the impish side of her resides. She laughs as she tells me about her sister once ingesting a rusty screw in their childhood, how everyone was flustered and in a frenzy going to the doctor’s, how her sister taking the medication was still not solace enough and that as an added layer of precaution her parents would search through the excrement in the cubicle to make sure the screw was out of her sister’s digestive tract.
The screw emerged shiny, new and clean as though store bought. She remembered this for a long time (apart from present day family jokes about her sister), realizing that our intestinal system was more sophisticated than it felt. She also had a lifelong fascination with crime, especially robbery accounts, not so much the wildly sensationalized reports but rather the ironic cases where perhaps the robbers went through elaborate mishaps over seemingly trivial items of conquest. There was no better place to get her fix on crime than the Black Museum, where objects used in the process of crime were placed on display. But again this made her realize that the objects were but exorcised instruments placed on pedestals, marked with negative connotations for the remainder of their objecthood.
How and why are things then made? Questioning the process of how some objects gradually get stigmatized, Choon Lin ruminated on the screw in her sister’s stomach which started out rusty and emerged tarnish free. From this string of thought, she uses diamonds as a regular motif in her work. Diamonds and charcoal start out with the same chemical properties, yet one is more valued than the other in present day. Heavy acid house beats accompany a lot of her media, and she tells me that she listens to a lot of music. I think of workers gathering charcoal in mines, and the same set of workers sitting in a row making jewellery, all bobbing their heads to the beats in her videos. She comments that, there is a lot we do not see in manufacturing, be it the gathering and making, much less the advertising and campaigning. Perhaps this is why internal organs have been a point of intrigue to her – how anatomically we know of their solidity and forms, but if we really thought about it more, how are we to confirm that they are inside us performing their perfunctory roles? These questions form layers in her work and the dialogues she creates from their aftermath, from reassigning surfaces away from their assigned uniformity derived for the sake of external influence, pressure and social reaction.
Before Telok Kurau, Choon Lin worked at Haw Par Villa, an enormous entity constructed with blind faith which has faded in time but today, serves as a vessel to another plane of creation. During her stint there she developed other angles of inquiring into objecthood and installation by latching onto the mythic notions of the place – circus fabrications of hell and deities and the legacy which ballooned out of proportion, only to be abandoned. This was what reincarnation translated to in her artistic pursuit, that death did not essentially mark the end of life and vice versa.
We talked a lot about her works, past and present. Before I was involved in the arts, I had actually been following Choon Lin’s work closely without knowing they were hers. In a way, these works had always haunted me, remaining in the back of my mind. It was a great comfort to finally have the chance to meet with them and realize they were just as I had thought them to be. Someone else’s stories.
All images courtesy of the artist unless otherwise stated.
Underlying Joo Choon Lin’s practice is her philosophical interest in the nature of reality which might be summarized in terms of the philosophers’ longstanding investigation into the relations between appearance and essence. Choon Lin’s own investigation into these questions is also informed by her interest in technological developments: as the various technologies of representation devise new ways of capturing the likeness of things, so the quality of the surfaces of these things undergoes a transformation. She will be undertaking an artist residency at FOGSTAND Gallery & Studio in Taiwan from Dec 2015 - Jan 2016 and presentig a live performance in Jan 2016 within Gillman Barracks as part of Yeo Workshop’s Drive for the Arts.
Euginia Tan is VADA’s 2015-2016 Curator. She has published three collections of poetry and is completing her first play. She is interested in the notion of stories (within stories, within stories) and how much of these are lost, or can be resuscitated, when converted into various other multi-disciplinary platforms. Euginia also graduated from Curating Lab 2014.