The poet Hsia Yu self-published a collection with a “scratch-off” cover. She writes in the afterword:
I still can’t find a name for this collection
I can’t finalize it, and finally I decide
that every poem in the collection
can be used as the title of the collection
Each interpretation that is formed from them
can be established or suspended or deviated from
centripetal or centrifugal as long as
a single line or a few lines appear staggered
Only as you wish, even just one line
even just the whole. I bury all the words
Bury them underneath the surface. Your gaze
your breath and your fingers will tell you
Tell you where these words will take you
I’m blind but you aren’t
You are in the garden made by Kanthy and Menglan.
What you are looking at are the plants that Kanthy picked out from a museum garden. While working as a photographer in an auction house, Kanthy also collected labels that traced artwork circulation. She collaged these labels on photographs of the garden vignettes, as if replicating the action of sorting and labeling the female portraits in the auction house. She can’t quite recall how the artwork looked, but how the labels were scattered is imprinted in her memory.
What you are listening to is Menglan's date in the museum garden. When they discussed the taxonomic naming of the plants, their mother tongues misaligned the sensibilities they tried to share. His face has begun to blur in her mind, and through the year's editing, she continues to be frustrated by the inability to put things into words—“the garden path”: a temporary ambiguity, an epiphany, or a turning-back in the processing of language. She pauses, takes a sip of water, and reads out the piece of writing in order to further refine it.
Receive a text message. Create a new event on the calendar. Boil a pot of water, fog filled with letters. Does the stroke of a hieroglyphic character resemble its referent? Perhaps it can also dissipate with the wind.
Collaging as recreating, reading as repeating. Re-creation and repetition as interventions, one’s past self as a kernel of the intervention.
One’s own bodily experience can often become a natural barrier in the editing process for both text and images. Flashbacks construct preconceived notions about the results. Being reflexive is never enough. Perhaps the records shall wait for a time when you encounter the space—your gaze, your breath, and your fingers will tell you where they will take you.
Welcome to the garden.
*Original poem courtesy of Hsia Yu. The translation of thispoem is for exhibition purpose only. Please do not reuse in any context orregard this version as the official translation of the poem.
Kanthy Peng is an artist from China who works primarily with photography, film, and installation. She received her MFA degree from the Yale School of Art in 2019 and attended Skowhegan School of Painting & Sculpture in the same year. She is currently an artist-in-residence in 2020-2021 at Jan van Eyck Academie.
Menglan Chen is a Ph.D. student in East Asian Film and Media studies at Harvard University. Her previous research focused on the intersection of photography with visual ethnography, ethnic representation, and scientific image making in early 20th century China. More broadly, she is interested in the changing status of the image in Chinese visual culture, as well as the intersection of vision, episteme and politics. Menglan received her B.A. in Anthropology from Tufts University and her M. A. from Harvard University's Regional Studies East Asia program.